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February 21, 2013

Final checkdowns being made

Darin Spease is a working part of Charlotte 49er football although he isn't a coach on the team. Spease has oversaw the early drives to get football going and now is overlooking things as kickoff gets closer.

The Senior Associate Athletic Director at UNC Charlotte, Spease dedicates an absurd amount of his life to the allocation of money for 49ers sports; he's the lead administrator for the school's tennis, baseball, and golf teams.

The former UNC Charlotte business student bleeds green and white now more than ever, as he administrates the business and financial affairs (20-million dollars annually) for all Charlotte athletics.

Spease is not only one of the most integral parts to Charlotte ushering football into their athletic program, but he's is perhaps the most important component to every fan enjoying their game-day experience beginning on Aug. 31.

It's a tall task, taking so many new variables into account on Charlotte's expanding campus. Spease has to plan for the traffic flow pre-and-post game, the fan experience leading up to kickoff, and the atmosphere inside McColl-Richardson Field.

"A day in the life for me, you know now it's putting all the finishing touches on everything we've been working on for the past three or four years," Spease said about his day-to-day operations. "For the past year it's about making sure we have people on board, making sure the building (athletic housing) was going to be finished, now it's just about sustaining and making everything feel normal."

All of the preparation doesn't come with a manual or a rehearsal for that matter, but to enhance the fan experience and give Spease and others a feel for what game day on UNC Charlotte's campus will feel like, the inter-squad spring game will be their test-run. "The spring game is really our focus right now; we want to fan experience to be as similar to actual game day as it can be, now with that being said there are some things you just can't simulate." Spease continued, "Parking, tailgating, and pregame routines like having the team walk to the stadium where fans can be a part of that experience are all things we want to test out and see how they work."

Those that have attended the fall practices can testify to the legitimacy of the 49ers new stadium, but even they will be surprised with new features to be added to the Charlotte horseshoe.

From the street that encompasses the new football facilities, a metal framing is visible as it peers over the field house and field. That metal framing has been a topic of debate for a long time with Spease and colleagues, and it seems there are finally some definite answers now.

"There will be about 1200-square-feet of pure video on the scoreboard … When we signed on with IMG and put our marketing rights out there, one of the things we asked for was funding from a company to pay for a better board, in exchange for advertising we would provide."

There were obviously tough choices amongst competing companies, some brand names the university already has relations with in Halton arena and other venues on campus.

The eventual $1 million dollar investment by IMG allowed for Charlotte to maximize their scoreboard's possibilities, while considering the videos quality and technological compatibility.

"From IMG's standpoint it's incredibly valuable to have the sponsorship possibilities we can provide in the stadium," said Spease. "From our standpoint it allows us to generate buzz in the stadium. The videoboard is probably the one thing fans actively watch when the game's not going on, whether it's in between downs for a replay or during halftime. It's going to be a cool opportunity for us to do some fan interactive things."

Part of IMG being the main sponsor for the scoreboard also involves them contributing money to the football program in other areas than just the scoreboard, so the 49ers can advance other facilities as well.

While Spease spoke about the similarities of the spring game and the inaugural game in terms of campus preparation, he also wanted to make clear the unique opportunity of attending one of the six home games that will be held in the 49ers new stadium.

"We're going to try to make it a fun fan experience from the time you step on campus, during what we hope will be a victory, and leaving campus. We just want people to reflect on the day and say I had a good time, I was entertained, the kids had a good time, and I'll be back next week."

Concerning the tailgating, a topic many fans are concerned about, Spease shed some light on what to expect. "Well you can't have an open flame in a parking deck, so we'll designate most tail gaiting to the flat lots around campus."

The pregame fun for Charlotte faithful will be scattered throughout campus, and shuttles will accompany the fans furthest from the stadium. "Those who contribute to the program will have top priority to closer lots and students will have their own area," said Spease. "But if you've ever tailgated on a college campus you know you're going to see people throwing up tents on some grassy areas somewhere, so we'll just see how it goes."

Only the most crazed of fans are already speculating for what will be new in the 2014 season, when things heat up even more considering the Conference USA alignment. The athletic department is right with those fanatics and have speculated what could happen considering expansion, but as Spease is in charge of a 20 million dollar annual budget, he is no stranger to the significance of demand.

He made it an important note that things like seat growth and stadium renovations are all profit-driven. "It's all about the fans, which is a reoccurring theme," explained Spease. "The student's involvement is huge for the atmosphere, the alumni provide us so much support, and as a whole they will take us as far as we can reach."

He mentioned that there is about a seven month window where they can act on changes to the stadium in between seasons, but those decisions will be discussed during the 2013 season as everyone gets into the flow of things.

On a micro-level of concern for the team in context to the stadiums presence, the football jerseys have been an enigma that fans are ready to have revealed. Spease explains the careful process of making football apparel available at the perfect time. "Late spring or early summer. We want to get them out there, but we also want them out there for purchase." He expanded, "Conversations with Nike can be time consuming because we want the fonts to match ours, along with all of that they need to be unique, and we want to be sure we're happy with the decision for the jersey."

So you see, Darin Spease may not get the recognition other important figures at UNC Charlotte receive for their contributions to 49er football, but there's no doubt he's just as imperative to the football era at Charlotte. The remarkable facilities and stadium the 49er fan base has been presented are ahead of its time, and Spease is a big piece of the puzzle responsible.

Even followers of the new team and visiting recruits are astonished at the complexities of the new stadium and field house. Being in one of the largest cities in the state, along with its Conference USA affiliation, this team has so much capability to expand even further beyond fan expectation. When that time comes, hopefully the driving force behind it all is still Darin Spease.

"Starting out the football program here, we want to establish traditions that are unique to our university. Hopefully traditions like that, along with others will stick and we'll be doing them a long time down the road."

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