In his first year as UC Riverside’s athletic director, Brian Wickstrom has changed the culture of the athletic department drastically. Among Wickstrom’s successes is the creation of a new logo, which has given UCR athletics a better brand identity—something it has sorely lacked. Wickstrom has shaped the department according to his ideals and is continuing to do so through many new avenues.
“My first year had a lot of surprises and I think they were in a positive way. This is a beautiful campus. I love the reputation of the school, which you hear about the University of California and how great it is. But until you are actually here and a part of it, and people call you from other schools and don’t understand the impact it has, then you know how valuable it is,” said Wickstrom.
Another surprise was how big the bandwagon for athletics really was. Wickstrom set out to create outreach programs, to encourage not just students but also the local Riverside community to come to athletic events. The men’s soccer program is the shining example. In a home game against nationally ranked #8 Santa Barbara on Sept. 28, 2011, a crowd of 2,016 showed up to support the Highlander soccer team as they pulled off the upset, winning 3-1. The attendance for that game shattered the previous record of 600.
“I think there were more people to get on the bandwagon for athletics than I thought there were going to be. I thought I was coming to a place that did not really care about sports or athletics, but in reality they care alot about it and that’s why we broke some of the attendance records that we did,” said Wickstrom.
Wickstrom was surprised by how proactive students on campus were with athletics. Many came wanting to help with the tennis programs when the administration was considering axing men’s tennis.
Wickstrom also sits on the chancellor’s cabinet alongside other deans and department heads, where for him, the cabinet’s towering support for athletics was very unexpected. “We have meetings every two weeks and I was surprised throughout the academic year how much support athletics got from these deans and department heads—that showed that they really wanted athletics to succeed, and it was a big surprise for me and makes me feel good,” said Wickstrom.
By establishing a new motto, “Building champions,” Wickstrom has looked to change the culture and atmosphere in the department. Wickstrom feels the previous administration lacked this championship mentality, and he hopes to surround the student-athletes with this atmosphere.
“Part of our strategic plan is that we came up with our saying, which is ‘Building champions,’ because we want to build champions in the classroom and in competition. When I got here, I think the focus of the last administration was not necessary in competition success, so I think there was a lot of complacency that may be built up with the coaches who were doing it just because they like their jobs. I wanted people here that want to win, and [I] feel like they’re not working hard enough, so they are always working hard. Because when student-athletes see us working hard, changing things and doing things differently, then they will understand that this is for real and they want us to succeed and not just compete,” said Wickstrom.
Wickstrom wants this mentality of competing and hard work to start with his own administration itself. Wickstrom talked about how Senior Associate Athletic Director Kevin Price would roll up his sleeves and pick out weeds before soccer matches. The message Wickstrom wants to send UCR athletes is that the people in the athletic department care about their success.
“It starts with our mentality of our administration. We have to act like we care and make things work for them. So when they compete representing us they give us as much as we give to support them.” explained Wickstrom.
Wickstrom also hopes to use the success of the new logo to start selling apparel outside of UCR. The athletics department recently signed a licensing agreement with Licensing Resource Group that will send people to stores around Riverside and entice them to carry UCR apparel. Wickstrom wants to have apparel available at several key locations such as the Ontario International Airport and the LIDS store at the Tyler Mall.
“We won’t get rich off that because the royalties are small, but it is going to help get our apparel and logos out there, so people can identify who we are when they see our logo. When I got here I conducted interviews—15 mins, 30 mins or an hour—with every employee and coach in the department and they probably had 15 other logos on them. It is hard to build brand recognition when there are so many logos, therefore we created a new logo. That logo is what we are hanging our hat on, and that’s what will start getting out to the community and that’s all part of building a Division I culture here,” explained Wickstrom.
The proposed C-Center is another project Wickstrom is currently working on, and he hopes to get the project rolling very soon. The C-Center proposal calls for an arena with a capacity of 8,000 to host basketball games, concerts and other events.
“I helped do the arena at the University of Missouri and that became a focal point for the students. They love their c-center there. We did something similar at Santa Clara. We did an arena renovation there, where people were proud to come to this place where they play basketball. The purpose of the c-center and any other project I worked on is to enhance the area and help draw people there. It also gives you something to beat your chest about and be proud about. That is what the c-center would do because it is actually going to attract people there. You build new facilities because it helps the student-athlete experience and because it also gives your program credibility and gives everyone else a better experience,” said Wickstrom.
In his first year at UCR, Wickstrom has developed the athletics department into a strong Division I culture by making several major changes. These changes include the creation of a new logo to help with brand identification. Another is the athletic department’s adaptation of the motto “Building champions” to show student athletes that they are willing to work hard to support them. The solid support for athletics from the UCR community throughout the year has been a major surprise for Wickstrom, who initially though UCR athletics had weak community support based on what others told him before he took this job. With the combined success of the new logo, record breaking attendance and developing support of the C-Center proposal, Wickstrom looks to keep on moving forward with his vision for UCR athletics in his second year at the helm.