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The Virginian - Pilot (Norfolk, VA.)
Samantha Huge, the new athletic director at the College of William & Mary, is no outsider to the Williamsburg community.
Her brother, Chris Huge, played football for the college from 1981 to 1983.
"As a kid, I always hopped on a vacation to Williamsburg because there is so much to do here," recalled Huge at a June 13 business roundtable luncheon with the Williamsburg Economic Development Authority. "Virginia is a special place for me."
Before coming to W&M, she served as associate director of athletics at Texas A&M with 17 years of Division I athletics experience, including her time as deputy director of athletics and recreation services at the University of Delaware.
She is the first woman to hold the position at William & Mary since the job was combined in the 1980s to cover both men's and women's sports. "It's exciting to be making history with the college," Huge said, "but I stand on the shoulders of women before me."
Huge also inherits a 120-member staff and a $24 million budget.
Arriving at the college, Huge sent an email survey to everyone under her - "from head coaches to the guy who turns the lights on." Her first task for her staff? Engage with one person on campus and one in the community.
"I wish we could change the name of Boundary Street," she laughed, referring to the street that separates Colonial Williamsburg from the college. "It's going to be really important for us, as an athletics department, to be engaged not only on campus, but also in the community."
Williamsburg businesses already rely on the revenue from students, but even more money could come from the crowds an athletic event can bring. The homecoming football game brought the most fans last year, and it is expected to bring the most fans in 2017 as the Tribe faces off against the defending NCAA FCS National Champion, James Madison University.
"Although athletics do not specifically generate revenue for the university, we offset our costs for the most part," said Pete Clawson, senior assistant of public affairs in the athletic department.
Sales of tickets, programs, parking and concessions for football brought in $750,767 from the 2016 season.
However, one challenge Huge faces is waning student engagement at games. She insisted this was a national issue, even at athletic powerhouses.
Students make up only a fraction of fans at W&M athletic events. The highest student fan base over the last academic year was 43.8 percent for football, followed by women's soccer at 27.9 percent, men's soccer at 16.7 percent, men's basketball got 15 percent, women's basketball brought 14.6 percent and baseball at 11 percent.
In a recent college survey on student attendance at W&M events, Huge said the main question students ask when deciding whether or not to go, is "What are my friends doing?"
"There are so many distractions now among students to the point that sports events are becoming no longer a tradition."
Huge has plans to change this. She wants to bring full Wi-Fi to Zable Stadium and Kaplan Arena which would allow students to immediately share their experience on social media, such as Facebook or Snapchat. She hopes to use the fans as marketing agents to draw their friends out to the event too.
"People come to athletic events as much for the atmosphere as for the sport. It has to be an event," she said.
The athletics department already connects fans to businesses by giving out a hospitality handbook to all parents of student-athletes with suggestions for hotels, restaurants and shopping.
Huge hopes to establish relationships with Williamsburg organizations beyond the traditional tourism industries. Insisting they were only ideas at this point, she mentioned dreams to open up athletics facilities to the public to come and compete as long as it did not interfere with athletes' training. A facility could serve the young and the old in the community, while also growing revenue for the department.
Huge is clearly excited to join the William and Mary and the Williamsburg community. When asked what she does for fun she replied, " I love interacting with the students and the staff. What I do for fun is what I get paid to do."
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