Dollars Etched in Stone

By Staff

Athletic Management, 15.5, August/September 2003,

When Stephen Ponder gets calls from marketing firms hawking fund-raising ideas, he usually says thanks, but no thanks. But when the Associate Executive Director of North Carolina State University’s Wolfpack Club got a call from a firm that wanted to talk about monuments, the idea intrigued him enough to keep him on the phone.

North Carolina State was in the midst of fund-raising for a new $28 million football facility. They had received a $2 million gift toward the project, and they needed a naming opportunity. They also needed something to put in the new building’s entryway. “I thought, ‘There might be something we can do with this idea,’” Ponder says.

Several months later, the end result of that conversation sits in front of N.C. State’s new football facility: a three-story-high monument that may be the largest college mascot sculpture in the U.S. An unveiling ceremony for the monument was held this summer.

The 28-foot-tall sculpture features a mountain guarded by six wolves, each named by the school’s football coach Chuck Amato, for an attribute of his team: courage, confidence, passion, pride, spirit, and strength. There’s lighting. There’s also a waterfall. “We had sound too, but we took that off,” Ponder says.

The project came with a $700,000 price tag. Installation cost $100,000, and $600,000 went to sculptor Dick Idol for his design. “We were able to tell him what we envisioned, and from there, he gave us a drawing,” Ponder says. “We tweaked it a little bit, but that first drawing is pretty much how the monument ended up looking.”

Even before its official unveiling, the monument was generating income. Two-thousand fans have purchased the opportunity to put their names on bricks around the base of the monument for $200 or $600, based on size, and sales continue. Sales of replicas (priced at $295 for a resin model and $2995 for a bronze model) have generated $35,000-$40,000 so far.

“Pretty much everything we do—our Web site, our newsletters, our coaches’ radio shows—now carries a blurb urging people to buy the replicas,” Ponder says. “We expect even stronger sales of the replicas now that the monument is finished, and especially as football season gets closer.

“On game day, the monument is going to see a lot of use,” he continues. “The football team will do the ‘wolf walk’ around it in their street clothes before entering the new facility to get into their uniforms. We expect to have fans lined up around the monument—we think it will become a pre-game ritual.”

Now that the sculpture’s design belongs to the school, wolves may start cropping up on more places around campus. One idea is to have six-foot tall replicas of ‘Strength’ and ‘Passion’ face off across the football stadium. The Wolfpack Club is also looking for donors to fund more wolves at other athletic facilities, offering the idea as a naming opportunity.

“What’s great about this is the multiple levels available,” Ponder says. “Someone can buy a replica for $295, or they can give us a large gift and say, ‘I want my name on a six-foot-tall wolf in front of the baseball stadium.’ Or they can get involved somewhere in the middle by buying a brick.”

For any athletic department considering building a monument, Ponder advises having a clear, detailed agreement with the other parties involved. “Understand your agreement with the artist and marketing firm at the outset,” he says. “What are the costs? What’s included in the price? Who’s going to manage the project? You also need a solid understanding of who’s going to be responsible for what when it comes to marketing items related to the monument once it’s done.

“Understand what you’re agreeing to and really get the details nailed down,” he cautions, “because it can generate bad feelings later on if you don’t.”

So far, what the monument seems to be generating most is enthusiasm. “Every day, there’s someone out there looking at the sculpture, reading the names on the bricks,” Ponders says. “Some people even come to put flowers on the bricks named for someone who’s deceased. The entire university has taken pride in the monument. We’ve always used a bell tower as the university’s symbol, but this is definitely our symbol now.”