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NMU AD finalist Karr sees potential financial growth for Wildcat athletics

April 11, 2012
By MATT WELLENS - Journal Sports Editor ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - Duke LifePoint Healthcare is set to breathe new life into Marquette General Hospital once its proposed acquisition of the Upper Peninsula's largest medical facility is complete.

But the company's impact won't end there, not if Forrest Karr becomes the next athletic director of Northern Michigan University.

Speaking in the University Center's Pioneer Rooms on Tuesday during his visit to campus, the current University of Alaska Fairbanks athletic director said it would be one of the first organizations he talks to as the university looks to secure corporate sponsorships for the school's NCAA athletics teams, recreational sports department and the United States Olympic Education Center.

Article Photos

University of Alaska Fairbanks Athletic Director Forrest Karr, a finalist for Northern Michigan University’s open athletic director position, addresses a group of Wildcat athletics supporters during a public presentation on his vision for the future of NMU athletics in the Pioneer Rooms of the University Center on campus. Karr was the first of three finalists for the athletic director job to visit Marquette and speak in the next two weeks. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)

"There's potential for big sponsorships with your local community hospital," said Karr, who is one of three finalists for the open athletic director's position at NMU. "We partner with Fairbanks Memorial Hospital so that our student athletes, when they go there for services - whether it be imaging, X-rays, MRIs - the costs are written down to what our insurance will cover. That helps our department in a big way.

"It's one of our biggest corporate sponsorships. If I had the opportunity to get this position, it would be one of the companies I would be working with right away."

Corporate sponsorships have been an area of expertise for Karr during his seven years as athletic director of the Alaska Nanooks after graduating from Notre Dame not only as an academic all-American goaltender, but with a degree in finance and business economics.

He went on to earn a law degree from the University of Wisconsin, work in a sports marketing agency and serve as a law clerk for the NCAA and for a firm that represented the Harlem Globetrotters, who will be performing at the Berry Events Center tonight.

That experience has come into play in Fairbanks, Alaska, a community of 31,535 residents and 97,581 representing the entire metropolitan area.

The Nanooks have racked up 80 corporate sponsors, who Karr says he knows all by name after taking over the department's marketing duties.

The Alaska AD said there is a lot of room for growth at NMU, which currently boasts 53 sponsors on its website,

Despite Marquette being a smaller community - 21,355 in the city and 67,077 in the county - Karr believes he can duplicate the success he had in Alaska.

There's a lot of new energy ready to be tapped with a new football coach in Chris Ostrowsky, the recently hired Doug Lewis in men's basketball, plus a new athletic director set to come on board, he said.

"It's just a matter of going out and talking to people," Karr said. "I believe that in a community this size, there are businesses that if they were asked, if somebody were to go out and talk to them, told them that maybe we would be able to provide some advertising to them, maybe some tickets, I believe there are companies that would be willing to or interested in becoming corporate sponsors. That would be a big priority."

Karr discussed his vision not only for the Wildcats' NCAA varsity athletics programs, but for recreational sports and the U.S. Olympic Education Center.

While he touched on a number of subjects, from improving equality among sports teams, maximizing the experience for student athletes, and adding to NMU's NCAA portfolio - tennis, men's swimming, softball and women's lacrosse were mentioned - a common theme was struck by the Wisconsin native - increasing revenue.

It's something he's had much success with in Fairbanks with revenues exceeding expenses each of the last two years at UAF, which spends 22 percent of its budget on travel or incoming team travel, not including the additional 2 percent spent on the recruiting trail.

"I understand the economic situation in the state of Michigan and throughout the lower 48. Even up in Alaska we see it. There's no new public sector funding," Karr said. "It's important to understand reality. If we are going improve things and do projects, we need to find a way to get the revenue and generate the revenue. That's going to be my job, the coaches' job and everybody in the department's job."

Karr would like to increase recreational memberships among students, faculty and staff to not only create more revenue for that department, but to create a healthier campus and community.

Karr also sees an opportunity for Wildcat athletics to not only increase its exposure, but earn some cash by partnering with the Collegiate Licensing Company, which charges other companies royalties to use the NMU name and logo.

Karr said the Nanooks partnership with CLC entails the campus bookstore getting a portion of the fees collected by CLC and the bookstore then shares a portion of that with the athletic department, creating another revenue stream beyond just on-campus sales.

CLC also gets Nanook apparel in national chains, such as Lids/Hat World, Dick's Sporting Goods, Champs Sports, Foot Locker and The Sports Authority to name a few of the company's top retail clients.

"It's something that we just got started on, but there are all kinds of positives with revenue coming back to the department," Karr said. "Also, there's the ability to distribute apparel where we couldn't before because of their distribution channels."

One of Karr's major endeavors as AD of the Nanooks was working with state and local governments to purchase a center-hung scoreboard for the Carlson Center - a publicly owned, multi-use facility that is home to the Nanook hockey team.

Karr said a video board specifically in the Berry Events Center would not only improve the game game-day atmosphere for hoops and hockey, but again be another carrot the athletic department could dangle in front of potential corporate sponsors.

"I think its an even bigger opportunity here in Marquette because not only does hockey play at the Berry Events Center, but men's and women's basketball, so you have more events for people to see the value of their business," Karr said.

Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.



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