MORGANTOWN - For much of his 4 1/2 years on the job as West Virginia University's athletic director, Shane Lyons wondered just how much of a financial impact Mountaineer sports had on the state and Monongalia County. He doesn't have to wonder anymore.
A year ago, WVU commissioned the research teams at Tripp Umbach to measure the economic impact and community benefits of the school's athletics program, and the results were released to the media at Wednesday's summer briefing at the WVU Coliseum.
The report, which covered the 2017-18 academic year, found that WVU's 18 varsity sports had a whopping impact of $302.7 million on the state and $78.8 million in Monongalia County.
That included $246.1 million in visitor and fan spending for the state in general and $63.3 million for WVU's home county.
"Once you see that number,'' Lyons said, "and what impact athletics has on this state and this county, it's a sign to what the Mountaineers mean to this state and to Mon County.''
The $302.7 million figure is considered significant because it represents new money entering the state's economy that would not occur without the presence of WVU athletics.
Football was responsible for $223.4 million - combining direct and indirect spending by visitors and WVU football operations - and men's basketball was responsible for $35.5 million. The employment impact of the detailed report was also measured at 2,109 total jobs in the state, and about a third of third of that (709) for Monongalia County.
Carrie Kennedy, a principal project director for Tripp Umbach, said her group had performed similar reports for universities such as Tennessee, Penn State and Washington.
"We normally conduct an impact study on operations,'' Kennedy said, "because athletics means so much more than just the operational impact.
"We spent a lot of time gathering surveys at various events and games, and surveying visitors to find out what they're spending and how far they're coming from. Just to get some primary information on these spending patterns and activities and how much they generate to the economy.
"The real impact comes from visitor spending.''
Other items that Lyons touched on during his briefing:
n On the school's policy of employing what he called "secret shoppers'' who supply athletic department officials with detailed reports of their game-day experiences as fans:
"From the time they leave their driveway, they give us reports on their transportation in, trying to get into the game, the concession lines, and give us feedback.
"We can always improve; we can always get better. The fan experience is very important. We want to fill up this Coliseum as well as the football stadium, and that's economic impact.
"If they're staying at home and watching on their 80-inch-screen TV, they're not spending money here.
"So how can we continue, not as just as athletic department, but as a community to help build this fan experience and help people have a great time when they come to Morgantown.
"I want that stadium full each and every Saturday. Same with this Coliseum.''
n Playing neutral-site football games against fellow Power 5 programs at locations like Charlotte, North Carolina (as WVU did last fall against Tennessee) or Washington instead of staging a seventh home game against a lower-level opponent:
"Those are good games for us,'' Lyons said of the neutral-site games, "and obviously there are guarantees, but I've got to think of the bigger picture as well.
"What does a seventh game in Morgantown here mean and its benefits to us to stay here or go on the road.''
n About possible naming rights, especially for new venues like the school's aquatic center or nine-lane outdoor track:
"Those things are definitely on the horizon, and we're talking about going through the processes right now.
"My job is to continue to look at what possible revenue streams do we have and ticket sales, conference revenue, home game revenue, etc. But we also have to think about what are other possible revenue opportunities, and some of those are naming rights. But it's not just making the decision.
"Obviously, we want to make sure it's the right partner and also go through the board of directors to make sure it's a fit for West Virginia University. We're not going to just name for revenue.''
n On the impact of the transfer portal that NCAA athletes now employ when they are thinking about transferring schools:
"I think from our perspective at WVU and you look at our numbers, they really haven't changed from years past.
"I think the national narrative is that this transfer portal has opened up all kinds of opportunities to transfer and giving students access to a free-agent market.
"From West Virginia's standpoint, our numbers look the same across the board, not only in football but in all other sports from other years as well.''
n On first-year football coach Neal Brown already making a name for himself in the state:
"I've been with Neal a lot, traveling with the caravans. They're getting young men in here who have never had an interest in West Virginia before, and I think he's selling, which is truly us, the family atmosphere.
"I couldn't be more pleased. We joke that he hasn't won a football game yet, but he is on the right track.''
n On the accomplishments of baseball coach Randy Mazey and the desire to rework his contract:
"We have (talked about it). Randy has done a great job for our baseball program and is a great coach.
"We want him to be here in West Virginia and continue to build on what he's built on for several years.''
n On the current ambitious $100 million "Climbing Higher'' fundraising campaign of the athletic department:
"The impact of upgrading our facilities is key to our future success.
"My job as your director of athletics is not to look at today or tomorrow, but to look three, five years down the road.
"If we're still playing baseball at Hawley Field, I don't think we have the success we had this year in baseball at Mon County Ballpark.
"There were a lot of critics saying that ballpark would never get filled up, and I think we proved that wrong very quickly.
"I believe facilities make a difference in our program. I'll continue to believe that I'll continue to push that.
"I'm not going to stop my vision of where this place could be.''