King: “I’m not good at much, but I’m pretty good at finance” — The Return and Future of RMU Athletics

Chris+King+talks+to+RMU+students+at+the+Sentry+Media+Retreat.

Photo by Josh Milteer

Chris King talks to RMU students at the Sentry Media Retreat.

By Robert Bradley, Contributor

Chris King, the Vice President and Director of Athletics at Robert Morris University, began his Sports Management career at RMU as a member of the class of 1994, also enriching his education at Campbell University to obtain his Master’s.

Since then, King has had numerous positions with universities south of RMU, including Liberty University, University of Central Florida, University of Alabama, and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, before returning to his alma mater in 2019. Unfortunately, not long after, King and many other NCAA athletic directors nationwide faced new obstacles presented by an unforeseen global pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic practically halted everyday life; businesses were shut down, workers were unemployed, college campuses and schools were closed, and professional and collegiate sports stopped.

Now, with students moving back onto campus, athletes attending practices and classes starting this week, RMU Athletics’ long-awaited return had finally arrived after the unexpected hiatus brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an exclusive interview with Colonial Sports Network, Chris King discussed multiple topics concerning the RMU Athletic Department’s budget through COVID, the return of collegiate sports, and fans attending RMU sporting events, new COVID-19 protocols, and the future of RMU’s Athletic Department.

“It’s an all-in-one department mentality. We got to June 2020, and I told everybody you can’t spend money unless I approve it, not one dollar. We didn’t know what it was going to look like…we lost about $1.26 million in revenue, and then we had to spend $409,000 in COVID costs.”

King also mentioned the entrails of constructing a season while also keeping a budget in mind.

“I’m not good at much, but I’m pretty good at finance. We had to balance our budget; if we go over-budget that goes against the institution, in a time when enrollment was down because of the pandemic… we took our expense savings, scholarship savings, and we had some athletes that didn’t come back that were international,” King said. “We were able to offset that revenue loss, so by the end of the year, we were able to balance our budget, which was remarkable… if you asked me, at the beginning of the fiscal year, there was about a 50-60-percent chance we could do that, but a lot of things went the right way,” said King.

With in-person sporting events already underway this season, King outlined the athletic department’s plans to strengthen fan engagement and the new COVID-19 protocols with the return of in-person attendance.

“We had a huge plan last year,” King stated. “We hired on a third-party for corporate sales and ticket sales, and we are actually working with student life… we put an entire plan in place in regard to the different events that are on campus to be able to collaborate together, with the resources and staffing to make those events big-time events.”

Moreover, the return of collegiate athletics includes the return of fans to the stands. King explained the athletic department’s goals of putting together a new student section for basketball.

“They will work up through basketball season to get [the student section] built up. We want to take that from basketball into lacrosse season, into football season, and we want to engage the students and make sure there is a good environment on campus,” he said. “We always have to follow the state and county guidelines, first, and then, of course, the RMU guidelines… volleyball, for example, everyone will have to wear masks, vaccinated or unvaccinated. Outdoor events like soccer… we will strongly encourage with our signage…you have to wear a mask.”

Following his description of the athletic department’s journey through the COVID-19 pandemic and outline of the current state of the RMU athletic department, King believes that the future will present similar challenges.

“This year, it’s trying to get past the pandemic,” King said. “We have a lot of plans on the revenue-generating side, to build and increase revenue, so we can do a lot of things that we need to do; whether it’s staffing, student services, academic services, or providing different resources to the athletes that we don’t have right now.”

In his closing remarks, King emphasized, “We want to have a better fan experience. We want to engage the students, get our brand out to the community better, and put more butts in seats, so we put a lot of emphasis on marketing and media on the revenue-generation side.”

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ‘put a wedge’ in peoples’ plans, RMU athletes, students, and fans can rest assured that the athletic department is working in the best interest of the student-athletes, students, and fans. Not only is the RMU athletic department doing its absolute best to be resourceful to athletes, engage more students, and create an exciting atmosphere for fans, but to, more importantly, protect everyone involved.