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Four Focuses that Deliver Value for University and Athletic Facilities

By Miller Zell

It wasn’t just the bourbon tasting that made Miller Zell’s participation in the Campus Athletics Facilities Summit in Santa Clara, Calif. so engaging and successful. It helped, of course, but the connections that were forged with athletic directors (ADs) developed because of discussions that offered value, innovation and environmental strategies that connect with today’s student-athletes.

In our meetings, Miller Zell discussed our process and capabilities that are rooted in retail with ADs and university facilities officers and how they apply to all types of branded environments.

Here are four topics that inspired the most interest.

What’s top of mind for athletic directors?

Discussions with athletic directors focused on four topics.

  • Universities want value and execution on a disciplined budget with on-time project completion.
  • End-to-end services with no task handoffs best provide efficient and transparent workflow from design to installation.
  • Students want customized experiences that prioritize functionality, digital applications and environmental communication – not just stately or futuristic architecture.
  • Optimized branding requires a thorough understanding of the diverse cultures and subcultures on campus, in sports, academics and social spaces.

Delivering on-budget value will be particularly important if the economy stagnates or slips into a recession. As a potential partner offering end-to-end services from concept to completion with nearly 60 years of experience, Miller Zell understands each step of the process, offering a single point of contact with logistical expertise who can provide cost savings and ensure efficient installation.

Further, our retail expertise gives us a deeper and holistic understanding of a university as a brand, with its various cultures and subcultures. Whether that’s about a specific sport, academic discipline or social environment, it’s more critical than ever to design and develop strategically as schools compete for the best students and athletes, the latter of whom now understand the value of branding with the advent of Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) deals.

Research reveals branding, sub-branding

The best way to begin a project is with research, which is often overlooked and underdone by design and architectural firms.

You don’t just start drawing off-the-cuff ideas for a new locker room. You interview coaches and athletes about what they want and what distinguishes their specific team culture within the wider athletic department and university. This process not only produces actionable ideas, it also cultivates “buy-in” with students, coaches and athletic & academic leaders. They participate in the revelation and development of a sub-brand while also knowing the overall process is about fulfilling their practical and aspirational wants and needs. This recognition and celebration of subcultures and sub-brands elevate recruiting, both athletically and academically.

Respecting and serving these differences create a sense of parity among revenue and non-revenue sports or larger and smaller academic departments because it includes a recognition and celebration of perhaps previously marginalized subcultures. This attention to detail fosters deep connections between students/athletes and their primary university environments.

For Miller Zell, this process starts with a thorough understanding of a university’s brand core and brand attributes. This helps us develop a brand filter, which operates as a verbal and visual journey through the university’s brand and culture/subcultures.

Collaborative process that produces optimized results

For example, Miller Zell partnered with SMU to develop a variety of diverse projects, from sports locker rooms and stadiums, to student lounges, to dorms, to its Hughes-Trigg Student Center to its tech-heavy “Gallery 1911” remodel.

Each project involved a multi-pronged collaboration with SMU administrators, architects and general contractors, while Miller Zell focused on research, branding/sub-branding, design, procurement, production, décor, digital and installation.

Said Michael Molina, SMU’s Associate VP & Chief Architect, “The Miller Zell team perfectly aligned with our effort to change the paradigm on project approach and delivery here at SMU. The insight and experience from conceptual brand development through design and implementation were efficient, imaginative, creative and powerful.”

So come for the bourbon tasting – perhaps in our new Ray Room collaboration space – but stay for the expertise that partners with a diversity of clients to build optimized branded environments.

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