For 40 years, Alan Haller has been spending his time on the MSU campus. It started when he was a little kid going to MSU football camps and art camps at the Kresge Art Center.
Now, at the age of 51, Haller has fulfilled one of his lifelong dreams, he was unanimously approved by the Board of Trustees on Wednesday as MSU's new athletic director.
“I’m so fired up,” Haller said in a roundtable with reporters on Thursday. “This has been something I have wanted to do for the last 10 years and, I am excited to work with our student athletes.”
Of course, becoming an athletic director during this time has more challenges than ever before. From name, image, likeness, or NIL, rules to budget cuts, to potential conference realignments, to the transfer portal, to the continued battle with COVID-19, there is a lot on Haller’s plate.
Haller sees these challenges as opportunities rather than viewing them as problems.
“NIL is an opportunity, but you may want to write about it as a challenge,” Haller said. “I think it’s an opportunity to not necessarily match what other universities are doing, but making it individual to that particular student-athlete and making sure that they can excel in this era.”
Officially starting work on Sept. 7, Haller already has his day one plan set up. It includes a two-hour meeting with President Stanley to review expectations, plan ideas and make sure they are on the same page. Haller also has a meeting scheduled for Sept. 7 with Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren.
Without revealing too much before his formal introduction, which will take place on Sept. 7, Haller gave insight into which ideas, plans and philosophies of his earned him the job.
Perhaps one of the more pressing issues at the moment is getting back to a sense of normalcy and getting fans back into the stadiums like they were before the pandemic, which can be a big revenue builder. However, the stadium and fan experience industry has changed immensely over the last 18 months, which has caused Haller to reevaluate the fan experience for Spartan fans.
He has already formed a fan engagement committee to rework the gameday experience, from when a fan leaves their house to when they go back to their house. The committee will look at every aspect, such as traffic flow, parking, gate congestion and experience sitting in the bowl - all little things that may not need a lot of time to be changed.
“What are some of the new things that we can do to make it fun to be at our events?" Haller said. "Little things, like putting a DJ in the student section. We're gonna change the entrance, in terms of how the team comes out. It hasn't been changed in years. It’s just one thing we're gonna do and we're going to some other small things within the football experience.”
A former cornerback for the Spartans, from 1988-91, Haller would like the current student-athletes to have very similar experiences to what he had when he was a player. With that, there has been a repeated emphasis on promoting fairness and equality among student-athletes for every opportunity possible, such as nutrition, mental health and academics, regardless of the revenue their sport has brought.
“If you're a football student-athlete, you shouldn’t necessarily eat better than a rowing student-athlete,” Haller said. “There’s things across the board, from an equitable standpoint, we are going to examine and say, ‘Hey, all of our athletes are going to have the opportunity to have good nutrition.’ Now, a women’s golfer is not going to eat the same as a men’s basketball player, but they're going to have the opportunity to fuel their bodies with proper nutrition to help them be successful.”
It was clear how everything for Haller goes back to fairness and equality for all 23 MSU programs. Whether it is allocating the budget equally, providing programs to all student-athletes or making sure all facilities are state of the art, Haller wants all programs to be treated with the same respect they all deserve.
Which, in turn, can improve the fan experience, too.
“I'm a huge Disney person,” Haller said. “I love Disney. One of the great things about Disney is you probably wouldn't be able to tell anyone how much a ticket costs. Nobody knows how much a ticket to Disney costs because the experience is so incredible. Now, I'm not into raising ticket prices, but I want our fans to come to our events and be so engaged about the experience and be excited to come.”
While attending MSU athletic events may be hard to compare to the extraordinary amount of magic displayed at Disney World, striving for the top is a lofty goal for a fan base in need of a jump start. Adding a little magic could be just what MSU fans need.
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