The Pirates Unite fundraising effort made a giant leap forward with the recent announcement of a $5 million gift from the Isley family of Raleigh.
The effort will finance some major athletic facility improvements that will include a much-needed indoor practice facility for football.
Pirate Club Executive Director Ryan Robinson is monitoring the pulse of the drive.
“The campaign is really about, at the end of the day, improving the student-athlete experience,” Robinson said. “We’re raising funds for some essential spaces that will really transform our student-athlete experiences and keep us on par with our peers.
“We’re behind in some areas, and it’s really all-encompassing because it’s some facilities, but the other thing we’re focusing on is sports-specific restricted funds, so people can donate straight to a specific program. They can use those funds to improve what they have within their own program. It’s off to a great start.”
Robinson ran down the numbers.. About one-third of the goal has been raised since the campaign officially kicked off in mid-May of 2022.
“$60 million over the next probably five years because you’re looking at a couple of buildings,” he said of the project’s total. “Right now, we’re nearing $21 million right now, and we are less than a year out, so really excited about that. But you’re looking at some buildings where this indoor facility, you’re probably looking between $20 and $24 million, so that will take up a huge chunk.
“We’ve got some stuff we need to do with the teams building. We need to do an expansion. We added lacrosse, but I wasn’t here but I think five or six years ago, so we’ve got to add some spaces there. We built a new swimming locker room, which is beautiful. We’re going to expand the baseball footprint. … We just completed the funding for Minges Coliseum renovations, which I’m really excited about…
“We will have chair backs on one side of the lower level now, and we’re putting in new LED lighting, which is badly needed, and not only it helps our sport programs that are in there, but also helps the university with the amount of events that we have in there.”
Pirate Club participation
The Pirate Club has roughly 6,500 members.
“That’s one of the things we’re really working on,” Robinson said. “Right now, we’ve got less than probably about eight percent of our Pirate Club members have participated in the campaign, and we really need as much participation as possible because I know it’s a cliche, but every dollar counts. We see every dollar that comes in. It means something.
“So, we need $100 donors, $200, $300. Yes, we are elated. We saw the Van Isley gift, which is the largest in the 61-year history of the Pirate Club, but we need a combination of everything to really move forward, and it’s going to move ECU athletics forward. I think we have a lot of momentum now that’s going to continue to grow.”
So when will concrete be poured for an indoor practice facility for football, an enhancement that Steve Logan advocated for long ago, when he was coaching the Pirates from 1992 to 2002.
Construction will depend on how quickly Pirates unite — and donate.
“For all these projects, we have to secure 100 percent funding,” Robinson said. “Right now, we’re about $7 million shy on the indoor facility, so it’s hard to put a timetable on it, but I’d love to be having a conversation … maybe this time next year, and say we’ve secured funding, but not to say that it couldn’t happen sooner.
“But we can’t do anything until we secure funding. We understand that. I know all of our staff loves the challenge, but we were able to secure the funding for Minges Coliseum, which was right around $1 million dollars. … What’s great about this campaign is individuals can choose where they want it to go, and that’s been really cool to be out and talk to these donors.”
Pirate Armada sets sail
The Pirate Club is hosting a series of meetings where Pirate Nation can hear ECU coaches in person.
“We’ve got, this whole month, we’ll be visiting these Pirate Club Armadas where we’ll take Coach (Mike) Houston (football), Coach (Mike) Schwartz (men’s basketball), Coach (Kim) McNeill (women’s basketball). Coach (Cliff) Godwin (baseball) was at one. We were in Charlotte (Wednesday) night. We’ll go to Raleigh, Greensboro, Wilmington. I think they’re in Wilson (Thursday).
“Really, that’s a time for us to update our fans, update our donors of where we’re at. One of the things we want to be is very transparent. If we don’t have the money to build the indoor, we’re not going to come out and say we do.
“We’ve got to keep pushing along. We’re blessed. Eastern North Carolina, this community and surrounding areas, we have really good donors and fans.”
“What’s really exciting is, the tower (TowneBank Tower/Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium) being built. Well, our donors are spending more money than they’ve ever spent with all the different buckets that we have, … I’m really pleased where we’re at.”
Football season tickets
Two straight bowl berths have rekindled support for football, which is apparent in season ticket sales.
“Our goal was 16,000,” Robinson said. “Right now, we’re above last year’s pace. We’re nearing 12,500 right now, and that’s a really good number this time of the year.”
Robinson worked for 10 years in public relations with the Jacksonville Jaguars. One of his best memories of that experience had an ECU connection.
“I’d say 2007 in Jacksonville, watching David Garrard (Pirate quarterback, 1998-2001) work for the first down to help us beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Wild Card game,” Robinson said. “That’s one of the greatest.
“Also, Jacksonville started going to London, so I think I went to London three straight years, which was a really cool experience, but that taught me a lot to be where we’re at here, where we’ve got to be very grassroots and engaged with our approach. And that’s how we were in Jacksonville to sell tickets to get support.”
Blue grass to purple and gold
Robinson has a journalism degree from Kentucky.
“I’ve been able to work on all different levels of college athletics and in journalism, and I definitely understand what media relations that department goes through, but also understand the job of a media member, and I can help relay that to our coaches — the perks of being transparent and establishing relationships. I know our coaches have some great relationships here.”
Robinson has developed an appreciation of what makes ECU special.
“It’s the people,” he said. ” … It’s just the genuineness of the people. I’m going into my fifth year, and I never thought I’d be here five years, and now I can’t see myself anywhere else. It’s just the conversations, the passion, the stories of how long people have been following these programs.
“I was in Charlotte (Wednesday) night and I love to hear the criticism. That doesn’t bother me because I think that’s going to make all of us better. One of the things we’ve got to do at the Pirate Club is, yes, we have a top group of donors, but everybody is important if we’re going to move this thing forward — and we’ve got a great opportunity ahead of us going into kind of a restructured AAC — and helping our fans understand that.
“But I love the people. I love the passion, whether it’s The Jungle at baseball. Never lose a tailgate. I’m starting to see the passion for our basketball programs. It’s just a really special place to be, special community in Greenville. I absolutely love living in Greenville.”