John David Wicker
Athletic Director | San Diego State University
John David Wicker did something nobody else has been able to accomplish in San Diego over the past 20 years — build a new football stadium in town.
Wicker, San Diego State’s athletic director, spearheaded the development and construction of Snapdragon Stadium, a privately funded, 35,000-capacity, $310 million facility anchoring the school’s Mission Valley campus.
Snapdragon Stadium serves as the new home of Aztecs football, women’s pro soccer and men’s pro rugby, plus concerts and dirt shows.
It represents a key piece of San Diego State’s future as officials plan for a potential move up to the Pac-12 or Big 12 conference from its current home in the Mountain West conference.
“First off, we have to be invited to join, but we have put ourselves from an athletic department standpoint in a fantastic position to be at the top level of whatever the top level of NCAA is going to be,” Wicker said. “If it’s a Power 5 school, we have a great opportunity at that. We just made a $310 million investment in a stadium that’s going to pay dividends across all of our sports.”
Wicker’s collegiate background is in facility management, which is not the typical path for athletic directors. Originally an accountant, he took an unpaid internship at the University of Southern Mississippi, which led to serving as venue logistics manager for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta before filling roles for event management at Georgia, Southern Miss (again) and Washington State.
“Facilities was the area I really enjoyed a lot,” Wicker said. “I like to start something and finish it, so a ballgame and a facility are two things that when you start the planning process, you execute it and you’re done.”
Wicker spent four years as San Diego State’s senior associate athletic director and chief operating officer (2011-15) before spending 16 months as Georgia Tech’s senior associate athletic director for operations. In 2016, he returned to San Diego State as athletic director with a focus on building a new football stadium.
Wicker’s 25-plus years in venue operations paid dividends in teaming with Snapdragon Stadium architect Gensler and others involved in the project to push for an outdoor building able to host events year-round to take advantage of the beautiful climate in San Diego.
“I tried to stay out of the minutiae, because I knew I wasn’t going to be there on a daily basis,” he said. “The last thing you want is the guy who knows just enough to stick his nose into something that starts creating issues as opposed to creating solutions. But (that experience) helped as we were starting the design process.”
Moving forward, San Diego State is ready to develop a facilities master plan to upgrade all sports venues on campus.
The exercise comes after the school hired a consultant to meet with leaders for every sport to determine what they needed to be successful in the Mountain West, as well as the Pac-12 and Big 12, and where San Diego State stacks up against Power 5 institutions.
“We just got through a strategic operations plan,” Wicker said. “We knew we were going to generate a lot of revenue through the football stadium. From an overall facilities standpoint, I have a good idea of what we need to do, but we need to do a deep dive so we can put a number around that. Hundreds of millions of dollars of work need to be done.”
Editor’s Note: This story has been revised.