Powered by Nevco, A New Gameday from CollegeAD focuses on how athletic departments are working towards the eventual return of sports and what that will look like on gameday. Jennifer Williams who serves as the Director of Athletics at Alabama State joins the podcast to discuss safety moving forward, messaging during a pandemic, and the role of social media at this time.
Jennifer Williams, who is nearing the completion of her second year as the Director of Athletics at Alabama State, started the conversation off by saying that the folks at Alabama State are abiding by the rules and remain optimistic about the future, she noted they want to play football this fall and are trying to do everything they can safety-wise to make that happen.
She said that since the pandemic shut down, she and her staff have been taking full advantage of Zoom, Google, and other platforms that allow for safe interaction. She feels it’s better to over-communicate and her department has worked to be transparent in their decision making. Williams says she is taking the message to where the student-athletes are, Twitter, to make sure they are getting the proper updates and a sense that the department is working for them. Jennifer Williams, a former student-athlete herself, says that the safety of student-athletes and how they return to campus is her main focus, not just their physical health but their mental health and wellbeing as well. She says the mental health component has really been a focus for student-athletes across the nation. Williams explains that with the pandemic and the fight for social equality, mental health should be a top priority.
As far as communication with the fans, Williams explains that their institutional advancement and public relations teams have been essential to communication. She says they are using a variety of communication methods including email and social media. She says, as a department, they are making sure the message is consistent and current with what’s going on. She gave an example of their season ticket refund plan. Williams says the message to season ticket holders is, ‘we want to play and are ready to play, but just in case that doesn’t happen we want to accommodate you.’ She says while they may not have all the answers they are working on solutions for different scenarios.
Williams explains that Alabama State athletics was leaning into social media more before the pandemic but their efforts went into overdrive once the shutdown happened. She says they are also working with university partners because they may have a further reach than the university itself. She says once football returns, social media will continue to play a huge role on gameday. Williams says once play actually starts, it will likely be limited capacity, maybe even no capacity and social media can help keep fans engaged both in and outside the stadium.
Next, she explained how communication with their partners could actually lead to a few non-traditional revenue opportunities. Jennifer Williams said they are working on ways to get their corporate sponsors immersed in their student population through social media. She says they are constantly looking for ways to get engagement for their partners because they are hurting as well. She gave an example of putting logos on their digital tickets, something they have not done in the past but will be doing in the future.
The conversation then turned to the planning involved with the upcoming football season. Williams explains that she and her team have been planning, replanning, reassessing, and pivoting as the information changes. She says since the climate has changed so drastically, month to month, or week to week, it’s important to have plans in place no matter the scenario. She expects limited capacity in the stadium, so they have been planning for that. They are looking at temperature checks, masks (ASU is a mask mandatory campus), and seat spacing.
She says it will be difficult. The culture at HBCU’s involves tailgating, band performances, and right now she doesn’t think those aspects can properly be done due to the virus. Jennifer Williams says technology will play a huge role. How they record their games will be impacted because the content will have to shine. That will be the way many of their fans enjoy this year’s game day experience. She acknowledges many of their fans will not be physically present for gameday. She noted that the virus is impacting the African-American community at a high rate, so many fans don’t feel safe returning. She says they are making sure fans know how to access their content online in preparation for more fans sitting out the 2020 season.
Williams says her main message to staff, student-athletes, fans, and partners is patience and flexibility. She says leading through a pandemic requires people to be flexible and pivot. She says she’s grateful for her experience as a student-athlete because it’s helped her to lead during this time. She says she tells her staff to make sure they are bringing solutions to the table and looking at the big picture, which is safety.