Powered by Nevco, A New Gameday is a new podcast from CollegeAD focusing on how athletic departments are working towards the eventual return of sports and what that will look like on gameday. Tanner Stines, McNeese Interim Director of Athletics, joins the show this to discuss his department’s new way of thinking that has arisen from the shutdown of college sports.
He started the conversation by saying that the Lake Charles, Louisiana community has remained upbeat during the pandemic and has not been as hard hit as other areas in the country. He quickly added that those circumstances come with their own set of challenges because the virus still needs to be taken seriously and they can’t afford to let down their guard.
Tanner Stines is entering his fifth year as the Sr. Associate Athletic Director for Administration and Operations, while also having the duties of an interim AD. He says serving in this hybrid role has allowed for rapid and fluid decision making, because so much rests solely on him.
He says during the COVID-19 crisis, the biggest thing they’ve focuses on is how to take care of their fanbase as stakeholders and corporate sponsors. McNeese’s external team went to work right away trying to come up with something every day for game sponsors and major contract holders. They set out to get their exposure daily social media campaigns. Stines says they went to their coaching staff and asked everyone to be as active and positive and they talk about campus and things that are going on. Stines pointed out that during the pandemic, there were more people using their phones and other devices, and that opened up a possible new audience for the Cowboys. He believed the more they were out there, the more they were on people’s minds.
He explained that since they are a small department many people fill multiple roles. He gave the example that their external ticket operating staff is also in the creative role, he says they have backgrounds in graphic design and marketing and since they couldn’t sell any tickets during the pandemic, they had time to get into the digital space with creative ideas. He explained the hard part was coming up with new content because they were used to documenting athletic activity.
McNeese announced Frank Wilson as its new head football coach at the start of the year, Tanner Stines says that excitement has helped get them through the last few months. He explains that Wilson is out there almost every day doing interviews that gets his message out there with a vision for the fall. Stines believes that the delay caused by the virus has actually caused excitement for Cowboy’s football.
Stines says the new game day that’s coming in a post-pandemic world, will include a fan base that’s possibly more engaged and attuned to their favorite teams. He says they will know how to stay up-to-date with social media in real-time. He believes that plays into the game day when they are pushing out potential changes, people will know where to go or direct information. He also says it’s made them rethink some aspects of the game via social media. He gave an example of how in the past, they may have selected a person to participate in game day events by walking the stadium and picking them out of the crowd, now it can be someone preselected on social media and that can work as an encouragement for them to come to the game. He says his team also looked at other scenarios possible for this fall, like no fans in the stands. He says his team landed on several possibilities including prerecording promotions to run during the broadcast, trying to make game day a hybrid of what fans are used to while living in a world with a pandemic.
Stines explains they’ve had to think outside of the box when it comes to possible avenues of revenue, especially if stands cannot be full. He says they look at signage in the stands, to use some of that empty real estate. Things like a green screen where they can digitally overlay advertising. He also says they’ve looked at things that are outside of their venue, ways to get engagement outside in a less restricted festive atmosphere.
Stines says the thinking of sponsors has also changed. He says many of them are sponsors, not only to support athletics but also to support the community. He says many of them are looking to engage the week leading up to the game, not just on the game day. He says conversations now revolve around how much exposure they might get on gameday versus how many people watch on social media leading up to gameday. Stines explains when they talk about how many people are actually reached via social media, some sponsors are now looking at new ways to reach people beside typical game day advertising.
He explains that the innovation they’ve seen in college athletics because of the pandemic may actually be jumpstarting the smaller and regional universities to a nonlinear broadcast model. He gave an example of shifting to more production value of the game and less to the production value on the board itself in the game, because as the fanbases nationally are finding other things to do. Specifically, in Lake Charles, he pointed out, fans can go to the casino and watch the game on their phone, so he needs that game on their phone to be exciting. Stines says this new era has no playbook and it’s pushing people to innovate.
Tanner Stines explains it’s hard when you have no staff in the building, he says his staff is scheduled to return next week and he’s looking forward to seeing them build off of some of these new ideas. He says the one message he’s driving home to fans is that we are all in this together. Stines says the thing everyone is missing right now is the comradery and the social element of sports. He’s projecting a message that says “we can’t wait to have our family back with us in the fall.”