New Challenges: Texas’ Drew Martin on Transition and Tackling Fan Engagement

July 26th, 2018 | by CollegeAD
New Challenges: Texas’ Drew Martin on Transition and Tackling Fan Engagement

drew martin

Last month at the annual NACDA convention, CollegeAD had the opportunity to sit down with one of the newest members of Chris Del Conte’s staff at the University of Texas. Drew Martin, who spent six years with Del Conte at TCU decided to depart Fort Worth and take on a new challenge in Austin. Martin, the Longhorns new Executive Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs discusses his decision to leave TCU for Texas, the new challenges he will face at Texas and how he plans to meet those challenges head-on.

One challenge, in particular, fan engagement and gameday experience, is not unique just to the University of Texas. Martin discusses why he believes college athletics has fallen behind the times there, and what needs to be done to rectify the situation.

CollegeAD: Drew, what led you to the University of Texas?

Drew Martin: I had a wonderful, little bit over six-year career at TCU, really enjoyed helping to shepherd TCU into the Big 12 Conference and really do some new things there, some risk-taking. I was able to develop a great relationship with Chris Del Conte. I really admire the way that he operates, the freedom that he gives the staff to take risks, to make something out of nothing at times. He really challenges you to make it better. Good is great, but how can great get even better?

When Chris got hired at the University of Texas in December, it was an interesting time period because our deputy AD, at the time, Jeremiah Donati was named the athletic director at TCU the next day. Jeremiah is one of my closest friends in the industry, so it was exciting to be there with him at a time when things were transitioning under new leadership and his first time being an AD.

We had some great things planned at TCU, but when Chris Del Conte called and asked me to come down to University of Texas and just consider the opportunity, to consider the strength and the reach of that brand and to really help him focus and guide Texas to where they need to be in the national landscape, it was just an offer and opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.

CollegeAD: What about the pressure associated with the University of Texas? It’s been well over a decade now where the question is, is Texas relevant? When will Texas be relevant and the pressure of jumping into that situation?

drew martinDrew Martin: Texas is always relevant. Texas has always been relevant, and always will be relevant. So there is a different pressure.

I think that at any academic institution and athletics program, there’s a lot of pressure from a lot of different angles. Every school has donors, every school has shareholders, every school has students, alumni, faculty, staff, and fans. People who invest time, energy, and money into the program.

But at a school like Texas, there is a national attention to it and so it’s just a larger, broader spectrum.

It’s just the volume. It’s there, and those fans, those donors, those ticket holders, those students, those alumni and faculty and staff, they want to win. They want their programs to be successful, and that’s our mission is to really get in and figure out ways that we can keep doing what’s working and to tweak what may not be working and really develop a path to success.

It starts with supporting our coaches, supporting our student-athletes. That’s why we have jobs. We are there to serve the student-athletes and we can do that best on the administrative side by serving the coaches and setting them up to win.

CollegeAD: How can you take the experience you gained at TCU and translate it to Texas, whereas you’ve said that the brand and the reach is just exponentially larger despite the success that was cultivated at TCU during your tenure there?

Drew Martin: I’ve spent a lot of my time meeting with our third-party partners. Paciolan, Southern Experience, Sidearm Sports, IMG College from a multimedia rights standpoint, to really learn from their perspective. What is Texas doing right with these partnerships and where are areas they look at Texas and say, “man, if you guys would just do this if you would just implement this technology if you would just go down this path….”

What I’m learning is, in their opinion, Texas has taken a little bit more of a conservative route when it comes to newer technologies and not really getting out there on that leading edge. I learned this from Bill Byrne a long time ago when I was at Texas A&M: I definitely want to be on the leading edge, but I certainly never want to be on the ‘bleeding edge.’

So we’ve talked a lot about how we can implement some of these things that put Texas back on that leading edge without taking too big of a step over the edge. I’ve taken that feedback to Chris and come up with some of what we believe are quick wins that will really serve our fans.

CollegeAD: Speaking of serving the fans, specifically, fan engagement has become a big talking point across the country. Athletic departments everywhere are trying to improve the gameday experience, how can you get the average season ticket holder to stay, how can you create new opportunities with some of those exciting plans that you guys are working on?

Drew Martin: I think a lot of it really boils down to giving fans permission to have fun.

Giving fans permission to really get into the games, have a good time. We really want to dial back a lot of the over-the-top corporate sponsorship aspects of it. You score a touchdown and we go to a commercial and the next thing you know, a bank president is on the field with the athletics director getting a game ball, and the fans sit down.

So what we’re really telling them is, hey, take a breath, take a pause, when we should be telling them let’s celebrate this touchdown. Let’s keep this momentum going. Let’s have some fun with the band. Let’s have some fun with the video boards, and let’s do some things that are engaging to really keep you invested and keep you having fun.

There are certainly areas, you know, we would be remiss to not find areas to activate with our sponsors. They’re paying quite a bit of money to be a part of the University of Texas brand. But I think there are different ways that you can do that and still keep that fan engaged, ways that are more entertaining than on-field presentation after on-field presentation, weather report after weather report. Those kinds of things really turn the fans off.

Chris does a really, really good job of listening to the fans through social media presence and I’ve really taken that to heart and followed his lead on that. It’s amazing what you can learn when you start listening to the fans and start making some changes based on direct feedback.

drew martin

CollegeAD: How has that aspect of the industry shifted, the fan engagement side of things? How has that progressed throughout your career overall?

Drew Martin: I think that we really set ourselves up for this change and for this challenge with all of the massive television contracts. When I started in this industry, when I was a young pup at Mississippi State as a student assistant, it was a big deal for us to get a television game. That was a huge deal. Oh my gosh, we’re gonna be on TV this week. This is great. This is fantastic. Everybody come out and let’s show the nation what Mississippi State looks like on national television.

Today, every game is on TV. So why should I leave my home? I can literally watch every game that I want to see all the time. So that kind of created this, this necessity of paying attention to what drives a fan to come to the game. Are we priced right? Do we have the right concessions items? Are we engaging with your family? Do we have things for kids to do? What are we doing pregame? Are there activation areas outside the stadium that encourage tailgating, encourage community? Are we building these things that really take your Saturday and make you say, I want to go spend a Saturday on campus at UT Austin because I know it’s going to be fun. So it’s been a huge shift.

CollegeAD: Do you think the industry has responded with the speed and pace that they need to?

Drew Martin: I really don’t think so, because I think that we’ve gotten stuck as an industry in a bit of a routine, and even the conversations we had at TCU with IMG College, who was our multimedia rights holder there, it’s a difficult pill to swallow when you’re used to selling a bank president on an on-field experience with a game ball and the athletics director. For the sponsor, that’s great; for the fans, that’s not so great.

So the hard part is having those conversations. How can we go in and explain to the bank president how we’re going to activate their brand, how we’re actually going to make their brand more meaningful, because right now, there may be a bit of a negative sentiment towards that aspect of the game.

Let us create something that will engage the fan, have them remember the brand, and create a more positive experience for everybody involved.

CollegeAD: Earlier you spoke about Chris Del Conte, and what pulled you to the University of Texas. What is about Chris that makes him one of the most dynamic leaders in college athletics?

drew martinDrew Martin: It’s no secret to anybody that’s been in the industry five or ten minutes that Chris Del Conte is larger than life. His personality would fill this giant atrium, he is one of the most genuine, caring, charismatic people I’ve met in the industry.

He’s very driven.

I’ve often told people that I’ve literally watched the man will things into being. He’s willed buildings into building themselves; he’s just got that magnetic personality that people are really attracted to and he can be tough. He expects to win. He sets high expectations. He is old school in that way that work starts at eight, we will dress for success and we will treat each other with respect, but it’s rooted in such a deep care for his job and for the people around him.

I’ve been in meetings with him where we’ve had student-athletes go through hardship, we’ve had administrators go through a medical crisis, we’ve had some really somewhat tragic things happen during my short time with him. And to watch him really understand that those are the times that you put your arms around people. You can be driven and you can be successful and you can be hard, but you can also have a really caring heart and really, really balance everything out.

So that’s exciting for me because I thrive on the challenge, but I deeply respect the compassion, the care, the true heart that he has.

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