Powered by Nevco, A New Gameday from CollegeAD focuses on how athletic departments are working towards, planning for, and hosting events as we slowly return to sports. Mike Hamrick who serves as the Director of Athletics at Marshall University joins the podcast this week to discuss the importance of communication and looking for new opportunities during these unusual times.
Mike Hamrick who has been the Director of Athletics at his alma mater, Marshall University, since 2009 started the conversation explaining everyone with the Thundering Herd is doing well right now, he’s happy they got through the week without any major issues but he’s taking things day by day.
Right now, in college athletics everyone is just trying to make it to the next day, Hamrick explains, it feels like everyone is in survival mode right now. He says this is reflected in the way his department has had to communicate with sponsors, student-athletes, and fans in general.
Hamrick explains, they started planning for football back in May. They brought the football players back to Marshall University on May 20 because they had a game scheduled in August against East Carolina. The game would have marked the 50 anniversary of the plane crash that killed most of the Marshall University football team returning from a game against ECU. Mike Hamrick says they have been testing the team since May and have steadily COVID tested this entire time, so he’s leaned on his task force and communication team to keep people informed.
Hamrick says everyone who has contact with student-athletes has to be well versed on their Coronavirus policies. Communication is crucial to getting out a unified message. He explains there had been a push at Marshall University, within his department, using social media before the pandemic, but now the role of social media has become critical to communicate with their fanbase. He explains that fans are hungry for information, they’re looking for information on Marshall’s opponents, but that information may not come until the week of a game.
Next, the conversation turned to what a game day looks like right now for Marshall University. For the first game, Hamrick says, they didn’t have a date or an opponent until about two weeks before it happened. He says they had multiple scenarios in place for game day with and without fans.
Luckily, fans were allowed into the game. He explains it’s definitely a different feel this year. Marshall is not allowing tailgating, so the game atmosphere doesn’t start until closer to kickoff. Mike Hamrick says it is a bit of an “eerie” feeling, but he explains that he would rather have 12,000 fans in the stands than none at all.
As far as the new gameday, it is a change to the way things were handled before. Hamrick says, their marching band has a limited presence, and that the promotional events that were previously held on the field can no longer happen. He says they’ve had to look at new ways to honor their sponsors. He explained they are also doing live presentations with their sponsors, in unoccupied parts of the stadium, and they use the video screens to broadcast those presentations. That approach has helped keep sponsors dollars in place.
Hamrick says an interesting side effect of the new protocols is increased revenue from concessions. Since people are no longer allowed to come back and forth in the stadium during the game, he says they sold more beer than they expected and concession revenue was way up.
He mentioned another impact of the pandemic is the fact that their games have gotten so much attention. The Thundering Herd have played in both the noon ESPN slot and the afternoon CBS slot.
“Being elevated and on a broadcast platform, the signage in our stadiums got more attention than they ever would. Now, our media rights people can go to the advertisers and say ‘your sign was on CBS for a certain amount of time with 1.2 million people who watched the Applanation State game.’ That’s an unintended positive consequence. That time slot was an SEC time slot, we benefited from that.”
Hamrick closed by saying the one message he’s been driving home to everyone, student-athletes, fans, sponsors, his staff, is a simple one. Follow the guidelines. That message is for everyone, student-athletes have to mitigate their risk and if fans want to come to the stadium, they must follow the protocols in place.
“If you want to watch Marshall football this fall you have to adhere to the guidelines that we put in place. We have been very fortunate with our amount of COVID positive tests because our athletes are doing what they have to do. They socially distance, they go home, they don’t go to parties. We explained to them that ‘if you want to play football it’s up to you,’ it’s up to the student-athlete. It’s also up to the fans if fans want to come into the stadium and watch Marshall football, sit in your seat, socially distance, don’t tailgate, wear a mask. If we do these things, we can mitigate the spread and play football. But most importantly, the thing that we have strived for since day one, the health and safety of everyone involved, is put front and center. That’s been our plan since day one.”