Episode 3: Tanner Stines, McNeese State University

Transcript:

Cody Junot (00:00):
Welcome to A New Gameday, powered by Nevco, changing the game with scoreboards, video displays and scoring solutions. I’m your host, Cody Junot and in this new podcast we’re going to talk with college athletic administrators and leaders about A New Gameday. As we get ready to thrive in this post COVID-19 world we’ll discuss what A New Gameday will look like, what it will feel like and how administrators are already adapting to our new world. I’m pleased to be joined by one of the young and up and comers in our industry. He has worked at the University of Georgia, before moving to Lake Charles to take a position in McNeese. And has since worked his way up and is currently serving as the Cowboys Interim Director of Athletics, I’m pleased to be joined now by Tanner Stines. Tanner, hope everyone is doing well and staying safe. I appreciate you taking the time here this afternoon. How’s everyone in Lake Charles?

Tanner Stines (00:46):
Everyone in Lake Charles is good. I think they’re upbeat here. We’ve been fortunate to maybe not be as affected as some of the other areas of the country, but then I think that comes with its own challenges. You may not be taking things into consideration because it’s not quite at your doorstep, but everyone’s ready to get rolling and you know, I think they’re eager. It’s like I said, it’s like having a hungry tiger in a cage right now and when we open the door, get ready because they’re ready to be let out.

Cody Junot (01:12):
Yeah. Getting that sentiment from fan bases across the country. You’re in a bit of an of an interesting situation as you are still handling your duties as deputy athletic director, external side on top of serving as the interim athletic director there at McNeese. So how have those two duties come together here over the last, you know, eight weeks or so? And how’s that challenge been?

Tanner Stines (01:34):
I would say, you know, as a department that’s already smaller than many others, it’s being able to serve in this role as a hybrid has allowed for decision making to be a lot more rapid and fluid. There’s not as much let’s all meet about it and talk about what we’re going to do. I bring in my SWA and our sports information director and really it’s a sounding board ready to go. This is what I’m thinking. But a lot of the decision making would be this office talking to my other office. So it’s, it’s a lot rested solely on me.

Cody Junot (02:08):
Yeah, no, that’s an interesting perspective and thought process there is that a smaller decision making team because you’re forced to have one, has allowed you guys to make decisions maybe at a quicker pace than you otherwise would have. You know, decision making and questions. There’s so much hanging out there here as we deal with this COVID-19 pandemic and nobody really knows what’s next. But through all of that, you’ve got to continuously message McNeese and sell your fan base and keep them engaged here during these times as we await the return of sports. So how are you and your team planning to message and market to fans maybe differently than you were before as we try to reengage communities and fan bases and get them excited about returning to events in a post COVID world?

Tanner Stines (02:51):
I think, you know while it’s still out there that we don’t have a definitive return date or return plan. The biggest thing we focused internally was how to take care of our fan base as stakeholders but also our corporate sponsors and those who we had contractual obligations with. Our external team really went to work right away on trying to come up with something every day for those who people who are game sponsors or major contract holders that we needed to get their exposure out there and working on daily social media campaigns that went to everyone and then went to our coaching staff and we really just pushed that everyone be as active as they possibly could. Talking about the positivities of the campus, things that are going on, on and off campus, athletically related and not. I think you have a unique opportunity here where a lot of times you put stuff out on social media and it only goes to those who are really nimble on their phone. In a quarantined pandemic there’s more people sitting there looking at Facebook and Twitter and Instagram than have ever been looking at it before. So the more you’re out there, the more you’re on their minds. So we didn’t ever want somebody to make it two scrolls without seeing something from McNeese athletics.

Cody Junot (04:03):
Is that a change in mindset? You mentioned again, we’re seeing it’s one of the great races across college athletics, right? Digital teams and building those products to keep fans engaged. Everyone’s doing it, but is it something that your team really had to ramp up in this current pandemic setting that we’re in?

Tanner Stines (04:21):
Well for, I would say for many of those who don’t understand the world of a smaller athletic department, our entire external of ticket sales, operating staff also is creative. So they all either have a graphic design, video marketing background, and we taught them how to sell tickets.

Tanner Stines (04:43):
So when you’re not selling any tickets, it really just fed into now half their day has been freed up to ramp up into that area. As far as picking up additional personnel, not really. I think it was a, there was a lot of stuff already in the bank. The hard part is coming up with new content when you’re used to documenting athletic activity and now you don’t have it. How far deep in the vault are you going to go to keep people engaged?

Cody Junot (05:06):
You do have the benefit I think of having a new head football coach. You hired Frank Wilson this off season and getting set for that first campaign at McNeese and so you do have that newness and excitement. How much has that helped having a football program to really sell, keep the fan base engaged and energized with the new football coach and with the new staff?

Tanner Stines (05:26):
Well, I mean it never hurts to be undefeated still in your career as a head coach. So the good thing was we got coach here and he really spent the first portion getting out there and getting engaged with the fan base, but just enough to get them hungry. And then when the shutdown happened, you know, there was so much uncertainty. We kind of put the coaches in a little bit of a media blackout for a while and said, you know, let’s let one message come out of the department until we get a better grip on this. Well now that we’re loosening that up, it’s almost every day that he’s doing an interview or doing some sort of conversation piece with the fan base or local media that’s really getting his message out there about the vision for the fall. And I think that delay has actually caused excitement.

Tanner Stines (06:09):
We have a lot of people calling the ticket office every day wanting to get tickets and they have no idea what the fall’s going to look like, but they’re on board one way or the other.

Cody Junot (06:19):
Well when you do get those folks into the stadiums this fall when we return, whether it’s you know, at those football games to see coach Wilson and his team or volleyball or soccer, how much effort and energy and time have you guys put into what that new gameday is going to look like? How are you incorporating this new dive into social media? I shouldn’t say new dive, but a much more prevalent dive, right? Because we’ve been forced to adapt in a social distancing world where our messages are driven via the internet. How much of that is going to play into this new gameday? You know incorporating fans and promotions games. You mentioned sponsors earlier. You know how much of the lessons that we’ve learned here over the last eight to nine weeks are you going to be able to incorporate when we return to play?

Tanner Stines (07:00):
I think it’s really shifted our fan base forward a lot. I think they know now if you want up to date information and content that it’s not going to be in the newspaper or on the news. I mean that is going to be what is that day’s bleed story, but if you want all the stories and you want all the information, there’s a more direct access way to get that information real time. And I think that plays into your gameday when we’re pushing out potential changes in what gameday is going to feel like operationally. Being able to disseminate that information and get everyone as involved as possible.

Tanner Stines (07:33):
But I think there’s also ways that we’ve talked about, you know, in game contests that we might’ve done by walking the bleachers and finding someone in the game that we may now pre-select via a social media platform as an encouragement for them to come to the game because they’ve already won and they’re already going to be on the field doing a Coca Cola kick for, you know, a year’s worth of Coke or whatever the event is. But we’ve also really looked at what would it look like if it’s not normal? What if there were a mandate that comes down that there are no fans in the stands? What our teams really shifted towards was the thought of all the same end game promotions that you could do if you’re running it on a streamed broadcast. Do you take some of that ad time and go and prerecord the on-field promotion, the check presentation, the Coke kick in a stadium that no one’s there and you do that earlier in the week and then on the broadcast you play the Coke kick live as if they were there in the stadium and really trying to hybrid those things together.

Tanner Stines (08:33):
Since when you get into the rule change of it, we’re really talking about a complete total production change of how you’re looking at the football experience.

Cody Junot (08:42):
No, I think that’s smart. That’s innovative. It’s thinking outside the box. It’s marrying maybe an older traditional idea in a new age where you’re forced to adapt. And so I think that that’s, you know, some really critical thinking and it leads into the next question of, how can you continue to incorporate your sponsors to create and drive revenue, right? Because the one thing that we know is that eventually when we get back to play, it’s going to be different. But the startup costs, right? The barrier to entry almost if you would of returning to play, whether that’s getting your student athletes back on campus and do you have to test them quarantine or is your stadium going to be at half capacity? A quarter capacity may be full capacity, concession stands, the list goes on and on and on where things are going to certainly look different, but they’re going to cost money to get started up. So it’s more critical now than ever to have revenue opportunities. So what are those revenue opportunities maybe you’re looking at as we move towards this new gameday?

Tanner Stines (09:40):
You know, we’ve talked about if you know in game signage, you know, I think you could potentially pick up a lot of surface area. If you don’t have fans in stands, you could be at, you know, green-screen sections that you’re digitally overlaying. Advertising like Major League Baseball does behind the plate. We’ve looked at things that are outside of the venue. You know, if we’re not restricted in the tailgate space and in the parking lot space, what can we do to shift some of that engagement outside to the more social atmosphere where it’s less restricted and it’s already predetermined or falls outside of the guidelines? I think the biggest thing too for a lot of our sponsors is they just want to show that they have been a sponsor, not just for the advertising value, but it’s more about being in support of the community and the school that they’re operating within and I think for them their look is going to be more into what can we do now the week leading up to the game as opposed to on the gameday only.

Tanner Stines (10:35):
I think one of the big things for a lot of them to keep them engaged is there were a lot of people that were very set in, I need to be on a scoreboard ad. Well, then when you talk about how many people are in the venue and how many potential people are watching that ad when it actually happens versus every time we put out a ticket commercial on social media, how many views that gets in 45 minutes on Facebook, they could get the same amount of views they got the whole season in the stadium. So I think when you get into the true eyeball number situation, they’re actually looking at other ways that they may be not necessarily divesting from the institution, but maybe divesting in the traditional forms of advertisement that they had been on before.

Cody Junot (11:18):
Are these avenues you’re already exploring and conversations you’re already having with some of your partners?

Tanner Stines (11:23):
They are. We’ve even gotten into some areas where, you know, it’s cross promotion where we’re taking, you know, I needed a lot more digital space to really engage social media. Well, if I’m engaging them in social media, we’re going through a scoreboard project right now that’s going to rip out our current school board. You know, where we have a partial led video board with partial analog, you know, digits taking the whole thing down and going to a more traditional scoreboard look, that’s just the giant screen. That’s going to allow those social media engagements from the whole week to be displayed in venue and be able to get both happening. But in order to pull that off, it’s the partnership with the sign company, the local advertising company, and essentially using the trade from one to pay for the other to pay for the other to get to an end result that makes it better for everybody. That I think has really turned into something that, you know, we might not have been there, have not been forced to get there.

Cody Junot (12:16):
I think that’s one thing that you talk about getting to an end point because you’re forced to, and you’ve talked about it a lot here, whereas it’s really forced your department, a smaller department to change and change for the better and maybe it’s created a larger workload in the short term, but the long term return on that investment, it paints a very bright picture.

Tanner Stines (12:35):
Yes, and I think, you know, we’re talking about things that, you know, we all know this may be jump-starting a lot of the smaller regional universities to a non-linear broadcast model and saying we need to be shifting more to the production value of the game and less onto the production of that value on the board itself in the game. Because as the fan bases nationally are finding other things to do, they can go specifically in Lake Charles, they could go to the casino and watch the game on their phone while at the casino. Well then I need the game on their phone to be exciting and then want to engage as much as possible with that. And I think that’s just kind of shifting the mindsets of a lot of places that have run a more traditional game plan to a new, a new era where there is no playbook. You know, it’s, we’re kind of writing this as we go.

Cody Junot (13:26):
You mentioned no playbook in this new game plan. And you’ve talked about tying some of those traditional, you know, in venue experiences of the sponsor, check presentation, the game ball, whatever it may be, creating that and moving that over to a digital platform. As you think about if, in your instance you’ve got a fan who is still going to be engaged and maybe you’re going to, they’re going to be invested to some degree, right, in watching your teams play, just maybe not at venue because it’s not maybe convenient or another event has come up, right. Another place that they have to be. So getting creative and making that fun and entertaining is certainly, I think as you look at the next level that it seemingly where we’re headed in a digital space.

Tanner Stines (14:07):
Yeah, and I think, like I said, you know, it got into, it’s hard when you don’t have the staff in the building and we’re getting them all back next week and we’ll be back to work. But you know, you bring up those areas and these are potential opportunities. You can spiral off of that and get into, we’re talking about giving the game ball on the stadium. What if we go out into the week and we give them the game ball at their place of business and it’s in front of their fan base, and then you tag all the people at that business in that post, at which point the reach is so much more infinite. I think it goes back to the old newspaper theory of if you just printed the phone book, you’d sell more newspapers because people just want to see their name. And so I think if you could get into a way, you know, we’re not just targeting John, we’re talking about everything about John and John’s friend and place of business and John’s workspace with the university that reach goes in all different directions way faster than it would if you just put it on, you know, the same traditional model.

Cody Junot (15:02):
It’s a fascinating new world as we explore these new gameday’s and what they’re going to look like of them. The last thing I wanted to talk with you about is we’ve talked about how your messaging right and how through those digital platforms and creating more content to engage your fans and how you plan to do some of that, to keep those fans engaged on gameday and some of the new activities that may happen this fall one when we return to play. But what’s the one message that you’re driving home, right? Sitting in the chair as the interim director of athletics at McNeese, when you’re out talking with fans and constituents and even your family, what’s the one message or theme that you’re continuously driving home when you talk to those folks as we get set up and head towards A New Gameday?

Tanner Stines (15:43):
you know, we’ve really been breaching the, you know, just like you in the community, maybe having some struggles with your small business, you know, that we’re all in this together. I think as a smaller regional institution, you know, our bread and butter fan base is in a five parish area around us. You know, it’s from Houston to New Orleans, you know, right through the heart of the Cajun country. But I think a lot of it is really built on the thing that everyone’s been missing right now is the camaraderie and the social element of it. And we’re projecting, you know, that we can’t wait to have our family back with us in the fall. We want everyone back together as much as we can. You know, we’ve talked about, it may mean that it’s your tailgate spaces are a little further apart, but it doesn’t mean we’re not going to tailgate. And you know, getting that family atmosphere back I really think is something that helps everyone pull together and allows us to use the institution to support our local businesses and the, you know, our local community, but then asking them in return to come back and support us when we get back to our play as well.

Cody Junot (16:47):
No, that makes a ton of sense there. And I think you’re right, I think folks are itching to get back together. It may look a little bit differently, right? It may feel a little different, but get back and share some of those interactions and events with some of the friends and family that maybe they haven’t been able to over these last two months. Tanner, really appreciate you taking the time to join us here on A New Gameday, giving us some real valuable insight to how your team is preparing for that new gameday when that day comes. Really appreciate it.

Tanner Stines (17:14):
Thank you.