Episode 8: Brandon Martin, University of Missouri-Kansas City

Speaker 1 (00:05):
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 podcast series, we’re going to talk with college athletic administrators and leaders about A New Gameday as we get ready to thrive in a post COVID-19 world. We’ll discuss what that new gameday is going to look like, what it’s going to feel like and how leaders are already adapting to our new world. Our guest today is nearing the completion of his second full year at Kansas city. I’m pleased to be joined today by Dr. Brandon Martin. Brandon, thanks for your time here today. How is everybody at Kansas city doing?

Brandon Martin (00:39):
We’re doing well. We’re doing well, we’ve stayed committed to our mantra of comprehensive excellence. There’s been some challenges, obviously with COVID-19 and even some of the social events as of late, but we remain committed to our student-athletes. We remain committed to the university and we remain committed to comprehensive excellence as we advance and really try and showcase Kansas City athletics is one of the premier mid-major athletic departments nationally.

Cody Junot (01:15):
Yeah, we were chatting a little bit before we got started here. And we talked about coming close to wrapping up your second year, and you said, you know, feels like it’s been closer to four with all of the things that you guys have accomplished. And I think you add that to how, as you pointed out, I don’t know if going back to March and to where we are here today, feels like an eternity, or it feels like it’s just, you know, March and here we are, you know, into the summer. And then you add to your point, the conversations that have been happening across the country over the last several weeks, dealing with societal issues and how that has changed some conversations.

Speaker 1 (01:47):
So I want to start there. One of the things that I’ve been chatting with, a lot of leaders like yourself about during this COVID crisis and timeline is as leaders and administrators are figuring out kind of what’s next is communication. And how have you been communicating with your fan base, your alumni, your student-athletes, your coaches and so let’s start there. How have you guys at Kansas city been able to keep everybody informed of what’s going on, keep your constituents engaged through athletics?

Brandon Martin (02:19):
Yeah, well, you know, it’s a multipronged approach and one of the things that’s imperative for us is to control the narrative around our department. And so the website is one of the best tools that we use to showcase and tell our story. And so we use website, we’ve also had great success with our video. You know, we use quite a bit of video.

Brandon Martin (02:45):
We have segments of Roo updates with our coaches and student athletes, but particularly with the coaches, it’s a four or five minute video that allows them to talk about recruiting. Talk about the journeys of their, to talk about the leadership of their student-athletes and to talk about their philosophy as it pertains to student athletes. And so we use a combination of our website of video, of social, but one of the key things is, is that it’s important that we’re transparent with our fans and our base and that we let them know what’s going on. And so we don’t feel that COVID has been a detriment at all. We feel that has been an opportunity because we have more feedback, positive feedback from our fans now than we have before. And so we’ve used this period to get better and not complain about not having in person interaction and engagement, but really to position ourselves for when we get back to what will merge into a new normal that, you know, we, we haven’t lost anything in that process.

Cody Junot (04:01):
Is this something new, you know, this more strategic and digital approach? Is it something that you guys were doing prior to COVID and it’s something that you were already kind of starting to, to invest in? Or is it something that you had to pivot to relatively quickly? I know, one of the things that you have done, you mentioned the website, that’s had an overhaul, updated logos, graphics, branding, all of that stuff. So it seems like maybe that’s something that you guys were working on before, but how much, if at all, has there been a pivot or a change into the way that you’re reaching your constituents and stuff and athletes

Brandon Martin (04:32):
It hasn’t been a change. This is something that’s been part of our planning. This has been part of our strategy. This has been a part of our philosophy. And so it hasn’t been much of a pivot, I would say, has been more of a, a situation of a lot of the things that we’ve wanted to do and felt it was imperative to do for our fan base. And so that’s what we’ve done. And it’s been more than me. It’s been my deputy, AD for External Curt Jacey and his team that has really perpetuated that belief and that mantra. So I’m really proud of it,

Cody Junot (05:16):
You know, over the last several weeks, you go back to the just tragic and unfortunate events that unfolded in Minnesota, but the conversation that was sparked from there and, you know, seemingly what we hope can be real change. How has that impacted the way that your messaging, if at all the message has it changed as you’re speaking with your constituents?

Brandon Martin (05:38):
It hasn’t changed. I sent a statement out that addressed the issues surrounding the societal events around George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other African Americans who have been murdered and it hasn’t changed. And so one of the things, Cody, that you have to understand is that higher education is a microcosm of the real world. And as we present these atrocities, it’s important that we put student-athletes at the forefront of it and not so much put them in front of it. But we were educators at the core and we need to educate them on what it means. And it’s not just our black athletes. It’s our white student-athletes. It’s all of our student-athletes. If it’s important that we educate them about what’s going on, because they’re going to have to survive. They’re going to be, they’re equipped to excel in society once they leave UMKC. So we’ve done some very intentional things to take a stand and it’s been beyond my statement. You know, we teamed up with Old Hat Creative to create the first Black Lives Matter poster. That’s really gone viral in our industry. And we felt that was critically important to take that stand.

Cody Junot (07:07):
You know, you talk about reaching your student athletes and your staff. What’s been the feedback from the Roo community, your fan base, your alumni, you know, how have they received that messaging?

Brandon Martin (07:18):
And receptive? I feel fortunate to lead Kansas City athletics and be the director of athletics for this department at this time, I feel that I’m most equipped to lead us in this period. It’s been receptive. It’s been an educational moment, is been a moment where we have to do introspection within ourselves, regardless of if you’re the AD, if you’re a coach, if you’re the donor, or stakeholder, we all have to ask ourselves, what difference do we want to make? What can we do on a daily basis? And this is not about finger-pointing. This is such a watershed moment in our time right now. And it’s a call for leadership that extends beyond me. My coaches are leaders, my student-athletes are leaders, but we also need our fans to step up and be leaders.

Cody Junot (08:14):
When those fans do return to events we talked about here, the messaging and how you guys from a digital and social aspect have ramped that up. And that messaging has reflected the events beginning with COVID to keep everybody in tune of what’s happening season tickets, get to know our student athletes, those pieces to the events that have led to the social discussions that we’ve had here over the last couple of weeks and months. So when you take all of that, right, and all of the things that you’re doing in that aspect, and, you know, we get to for you, we get to November and hopefully we’re back and we’re playing events and you guys made a decision to move things to the Swinney Center on campus, create a different sort of atmosphere. What are some of the things that you guys have incorporated over the last several months, right? As you’ve messaged folks that you’re now going to take to those events that maybe you weren’t doing before as this new game day looks and feels different?

Brandon Martin (09:10):
Well, I think Cody that’s a great question. If we weren’t communicating through our website through videos, through social, in advance of the return of our fans coming into our venues, then we wouldn’t have the equity that we would have once they return. And so it’s about having genuine interaction and genuine engagement with our fans and that’s been important. And right now we have more questions than answers. We don’t know what that’s going to look like in terms of, if we’re going to be at full capacity, if it’s going to be 25% capacity, if our fans are going to have to come to the Swinney center and some of our other athletic facility venues with a mask, but one thing is for certain is that they’re going to have a great fan experience. And so I’m convinced that this time of COVID is going to redefine what the fan experience looks like.

Speaker 1 (10:11):
And it’s going to require athletic directors is going to require folks and external relations is going to require campus communications people to really come together collectively to figure out what that fan experience is like. But at the core of it, Cody, it’s all about transparency it’s all about being genuine. And one of the things that our fans have always wanted is the truth. Once you stray away from the truth and you’re not being transparent, then that’s when you lose credibility and that’s when ticket sales will be impacted. And that’s when your fan support is really impeded and interrupted.

Cody Junot (10:53):
So what are some of those new elements that maybe you’re exploring as you look to redefine what that experience is going to be in order to keep folks engaged? It could be as simple as maybe because of regulations, are you no longer allowed to go through the stands and find somebody to come do the shoot for money contest or more video displays or more social interaction? What are some of those new experiences that you guys are examining and exploring?

Brandon Martin (11:18):
Well, it’s, it’s Cody is evolving, you know, we’re, we’re taking the lead from some of our authorities, whether it’s from the conference level, whether it’s from the NCAA level to figure out exactly what we can and cannot do. We know from past history that our fans being engaged, you know, the shot to get Minsky’s pizza at the end of the game is important. We do understand that, but I think it’s evolving. And so that’s one of the things that I’m working with Curt Jacey and our external team on what looks like. We don’t have a full marketing plan right now on what that looks like, what it feels like and what the best solutions are for that. But once we get direction, we’ll be certain that we have the right plan in place.

Cody Junot (12:12):
The other, I think thing that’s been talked about the most associated with COVID and its impact on collegiate athletics and you see it, you know any time you open up Twitter or get on the internet, or you’re talking to your colleagues and that’s the budget impact, right? NCAA money’s cut, the distributions are down, you’ve got, you know, unfortunate layoff, furlough scenarios playing out across the country. So one of the things that’s going to be critical when we do get back to contests is the revenue aspect of things. So what are some of the revenue opportunities that maybe traditionally might have, have gone away, that you’re going to have to pivot and find new, innovative ways to create revenue opportunities for your partners and sponsors?

Brandon Martin (12:54):
Yeah. So I think our old paradigm is going to have to shift and that’s going to have to shift into more of going from partnerships than just merely sponsors. And when you think about partners, our partners are truly committed to the student athlete-experience. You know, that’s more B2B, a long-term commitment and it’s rooted in marketing. Sponsors, it’s about impressions. You know, it’s about KPI, you know, the key performing indicators. It’s about signage. It’s about digital. That’s what it’s about. So we want more partners involved in what we’re doing. And as a mid-major, we want strategic partners. You know, we want our partners to, to be in it for the long term, but we also want to present a return on investment as they invest in us. And so I think that in this period, at least when you talk about revenue, the ticket sales are going to be impacted regardless of whatever level you’re at. We understand that. And then I know some of the ADs at the power five level understand that, but for us, it’s beyond ticket sales, it’s about relationships. And it’s about us developing partners right now that when COVID 19, eventually is subsided and is eradicated that we have those relationships that we can count on to where we can go back and really maximize those partnerships where we planted the seeds,

Cody Junot (14:43):
The current partners, or you do have the folks who have stayed with you throughout because there’s an economic downturn for everyone, right. Businesses slowed and, and, you know, everyone’s been impacted by COVID, but the folks who have been able to stay and continue to stay as partners of Roo athletics how have you worked together to discuss and strategize on these new ways in which they can be, you know, have an impact to the community and new ways in which their message can get out there that maybe weren’t there before?

Brandon Martin (15:15):
The things that we’ve done Cody is we’ve responded very swiftly and proactively with our sponsors. And so we engage our sponsors and in this new normal that’s inevitable. Okay. And I mentioned earlier that it’s a new paradigm. So we’ve engaged our partners in this new normal, what that looks like. If you go back to the onset in the Genesis of COVID-19, it was all about staying safe and being healthy, you know, but now it’s all about how can we all work together for us both to benefit. And so we haven’t been afraid of those conversations. And what we’ve learned from our partners is that, you know, they want frequent communication. And so we’ve actually over-communicated with our partners. We’ve over-communicated so that they know what’s going on with the NCAA, they know what’s going on with our new league, The Summit League. That they know what’s going on in the inner workings of our department and that’s been really invaluable for us as we try and really have a speed of trust moment moving forward. And it’s been refreshing to, to know that we have partners who are committed to our mission, to our core values and our priorities on a day to day.

Cody Junot (16:47):
We’ve talked about how you’re messaging, we’ve talked about what some of that messaging is coming from the department. We’ve looked at some revenue opportunities and the way those can grow into engagement opportunities as we get set for this new gameday. You know, lastly, what I wanted to chat with you about is when you personally, when you’re speaking with whether it’s friends, family, coaches, student-athletes, constituents, alumni, colleagues, what’s the message you’re driving home and delivering as we get set for this new game day, that will return one day. But as we sit here, a lot of unknowns remain.

Brandon Martin (17:23):
I think it’s centered, Cody, on trust. And I just mentioned about the speed of trust. I think it’s about unity of the students, the administration, our stakeholders, our donors, Kansas City. It’s about unity. It’s about staying true to our core values and our mantra of comprehensive excellence. And one of the things that we all want is a better Kansas City and making a better Kansas city, I believe is supporting Kansas City athletics. Kansas City athletics, as we know sports has been a driver and advancer of society in terms of accelerating us, moving on beyond the obvious. And it’s, if we really want to claim that can’t see athletics is Kansas. City’s only division one team. Then we need to rally around our efforts. We need to rally around our mission. We need to rally around our goals and we need to have a true, deeply rooted commitment towards what we want to do and our goals.

Cody Junot (18:40):
Well said really, really appreciate you taking the time here to dive in with us on some of the things that you guys are doing there at Kansas City athletics, as we prepare for season with so many unknowns, but a new gameday that will eventually return. Again, thanks for your time. Really appreciate the insight.