MSU Bio: A 1997 graduate of Ball State University, Wetherbee will be charged with overseeing the athletic department's marketing and media relations staffs as well as managing the department's relationships with Learfield and adidas. Wetherbee will also coordinate athletic department branding and oversee video production.
How did you wind up becoming an athletic department administrator?
"I actually went to school to play college baseball. My claim to fame is Derek Jeter and I played together in high school. He was a year older than me. He got drafted and I went to college.
"When my baseball career didn't go the way I wanted, after my freshman year I decided I wanted to focus on college athletics. Ball State had a sports administration degree with a minor in business. I got involved in the ticket office there, then did an internship at Western Michigan in my hometown. That is how it got started. Since then, I'm moved up."
You are still relatively young, aren't you? And considering your age, you have really moved up fairly quickly.
"Yes, I'm still under forty. I've been very fortunate. My first official job out of college was at Fresno State. I was at Fresno for eight months and our ticket manager left. I moved up to being the ticket manager. So, in one year I went from being a graduate student to moving to Fresno State where I was an assistant (ticket manager) then being moved up to the ticket manager position. I was at the right place at the right time. I was only 24, 25 years old at the time. Fresno was good for me. They had a low budget. I just rolled up my sleeves and really worked hard there.
"Being at schools that don't have as much financially backing as the SEC does and what Mississippi State has here, it taught me to work hard and do a lot with less. It makes you really appreciate when you have an opportunity to do big things."
While Mississippi State is in the SEC, it has one of the smaller budgets in the conference. I would assume working with a smaller budget at Fresno State and East Carolina will help in that regard at Mississippi State?
"Absolutely. I would also say there are a lot of similarities between East Carolina and Mississippi State. Both are located in smaller towns where the fans are very passionate about their football and their baseball. We are working on basketball. But obviously, we have had some success in basketball, a lot more than East Carolina had. The stadiums are very similar in size, although we are expanding ours here. The budget at East Carolina was 30 million, about half of what it is here. But we were doing a very good job with fan experience at East Carolina. That comparison was similar when I was here talking to Scott (Stricklin) during my interview."
Your position at Mississippi State primarily deals with external affairs. The job encompasses a lot of responsibilities.
"External affairs includes marketing, media relations, working with Learfield, which is our third party company, working with licensing, working with our video department, and I'm also taking on the addidas and Gatorade contracts.
"I started with the ticketing portion of it. Then, when I went to East Carolina in 2003, it was strictly for ticketing. In 2006 we got a third party rights holder, which was IMG. When they came in I took over marketing, in addition to already doing ticketing. Those two go hand in hand because you are trying to get people to come to the games. That went really well. Then I added video (to my duties) over time. That included a lot of things that we were doing on the video board at ECU.
"About the only different things that I have added here are the contracts and media relations. Dealing with media relations is about personalities, dealing with people and putting them in the right place to succeed."
You come into a situation where you already have a lot of folks in place, people like Mike Nemeth, Mike Richey and quite a few others. That probably helps make the transition easier.
"Absolutely. I've gone to Mike (Nemeth) quite a few times. I even talked to him yesterday and asked him about something. And Scott (Stricklin) is great, too. Scott came up through the media relations side of it. I can go to him about media relations and ask him about some things.
"And Scott has been really great about me putting my team together. It's gone really well.
"I've also enjoyed having Mike Richey and Bo Hemphill here. They've been here awhile. It allows me to get good feedback from them."
You've only been here a couple of months and you have already had to replace a few folks in the media relations department who have either taken positions elsewhere or retired. When it comes to deciding what you are looking for on your team, what are the factors that you look at?
"I always try to hire people that want my job. I want to hire people who want to move up. I don't want to have to hire every couple of years but you certainly want a go-getter who will role up their sleeves and get after it.
"When you get to this level, the pool of people who apply for jobs at this level is pretty good. The best will rise to the top. Then, when you get to your top 2 or 3, all of them are going to be pretty qualified. Then it comes down to a fit. It is a community thing - who is going to fit in Starkville, who is going to have an impact in the community, what kind of personality do they have? I really look at a lot of those things instead of just the nuts and bolts of their job.
"When Scott hired me I remember one of the things that he said was when I was sitting at the table he thought that this guy can help us. That's what I want to do; I want to hire someone who can help us and make everybody else better."
I would assume one of the other reasons you were hired is that you bring new ideas to the table. What are some of those things?
"A few of my big sale pitches to the committee and to Scott was how important fan experience is to me. I think that was one of the reasons that they thought this could work out.
"At East Carolina I really focused on the 30 minutes prior to the game and all the way through the game. I think of each game as a wedding. You always remember the weddings that you go to. I look at it as I have seven weddings (seven football games) that I have to get people to remember. I want them to remember what happened while they were there. When they walk away I want them to come back to the next game. I'm going to make each game a big event and throw all my eggs in each basket.
"Next year, when we open up the new endzone and add the new board, I want us to have a lot of fun with it. I want to have a lot of fan interaction. I know that people bring their phones to the games. But I hope that the fans are so entertained and having so much fun that they almost forget their phones. And then the fans can become that 12th man the team feeds off of during the game."
How will you be involved in the new SEC television network?
"Anything that we stream live on HailStateTV now will be going away and now be seen on the SEC Network. (As an example) we will have all of our (home) baseball games on the SEC Network or on their app. We will have an SEC app. So, all of our live events are going to be on either the SEC app, the SEC Network, or ESPN."
So, if it's not on television, it will be on the internet?
"That's correct. Instead of streaming through HailStateTV it will be streaming through the SEC Network.
"What that means is, lets say with volleyball, we will have to have three cameras and a play-by-play person. If the SEC Network says they are picking up that game, then they'll send the talent. But if they don't, and we want it to be live streamed (on the SEC Network) then we have to provide the talent."
You are going to do that for each MSU sport?
"Yes, we are going to try to that for each sport. Our plan is to have every volleyball, every tennis, every softball, every soccer, every baseball game on the network. The SEC Network may say that they are going to do 20 of our (home) baseball games. That means we will have to do the other (home) games.
"Our goal is for us to own 10% of that network. If we are providing them with that much network content, then that is helping our brand. And we think that is important for recruiting as well."
Having cameras for each sport and play-by-play people means you will likely have to hire quite a few new people.
"Absolutely. We are already having conversations with the University Television Department. We are waiting to hear back from the SEC. They are supposed to walk through each university so that they can look at our infrastructure to see how many cameras we need, how many people they think we will need.
"That is one of the big things that we have to figure out. We are probably going to be hiring or using students from the Mississippi State Communications Department. It could be a good partnership in that regard."
What will happen to HailStateTV?
"HailStateTV will still have pre-game, post-game and interviews that tell our story. All that will change with it is it won't have live events on it."
I know for folks to get the SEC Network on their television they'll have to purchase a package that includes the SEC Network, whether it be with a cable company of a satellite provider such as DirectTV or Dish Network. Will the games that you watch on your SEC app be free or will that come under the umbrella of the SEC Network package?
"The SEC app will be free but you will still have to purchase the SEC Network (to view the games on the app). What is not on tv will be on the SEC app. You'll pay something like a dollar or two a month to your cable company or DirectTV (or whomever is your provider)."
I want to talk a little about where Mississippi State athletics is going media-wise. Really, it seems like more and more college teams are almost becoming their own media outlet. As an example, Mississippi State has hired their own beat writer/blogger, each sports department has their own twitter and Facebook account, they provide video interviews with their coaches and players. And the list goes on. Where do you see MSU going with the media aspect of what they are doing? And the second part of this question, what kind of association do you see MSU having with the regular media entities?
"I believe we have to brand, we have to recruit, we have to tell our own story. That's why, with the advance in technology, we have to be the one putting our story out, not relying on someone else coming in and putting it out. And that's where we are going. Whether it is a video story or a blogger, that is what fans are used to. So, let's tell it ourself by bringing it in-house. That's the way it is going.
"As for the relationship with the media, that is an extremely important relationship to us. We want to continue those relationships in the future because we want to be in the forefront of the news in a good way. And we try to a good job of letting them know what is going on. (In other words) let's go have lunch and talk about things that are going on. It's not like we are trying to put them out of business. But a lot of newspapers are cutting back and a lot of them are going online. We can help them. I look at it as more of a partnership than us against them. Obviously, there are some tough stories out there. We are going to brag in a story about how Ally McDonald is doing in the US Amateur as opposed to a story about someone missing a few classes or about someone doing something wrong. We still have to let the story get out but we have to be a little more creative on how we let that message get out."
Final question - you've been on the job for two months. What have those two months been like?
"The very first thing that comes to mind is family. Everybody has been so open and so welcoming. It's like you have become part of their family. My kids started school (last) Wednesday and they really enjoyed it. Everybody was so great. We have really enjoyed the passion and the camaraderie of the Bulldog family."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.