A Q&A With MSU's Chad Thomas

Chad Thomas, the Athletic Promotions Coordinator for the Mississippi State athletic department, is the guy you see on the field or court when it comes to the on-the-field promotions. Chad sat down with Gene's Page to talk about how those promotions come about and another part of his job, marketing of all the sports within the athletic department.

How did you wind up at Mississippi State in the athletic department marketing department?
"I'm originally from Louisville, Kentucky and I went to the University of Kentucky for my Bachelor of Education degree. I was there from 2000 to 2004. I worked as a student athletic trainer there for football, women's soccer, softball and the men's basketball teams.

"After I graduated from UK I wanted to get a Masters degree and I felt like Sports Administration was my best route just in case I didn't want to continue with the athletic training career my entire life. I did become a Certified Athletic Trainer coming out of college and I'm still one to this day. That's how I wound up coming to Mississippi State. (MSU head athletic trainer) Paul Mock hired me as a graduate assistant to help with football and men's tennis for two years.

"I went through the Sports Administration program at Mississippi State and gained a lot of knowledge. That opened my eyes up to what the sports administrator's role is. While college sports is fun it's still a business."

So, it's not all glamour is it?
"Not behind the scenes. We hope all of our fans see everything as glamour and fun, but that's because there is a lot of hard work going on behind the scenes by a lot of different folks. Our goal is to make the atmosphere and game as much fun as possible for the fans. That's why we come to work everyday."

When were you hired in athletic department marketing by Mississippi State?
"After I obtained my Sports Administration Masters degree I took an inventory of my life and decided to go back to school and get my Masters in Business Administration. And it just happened that Mike Richey and Susan Robertson, now Susan Prather, had a graduate assistant position open in Athletic Marketing. I applied for that and was offered the position and I happily accepted. That was in June, 2006. I worked under Susan for a year. Then she took a job with the University of Memphis in the summer of 2007.

"Mr. (Larry) Templeton offered me the opportunity to become employed by the university as I finished my MBA which I finished in December, 2007. As I was taking classes that fall, I was working full-time in athletic marketing as the Athletic Promotions Coordinator. And I've been here ever since."

Explain how the MSU athletic department markets Mississippi State athletics.
"Our department oversees the marketing and recognition of all 16 of our collegiate sports as well as the awareness of the Bulldog Club to folks. I'm charged with putting together an advertising campaign such as the posters, schedule cards, the billboards, tv, radio and those type entities. We sit down and talk about which direction we want to head in as an athletic department, what do we want to convey to our fans as to what the next season will bring. We then put that plan in place and create the visional things you will see.

"A lot of that includes branding, making sure people know that the M-State is Mississippi State. We do that by educating our fans on the new marks, the new logos. We work very closely with the General Counsel at the university and others in the athletic department to make sure that those marks are being used correctly.

"We are heavily involved in working with adidas on the type of t-shirts that we are going to put out this fall, different designs of the t-shirt. We are marketing the LSU game as a white-out, so we are working on a t-shirt design with adidas for that game. We are working on-campus with the Student Association for the True Maroon game, the very first game against Jackson State. We started that last year and it was brought to us by the Student Association. Last year's shirt was great and it was sold at Barnes and Noble. A portion of the proceeds went to the United Way campaign. We are promoting the True Maroon by putting it on our posters and schedule cards, our season ticket applications, and on our season tickets. It's a new tradition."

Are you trying to do a promotion for every game?
"That is the goal. The promotions help with individual game ticket sales. We encourage everybody to purchase a season ticket and to join us all year long for the fun and excitement that is Mississippi State football. But we understand there are some fans that live too far away or can't afford season tickets. So we want that experience, when they come for that one game, to be a very enjoyable experience for that fan. That way, they may come back next year or they may come back for another sporting event on campus that same year."

Are there other things you are trying to do outside of the gate prior to the game?
"Tailgating has grown leaps and bounds since The Junction was created a couple of years ago. That's part of the experience of gameday. What we are trying to do is enhance that experience. And we are sitting down with Learfield Sports Properties, our media rights holder, to figure out the best way to enhance the pregame experience in The Junction Fanfare area.

"The Fanfare in the past had been a place mostly for young families to come (where their kids get) to play on inflatables, get their face painted, take pictures of Bully, get autographs of some of our student-athletes. All of that has been free of charge and will continue to be so due to sponsorships that have been sold. But we want to grow and enhance that experience even more so that we can bring more fun and excitement to that area for fans of all ages."

Speaking of the game experience, who decides what music to play during the games?
"That comes through our department as well."

How do you determine what music to play?
"We try to keep in mind who our customer base is but at the same time we understand that our student-athletes typically don't listen to the same type music that our customer base listens to. That's one of the more difficult aspects of my job because I have someone who is a two-year-old all the way to the ninety-nine-year-old and they came from all different backgrounds. They like all different kinds of music.

"Over the years the pregame has kind of taken on it's own game within a game. We try to use that time to play music that is more appropriate for our student-athletes who are warming up on the field just because our fans typically are in The Junction or surrounding areas picnicking and tailgating. As we get closer to gametime, our selection moves more to a middle ground to what the fans enjoy and our student-athletes enjoy. Then, we try to play a mixture throughout the games to try and please everybody. I know we won't please everybody but we are doing our best. We play classic rock, hip hop, country. What we are trying to do is play music that is upbeat to help keep the fans in the game and cheering. And whatever we play we want to play it loud. And I do use the word loud on purpose."

Who decides where to put the dial when it comes to how loud the music is?
"That is a combination between Greg Byrne, Mike Nemeth and myself."

How much of a problem has the loudness of the music been in the past?
"Believe it or not, out of the 55,000 people in the stands last year we might get a 100 emails throughout the course of the year in response to the music."

Were they about the music being too loud or not loud enough?
"There were a small percentage that said it was difficult to hear.

"And remember we were operating off the old system last year, the old video board. I don't think we are going to have too many problems with the new video board and the new sound system that is above the video board. The experts in the field of audio and vision have been here this summer and I think they have plans on being here for the first game to go in and tweet to make sure all areas of the stadium is receiving the correct level of sound."

Do you do any marketing in the skyboxes and club level seats during games?
"Our Bulldog Club guys go up there and mingle with those folks, people like Greg, Strat, Mike Richey, Bart Gregory, Scott Stricklin. And even other folks in the athletic department like Duncan Mckenzie. People don't want you to give them a sales pitch on gameday, so we just try to let them have fun and enjoy the experience. Part of their fun is saying, 'hey, thanks for coming out here, we appreciate your support and hope to see you here next Saturday.' "

Does the marketing department have to make the sales pitches to get sponsors?
"Now that we have partnered with Learfield Sports Properties, that is completely out of our hands. They hold the rights to all of all media, advertising on the video board, in the stadium, the PA. That includes the video board at the baseball stadium. Learfield sold that inventory for a nominal fee."

Are you trying to develop a short-term and long-term marketing plans?
"We are always trying to adapt and use the newest ways to get in touch with our fans and be more accessible to our fans. I believe it starts there - the open communication that Greg speaks about all the time.

"I think the short-term plan is helping our fans to understand that we are here for them and that we appreciate them. Without them, we wouldn't be here. That is first and foremost.

"Long-term, the marketing plan is to fill the stadium for football, for men's and women's basketball, for baseball, for all the sports, get people in the seats. It's not just the so-called big-three, but across the board.

"We are going out to the Starkville Youth Soccer League and asking them to come to our soccer games on Friday nights and Sunday afternoons. We work with high schools in the areas to get them tickets and, hopefully, have them bring their parents to the women's basketball games. We work with the Starkville Baseball Association to bring in the little kids to run with our baseball players out on the field.

"Pretty much anything that is done on the field as far as recognition or a special presentation is done by the marketing department. Promotion is more in-game things and marketing is more outside to help get people to come to the games."

Speaking of the kids on the baseball field, what has it been like to work with head baseball coach John Cohen when it comes to promotions and marketing?
"He is very open-minded and a very forward thinker. He has a lot of great ideas. He has his pulse on what is going on in the community. He not only understand that one of those little league kids could end up being the next great Mississippi State baseball player but the kids are also bringing their parents with them. And they might even bring some of their friends with them. That might be four, five or six people that wouldn't normally come to the game. And if they enjoy it that one time they might come back the next day or the next weekend."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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