Following The Plan

Michael Thompson couldn't help but laugh a bit when the question came up.

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"You've been here a year and a half. How would you say things have gone?"

After a brief pause, he evaluated things this way.

"It has been very interesting," said the Senior Associate Athletics Director for Communications and Marketing at Ole Miss. "It's been fun in a really challenging way."

Not even a 4-8 football season followed by a 2-10 campaign that saw the exit of the head coach and his staff could shake the outlook Thompson has on things.

"It just made it different," he said, refusing to acknowledge that it made it tougher. "It changed the priority of the challenge. It made season ticket sales a little trickier. You don't have a tried and true winning message you can use. It just made us try to be more creative in how we approached."

Thompson said the goal is always to enhance the fans' enjoyment at games while also making sure the focus is on supporting the team.

"We've really tried to humanize and personalize our student-athletes and our coaches over the last 15 months," he said. "I think we've done that pretty well. It's easier for our fans and any kind of sports fans, once they develop a connection with another person, not wearing a helmet, not wearing pads, not wearing a basketball jersey. Once they kind of develop that connection with the human that is inside of that student-athlete, it makes filling seats a little easier. People come to support those individuals who collectively make up a team. We've worked extra hard to try to personalize and humanize our student-athletes and coaches for that reason."

Thompson said fans seem to have been mostly positive in their acceptance of the strategies and productions of his department.

"There's been a lot of interest in a lot of things we've been doing. The videos we've been churning out have been widely viewed. The reviews for The Season, I don't think I've gotten a single negative comment on that. It's been kind of a ground-breaking way of doing the coaches' shows that I would imagine a lot of our competitors will follow. It's always great to be out in front.

"The Season would have been easier to produce and more widely viewed had we been winning," he continued. "But the great thing is we have got a really good recipe in place once winning happens."

Now it's basketball season, around the corner is baseball season, and multiple sports opportunities for fans await in the spring.

Michael Thompson
Bruce Newman

"When our students get back to campus, we're going to see a renewed fire and passion from them at the games, and it will be very exciting," Thompson said. "We've got a whole new slew of videos that have been playing at basketball games. Basketball will also have its own coach's show, The Season, which will be really awesome.

"Baseball is coming, too, and baseball every year seems to be so successful," he continued. "Baseball at Ole Miss is as unique as it is anywhere in the country."

Making tickets free for students to basketball and baseball games, as well as all other sports than football, has been an added boost to increased support.

With a new head football coach in place in Hugh Freeze, everybody's batteries are recharged, according to Thompson.

"I think it's really exciting. This is going to be a fun ride. It's exhilarating. There'll be change, new ideas, new ways of looking at things and that's always healthy. From a marketing standpoint, we're looking forward to that. This is going to be a lot of fun."

Thompson said fans can help out in the obvious ways - by attending games and bringing someone with them to those games.

"All of our teams need support. Get behind the Forward Together campaign. It is a giant, ground-breaking, revolutionizing campaign that is going to set up Ole Miss for success for years and years and years. It's going to totally change the experience. It's going to be a huge fan experience. It's so important, and we have to get everybody involved in giving to that now and for the next several years.

"It's going to be a lot of fun watching our fanbase grow. We're constantly trying to add new fans to the fanbase. The other thing fans can do is bring friends. Bring the family that's moved in from out of state, bring them to a game, bring them to the Grove. Let them experience how unique Ole Miss is and make new fans. We've got to make our fanbase larger."

Thompson said he believes he and his staff have been able to accomplish some goals. Even knowing what those goals were just a year and a half ago was challenging.

"With it being a newly created position, I don't think anyone ultimately knew what this person was going to be doing," he said. "The first thing was to come in and get a lay of the land and figure out where I could be of the most use the fastest."

Michael Thompson hasn't slowed down since.

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