Episode 96 Snippets: Brian Wagner is stoking and engaging Michigan Athletics

On episode 96 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Brian Wagner, Digital Strategy and Creative Lead for Michigan Athletics

What follows are some snippets from the episode. Click Here to listen to the full episode or check it out and subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.

Posted by Neil Horowitz

Follow me on Twitter @njh287 Connect on LinkedIn

Episode 96: Brian Wagner is Augmenting and Innovating with Michigan Athletics

Listen to episode 96 of the Digital and Social Media Sports podcast, with Brian Wagner, Digital Strategy and Creative Lead for University of Michigan Athletics.


61 minute duration. Show format contains separate parts. Subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or listen on Stitcher

Posted by Neil Horowitz Follow me on Twitter @njh287   Connect on LinkedIn

What Stood Out at the NACDA Vendor Showcase

There are only so many things in which a team or athletics program can invest. And the vendor exhibition at the annual NACDA conference is a visual manifestation of just that – from compelling new products to nice-to-haves to innovations, and enough to stretch the budget of even the boldest behemoths.

I love these things. Because, if nothing else, it is a showcase of what college athletics folks, in this case, want and need; and at what those out there think they want and need. (Except free booze; always free booze).  It is also an opportunity to identify pain points for college athletics programs, because these businesses should, in theory, help solve a pain point or at least enhance or streamline a strength.

With that in mind, here are eight of the most common solutions and types of vendors I saw pitching their services to the college athletics folks (in digital, in marketing, in development/fundraising, in ticket sales, in operations, in media relations, in external relations…all over) at the 2017 NACDA Conference vendor showcase

Branding companies

Everywhere you turn, there is a new and novel way to propagate your brand. While digital is growing more and more, there is still a lot of faith, and a lot of value, in physical, visual branding. From logos on the carpet to branded accessories to wrapping a bus, and just about anything you can imagine, there is a way to find a branded version for anything, a way to make sure the school’s logo is front and center all over. Colleges are getting more and more savvy and self-sufficient with graphic design, but sometimes you need someone that specializes in pool tables, corn hole boards, or gymnasium floors.


You may have heard about the University of Texas football program’s new $10,000 lockers. Not sure there any that ostentatious, but there were plenty of locker companies and displays there that could no doubt make them. Lockers aren’t just a utility anymore, they’re an attraction and a sign of brand and grandeur for a college athletics program looking to impress recruits. It is another cog in the arms race and vendors pitching the latest and greatest and most innovative and visually appealing lockers were not in short supply at NACDA.

Digital / Video

With the proliferation of social, mobile, and digital among fans (and, well, everybody), colleges know they need to have the digital and video capability and output of a colossal conglomerate. Content is key to affect all departments in athletics, and video and digital offers the youngest and largest audience, and the best bang for the literal and figurative buck, in many cases. These companies help hook up complex camera and video / video replay systems, offer streaming solutions across platforms, streamline the transfer of content from phone or camera to social or web, allowing any associate SID to provide amazing content, that gets disseminated, at the drop of a dime. The mind is ahead of the body for some athletics departments – they know what they want to do, but may lack the resources, bandwidth, or knowledge to make it happen. That’s where these guys seek to come in.


There’s nothing college athletics loves more than scaffolding. Perpetual construction connotes shiny new facilities or additions, a sign of financial health and progress for their athletics programs. And I was struck by the number of architecture firms specializing in sports facilities seeking to catch the eye of attendees to design their next new buildings funded by the next successful campaigns. There is indeed big business here, and a number of firms were there trying their best to stand out as best-in-class, most trusted, or most creative.


There were also a handful of artificial turf companies, which seemed fairly indistinguishable. There is still demand for the product and therefore an opportunity to win market share (maybe someone has?) and seek to stand out through innovation, creativity, and/or relationships.

Digital Signage

Screens, screens, and more screens. Society has a surfeit of screens, and there are solutions that want to help fill and organize those screens, and other digital signs of all shapes and sizes. There is opportunity to expose more fans to more content, more marketing, and more sponsors. It’s not easy to serve and organize all the content across those screens, and measure it; let alone come up with the physical signs and screens themselves. Another case of knowing what one can and should be doing, and seeking a solution to make it happen.


Digital has certainly penetrated content, ticketing, marketing, media relations, and operations. But fundraising, a major part of college athletics, have yet, it seems to reach full digital maturation. There weren’t a ton of solutions targeting this space, but there were some. Solutions helping to marry technology, data, and digital with fundraising and donations. This is a unique space that no doubt catches the eye of the development folks there, as these businesses seem to have things streamlined and figured out to make donation via digital both optimized and in compliance with the oh-so-many regulations.


While many can name the major players in ticketing for college athletics, there remains opportunity for a number of smaller players to get a small piece of the pie. Almost every program needs a ticketing solution and there is increasing demand for digital, for mobile, and for data among every one of those programs, of any size.


In the end, industries will evolve by seeking to make things better, easier, more successful. The vendors that win the value prop equation and have feasible, actionable solutions will capture college.

Episode 95 Snippets: Jason Romano is Inspiring Fans Through Athletes With Faith

On episode 95 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Jason Romano, Writer/Host/Producer for Sports Spectrum.

What follows are some snippets from the episode. Click Here to listen to the full episode or check it out and subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.

Posted by Neil Horowitz

Follow me on Twitter @njh287 Connect on LinkedIn

Episode 95: Jason Romano is Sharing Inspirational Stories Through the Prism of Sports

Listen to episode 95 of the Digital and Social Media Sports podcast, with Jason Romano, Producer/Writer/Host for Sports Spectrum and the Sports Spectrum Podcast.


71 minute duration. Show format contains separate parts. Subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or listen on Stitcher

Posted by Neil Horowitz Follow me on Twitter @njh287   Connect on LinkedIn

Why Hockey Must Embrace and Foster its Personalities

Think about the typical regular season game promo on TV for a NBA game. The way it looks and sounds. Surely, you picture and hear the stars. The same stars that makes waves in the media daily, that start beefs, whose comments and exploits on and off the court make news.

The star power that has driven the NBA to global popularity is severely lacking in the NHL, in the eyes of many. Quick – name the most well-known five players in the NHL. Did you get past Sidney Crosby, if you even got that one?

The NHL, similar to (some would say) MLB, hasn’t exactly been bending over backwards to let their stars, and their personalities, shine. And while there is certainly merit in putting the team above the individual, about being modest and humble to a fault, it may also be the very thing limiting the sport’s growth. There are few with a better view of the space than Dave Krikst, Head of Social Media Content for TSN, as well as serving as Managing Editor of BarDown.com and longtime producer for the Cabbie Richards show, who can’t help but express frustration at the potential upon which the NHL is sitting with its individual players, but has yet to fully embrace.

“The teams themselves, the social media managers…are great. They’re terrific. They’ve got some of the most creative social media managers and content producers in any league,” said Krikst of the talented social media teams behind the clubs (I would agree). “Where it’s missing is the players. I don’t think it’s encouraged, and I think that’s a shame. There’s some type of attitude that being an individual in hockey is frowned upon. That’s just wrong, because there are so many great personalities in hockey. Like P.K. Subban. And I think the league should do nothing but embrace those guys, And the best league for that is the NBA.”

Many often say the NBA is a star-driven league, and it has been riding those stars to rising popularity from the days of Magic and Bird to MJ, Kobe, LeBron, and and everyone in between. These player radiated with their distinct personalities, fans knew them as individuals, not just as players. Whether it was the vivacious Magic Johnson, the uber-competitive Larry Bird and Kobe Bryant, or the outspoken ambassador and consummate basketball savant and teammate that is LeBron James. Meanwhile, only the most avid NHL fans have the slightest idea about the personalities in the NHL. Because we’re allowed such fleeting glimpses, if any at all.

It’s not that the players are, well, boring. They’re a product of the system; the same system in which NBC NHL host Mike Milbury rebuked P.K. Subban for dancing and showing a little personality during pregame warm-ups. The fans, however, loved it of course.

“There are so many great personalities in hockey, the problem is I don’t think the management, I don’t think the league [will foster that] culture and atmosphere to embrace individual. Even if the players themselves have incredible personalities and are smart, interesting people, said Krikst, the passion clear in his tone.

“A lot of the time you’ll find that the individuals themselves are given a hard time. And the fans may embrace them, because they want that; they want the BizNasty [noted ex-NHLer and social media personality Paul Bissonnette], they want the P.K. Subban. I think the problem is the league, and the hockey culture itself, which doesn’t embrace it. Whereas [in] basketball, it’s almost encouraged.”


It’s easy to identify problems, much harder to devise and execute solutions when a culture has been ingrained for so long. MLB, as alluded to earlier, is dealing with a similar culture clash, as young players and Latino players want to have fun on the field, eschewing the tired unwritten rules of yesteryear. But it’s easy to see how much fans respond and engage when a player showcases something outside of the norm, beyond the subdued, cliche-filled culture that pervades hockey and baseball.

It’s an exercise in futility, however, a wreckless resistance, to deny the new day. A new era in which there is no barrier between athletes and fans, when glimpses of personality on the ice or court or field can be amplified and appreciated on social media, when the old-hat can SEE how much the fans love it. Valuing conformance over individual personalities may have respectable roots, but it’s not what is best for the fans and the business of the sport. Because fans don’t fall in love with sports as much as they fall in loves with the teams, the players, the individuals. Those are the connections that create fans that care more.

[Listen to my conversation with Dave Krikst here]