Like every College Sports Information Director, Greg Sage, now Assistant Athletic Director, is a sports junkie with a passion for all kinds of competitions. While his path to Belmont University was very different from many other SIDs, it’s also what made him an ideal candidate. With extensive experience working in local broadcasting covering everything from high schools to professional sports to ultimately working nationally for the Golf Channel, he has a different experience and perspective. “My pitch to Belmont in the interview was that as Belmont's profile was growing, they would need somebody with a regional and national understanding of what it takes to be a strategic lobbyist for a school outside of the power conferences and facing a lot of competition.” That certainly describes Belmont and the city it calls home, Nashville, TN.
“We have the NFL Titans, NHL Predators, SEC football. We're about to get an MLS team,” says Sage. “That makes it difficult to make inroads with third party media and get coverage. I was on that end before, getting pitched by people looking to promote their stories and trying any angle; ‘hey cover our school’s eight-foot-tall 12th grader.’ They figured I would be able to be an advocate for Belmont. And I guess it worked well enough because, 14 now, 15 years later, it's been a wonderful journey.”
Focus on the Students’ Mission
“Our mission statement states that we’re about providing the best experience for the students while they're here,” says Greg. “All of the contributions, whether it be financial or emotional and sweat equity, are poured into the kids. As a really open and transparent faith-based institution, our greater purpose is not just revenue generation or butts in seats. We just have to be champions for the students with them and all that they do: their love of serving God, spreading the word of Jesus, the mission trips that our student-athletes do.”
For all of those reasons, PrestoSports was the right choice for Belmont athletics. It enables them to tell their unique story in a big way with the resources they have without relying on or catering to any third party media. That enables them to be very transparent in their communications to all interested parties and facilitating the students’ stories. “The onus is not on the student-athletes to tell the story,” says Greg. “Their responsibility is to have a well-rounded and beneficial experience while they're here. But at the end of the day – who better to tell the story of your program, than the 18 to 22-year-olds who are living it themselves?”
Technology Levels the Playing Field for those Willing to Step Up
“Technology plays an indispensable role in what we do,” says Greg, “because it’s all about content creation and delivery.” That enables them to level the playing field and cater to the people who care about them the most. As he says, they (Belmont) aren’t going to get an SEC-style football locker room (they don’t have a football team) or private chartered jets any time soon. But through technology and partnerships with companies like PrestoSports they can narrow the gap and create an outsized presence. “We want people to think, ‘wow, is that Clemson’s football or Belmont women’s cross country?’ You really can create a comparable end product if you’re just thoughtful and strategic on the front end,” he believes.
The one requirement to make it work is a shared investment with the coaching staff and the student-athletes. Without that, it might be empty. Belmont’s overall approach at the university integrates the student-athletes into the general student body in a way a lot of bigger schools might not, and Sage does the same with his outreach, ensuring that connectivity and integration are not a problem. That helps intertwine both the athletes and the students to the program in ways that wouldn’t happen otherwise. The athletes aren’t random numbers in the game, but Nick Muszynski the center, the kid in your 10 o’clock class, and your friend's roommate.’ And when students are connected to the program, there’s no group better at spreading your message.
Clicking All of the Channels
Like a lot of programs outside of the Power 5 conferences, Belmont’s conference recently signed a rights agreement with ESPN for all of their live content. That means there is a lot more content coming down the pipe, but it’s also a fantastic opportunity. The one thing Belmont wants to do is make sure they get maximum use out of all of their time and production efforts.
“We try to repurpose all of our content and storytelling that we do video-wise. Not just in the venue but in broadcast, and anywhere it is applicable,” says Greg. “Like a lot of schools at our level, we don't have a 15 or 20 person video or graphic design department. But through technology and different tools, we get a really nice professional end product and we want to make sure that they get out to the masses. We don’t want to use it just once when it could have a much broader reach.”
For example, a recent video campaign entitled Invested in You they did featured student-athletes capturing the spirit of who they are, why they came to Belmont, and how their eyes were opened on their journey here. That series appeared in venue for volleyball and basketball on their new video boards and in broadcast during commercial breaks or halftime of their ESPN broadcast. But it was also featured on their website and on social media. Everything is published to Youtube, cross-promoted on Twitter and Instagram and different channels in a variety of ways. In total, the campaign received nearly 260 thousand views.
Moving Forward and Finding Inspiration
While a lot of people assume that the summer off-season leaves Greg with nothing to do, that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s no different than coaching he says. “The games take care of themselves. We do our work in practice. And so a lot of times the summer months become ‘the practice’ and the proof is in the pudding once August rolls around.” They’re continually looking for opportunities and performing analysis of what worked, what didn’t, and where their next opportunity might come from.
When it comes to finding inspiration he likes to look outside of the sports industry to entertainment, part of what inspired the mobile-first design of the new Belmont Bruins site. “What we chose to do is totally strip it down and say let's look in entertainment or business and industry or commerce or things that are absolutely not related to sports at all and just say, wow, they do a great job in delivery. One example that grabbed their attention most recently was Lauren Daigle, a contemporary Christian artist. “The way her site is projected caught our eye and unanimously we said, we like how everything that she puts out there is delivered in a mobile-first way,” he revealed.
To some, it might be a little bit “Rockwellian,” to think that a division one school could recruit student-athletes that still want to go to school, get a degree, and who want to ultimately be an active contributor in society. But through technology and the ability to tell their personal story to a broader audience, all while engaging the students and the student-athletes, Belmont makes it work. According to Greg, “it's not taking an overwhelming percentage of the pie and telling who we are. That becomes reflective in the messaging that we send out, that it's above and beyond what the scoreboard says, that's really who we are at Belmont University.”
Visit the Belmont Bruins Athletic Site
Discover what PrestoSports could do for your athletic program.