One of the more annoying tendencies us sports journalists and bloggers tend to have as a profession is to get really, really whiny whenever we don't get what we want. We're certainly not the most sympathetic figures, we can be insufferably self important, and frankly, when it comes to most athletic departments, we can be a real pain in the ass.
Still, embracing--or at least tolerating--the media and new media in particular is a necessary evil if you want to maximize publicity for your program. An FBS upstart like Texas State especially needs all the help it can get when it comes to getting their name out there, and the negative consequences of not doing so can cause serious headaches (see: Florida International). But Texas State might not fully understand this concept yet.
Sports Information Department and Self-Promotion
Some of the internal blame by athletics department employees on Texas State's lack of exposure was focused on the Sports Information Department, which is tasked more with handling the day-to-day minutiae of media coverage and self-promoting that many seem to think marketing is responsible for.
Our SID is not putting in any effort into making it easy for media to cover us.
Rumors about Texas State's lack of outreach have long persisted within the local media community, with reporters from various outlets alleging stories filed long past deadline times (or not at all) and occasionally unresponsive Sports Information officials. Pregame and postgame stories littered with typos on Texas State's website were often a problem during the Southland Conference and WAC years, although that aspect has improved as of late.
The department, which is comprised of a director and three assistants, receives meager resources. The 2014 fiscal year budget reports that the Sports Information Department was given only $233,733 to work with.
Despite the lack of overall resources, internal sources blamed the group for not doing the little things that can be done at minimal cost to enhance the school's profile. For example, it's easy for upload content that can be shared with local media, which can be useful in situations where a media outlet might not have the resources to send, say, a photographer to a game. Many schools do this, but Texas State does not.
Tyler Mayforth, the former beat writer for Texas State sports at the San Marcos Record, mentioned that covering the Bobcats wasn't always an easy task during his time in San Marcos:
As petty as it seems, the little things matter to media. A decent media room, stats on time, working WiFi at stadiums, things like that.
They cleared out a storage closet to hold basketball post game press conferences for about four years before they moved to the weight room and finally the old Strutters office. Got kind of cozy in that closet — and gave visiting media a good chuckle — but TXST had to use what it had.
Regardless, when you're paid to do your work and love what you do (like I do with journalism and I did really enjoy covering Texas State for the most part), you push a lot of that out of your mind. But every little bit helps.
Texas State has moved basketball press conferences to a more roomy setting since then, but by Mayforth's account the department may have been ironing basic kinks out as recently as 2014.
However, other journalists from traditional media outlets disputed that Sports Information was making things hard for them.
"I'd have to say by and large we have good relationships with them and they are doing a good job."
-Source from a regional newspaper
Jack Albrecht of Texas State Rivals.com affiliate BobcatReport also mentioned that he has a good relationship with Sports Information, but that the department's hands were tied when it came to issuing credentials because of policies handed down from the top.
Whether Sports Information has good relations with the media or not depends on who you ask. In the past it's been a fairly uneasy relationship, especially with local media. Yet it's possible that things within the Sports Information Department have improved dramatically within the past year. Assistant SID Jen Lawson was lauded for essentially re-writing the entire softball record book on her own initiative to make it more media-friendly, for example.
Another refreshing improvement out of Sports Information was when a frustrated supporter e-mailed the SID about the Mager and Mayo stories flying under the radar, and to his credit head SID Rick Poulter responded in an informative and professional manner.
Mayforth also did offer a bit of a mea culpa and accountability on his part when it came to those stories:
I kicked myself when those stories came out about Mager, Mayo and a little bit earlier, Joplo Bartu, because I was in good with those guys and never asked the proper question to get them to open up about it.
While I laud what the SEC is doing this year at media days (bringing one student-athlete with a 'human-interest story' per school) and hope more conferences and universities follow suit, it's on the media to ask the questions to get those angles.
That's fair. Exchanging information is a two way street, after all.
It's reassuring to see that the SID learned from this experience and will purportedly do a better job of finding and promoting these stories in the future. Our sources also suggested there's an internal movement to better embrace social media within the SID. However, as previously mentioned it's disappointing that there hasn't been a concerted effort to make these stories further known to potential donors as a way to get involved with the (it should be said, vastly improved) Bobcat Club donor organization. Hopefully that will be a priority in the future for the whole athletic department to improve upon.
Although certain parts of the athletic department seem to be learning from their past experiences on improving coverage, some policies that come from the top may be hindering Texas State's ability to maximize their coverage.
Behind the Times
Magazines, message boards, recruiting sites, and blogs don't always have the reach that a tv station or a newspaper does, nor do they provide much of a filter by comparison, but they're becoming an increasingly important and personalized way of reaching fans and alumni in different markets. However, Texas State has been largely suspicious or openly dismissive of non-traditional media throughout its history. The tone on relations between the athletic department and new media was set during athletic director Larry Teis's embarrassing public spat with prominent Texas State fan site BobcatFans.com back in 2007.
"We've had recruits sit across here and asked about that Web site," Teis said. "They've thought about not even coming on a recruiting trip because everything's so negative."
According to Teis, fan message boards need to contribute to the team in a quantifiable way.
"Those (message boards) don't do anybody any good unless they're out raising money or selling tickets or promoting," Teis said.
It's unfortunate that Teis blithely dismissed an entire community of dedicated if occasionally unhinged die hard Bobcat fans rather than view the site as a potential tool and opportunity for further publicity. The claim that recruits would seemingly dismiss Texas State because of a few disgruntled message board posters also stretches credibility since every other school has negative fans on social media and message boards.
It would've taken some work, patience, and the ability to listen rather than lecture to get people to come around on Bobcatfans and other message boards, but even though Teis didn't view outreach to that segment of the fanbase as a good investment of his athletic department's time and resources, he still would've been better off ignoring them instead of picking a fight.
BobcatFans eventually did get press credentials after being established as a magazine that was too big to ignore, but Rivals.com affiliate BobcatReport experienced issues with getting credentials despite being a main source of recruiting, program information and mostly positive coverage. They did receive credentials for one year after being the main source for conference realignment information during the dissolution of the WAC, but a collapse in previous site leadership and an ongoing suspicion of new media has made them persona non grata once again in the Casey Building.
Jack Albrecht doesn't mince words when it comes to Texas State's rejection of new media.
We are a nothing, a non-entity, in the eyes of the Texas State athletic department, despite the fact that our very existence strengthens the football program. BobcatReport maintains an excellent relationship with the vast majority of recruits we contact. I could ignore offers and the kids that receive them, for instance, but that would be a disservice to the coaching staff and disrespectful of the time they put into recruiting these young athletes.
Instead we feed the beast on their behalf and get the shaft, because at the end of the day, we aren't around to please the athletic department. We provide a subscription based model centered around the needs of our members and desire to stay on top of things related to Bobcat football. I know the coaches appreciate us. It's pretty tough to run a pay site when the athletic department decides you don't exist.
There is specific verbiage on the Texas State sports information website pertaining to sites like ours. "Fan-based Web sites containing at least one or more of the following: chat rooms, message boards, recruiting information, scouting reports and links to news sites, as well as other fan-based features are not issued credentials." I don't have a problem with BobcatReport being termed a "fan-based web site" and since a big part of what we do is provide recruiting information, so be it.
I've attempted to reach out before and introduce myself to people in the Texas State athletic department. No answer was received. I let it go. After all, their own policy is that we're not media and might think we're crazed fans for all I know.
Other publishers on our network have asked me about the lack of a relationship with the athletic department. They find our normal to be bizarre. At this point, it's something I just don't care about anymore.
A bit of backstory for context -- BobcatReport fell into a state of disrepair under former owner Brent Thibodeaux and Jack has only within the past couple of months worked to revitalize it, so it stands to reason that they won't have a lot of leverage with the athletic department anyway. Also, that fan site credential policy was first displayed back in 2010 and there are questions as to how much of it is still in effect now. However, it was still displayed on the Sports Information page of the Texas State athletics website when this article was written.
Scout.com affiliate BobcatIllustrated wouldn't comment about their relations with the athletic department, but conversations with media and athletic department sources appear to confirm that Larry Teis's anti-new media decree is fairly universal.
UPDATE (7/9): BobcatIllustrated reached out to me after this article was published and said that they've had full program access and credentials for two years. So perhaps the anti-new media credential policy isn't as universal as it once was. This is my fault as I spoke to one of their reporters but not the one with the most information, and I didn't do enough to get the full story. Even though I didn't know that at the time, I regardless take responsibility for the mix-up as I should've been able to figure that out from the get-go.
Having games on ESPN2, ESPNU, and ESPNNEWS is certainly a major step in establishing an FBS-level media presence, but Texas State may also be leaving plenty of potential positive publicity on the table in other mediums.
Those quotes from Albrecht and Mayforth are troubling, but ultimately Texas State does have the right to set media policies as they see fit. But if they're going to insist on tightly controlling the flow of information and access to the program, then they need to do an outstanding job of marketing themselves to the fans in order to keep people interested. As we've already mentioned, that hasn't happened.
We'll take a closer look into the inner workings of the Texas State athletic department in our next article.