Russ: Welcome back to The BusinessMakers show, brought to you by Comcast Busieness, built for business. My guests today are with Fusion Sports Group; I’ve got Ashley Dewalt, Founder and Managing Partner and Sean Richards, Managing Partner; guys, welcome to The BusinessMakers Show.
Sean: Thank you, thank you, great to be here Russ.
Ashley: Appreciate it.
Russ: You bet. Tell us about Fusion Sports Group.
Sean: Well Fusion Sports Group is an integrated digital marketing agency meaning we work on all levels of digital media, whether it’s building platforms for a client, discussing digital strategy and creating that strategy for a client as well as social media, strategy and all levels of promotion that go into that including creative content, graphic design and analytic data measurement.
Russ: Okay, and I assuming since we’re talking about sports group we’re talking about sports teams.
Sean: Absolutely, absolutely.
Russ: All right, is it just teams or is it athletes too?
Sean: We worked with a few athletes but we’ve found that sports teams, brands and colleges and university’s checks are a little more reliable when they go in the bank than individual athletes.
Ashley: And they definitely have a longer shelf life. That’s of course with the average year for NFL play is 3 years, so for us our business model shifted to where it would allow us to have more sustainability when it came to working with these programs.
Sean: As well as growth beyond just the team into working with different facets of the university themselves.
Russ: Okay, so you mentioned universities, I mean do we go down to high schools? Do we go up to the NFL?
Sean: We’re actually exploring different avenues of working with professional teams all the way down to prominent high school programs; you know private schools that can actually offer scholarships to students. But, you know, our goal is to expand far beyond just working with colleges and universities and their athletic programs into professional brands as well as professional sports teams.
Russ: Cool, really cool. Okay, how did this – Ashley, you’re the Founder of the company.
Russ: What triggered the idea to start it and when was that?
Ashley: All right, well it was maybe about 10 years ago – I’m just going to estimate, it was maybe about 10 years ago but the thing that triggered it was the fact that growing up all these different athletes, they didn’t have any type of website to connect with their fans and I guess I don’t want to tell my age but we were growing up in the generation of Michael Jordan, Shaq, guys like that – Magic Johnson, Kevin Garnet. So for me it was one of those things where I was like hey, how can I connect with my favorite players, Reggie Miller, these types of guys? Well, I just did a lot of research, a lot of Googling things, and come to find out there was a market for it; it was a niche market to be able to provide some type of branding for these athletes in the digital space. So we started off working with athletes and then over time social media came into the picture where you had Facebook.
Russ: Changed everything, right?
Ashley: And it changed everything.
Sean: This guy is talking about a beginning from when people were still sending, you know – what was it – text messages and group text messages and ringtones.
Ashley: Yeah, we did a text to win campaign when that was like the major thing back then. I mean ringtones, when ringtones were huge those were different things we did to monetize those players’ brands. Mobile wallpapers, all those different things that we did back then, of course social media changed that. So the company evolved over time from just doing websites to doing social media strategy, monetization of their brands to now what we’re doing with these collegiate programs that Sean was mentioning.
Sean: Right, which is basically helping them find a better way to get their message across to their target demographic which is 14 to 18 year old kids. Specifically say one of our clients, big university in Texas, huge football program bringing in record revenue but the marketing department and the football program have decidedly different goals. The marketing department’s is to sell tickets and to build sponsorships and to make sure that donors are buying into the program. The football coach’s deal is making sure that a kid from the south side of Houston or Desoto wants to come play football at their program – or from New Orleans. So you can see where demographically the message that the marketing department might be pushing to somebody who’s buying season tickets on the 50 yard line might be different from a kid.
Russ: Yeah, wasn’t even on the kid’s radar.
Ashley: Exactly, exactly.
Sean: Exactly, exactly. And we wanted to make sure that we could help these coaches communicate their ideals, how they’re selling the program, changing the perception of their program in some cases especially when you have negative recruiting from rivals or perceptions of a university from grandparents or parents that might be completely different today.
Russ: Okay, and so today clearly, predominantly, most of your business is college big time university football teams, right?
Ashley: Yes, yes sir.
Sean: Correct, yes.
Russ: And you go in and win their confidence and take over – what do you call that? We’re going to take over your digital program?
Sean: We basically – when we first started a lot of teams weren’t really working well with social media because you might have a coach on staff that’s 60 years old that doesn’t even really work with email.
Russ: Yeah, a lot of old guys like that.
Sean: No, but you know.
Russ: No, I know exactly what you mean.
Sean: You know there’s always something that you have to prepare yourself for in social media whether it’s making sure that you don’t say the wrong thing.
Sean: You know, it’s always going to be there but it’s also measurable so you can see results or you can see why you’re not getting results. Kids also, they don’t communicate through text messaging and things like that, they communicate through social media, even with each other.
Russ: So when you have a client – say you went in and captured a big time university football program, which I know that you guys have several of those already, are you tweeting as though you’re the coach? Are you – what are you doing exactly?
Sean: We help programs build the infrastructure to run their own social media department.
Sean: And on top of that create a language to use on social media that fits their program; whether it’s they’re pushing a certain slogan, they’re pushing oh, well we have great academics here too, you could come here and go to the NFL. We help them build that, we also help them develop content from the outside, but we’ve also found that college coaches aren’t really trusting of outside people regardless of who you are. So you definitely have to build that trust up and if we’re going to be doing something like that for somebody we’re going to train people they have on staff to work within there because they’re always there. We can’t be at each of our clients’ place for 24 hours a day, so basically we help them create a new style marketing department based on their own staff and help them utilize the things they already have.
Russ: Do you ever monitor their social media?
Sean: Absolutely, absolutely.
Ashley: Yeah, literally every month we will meet with the staff, go over analytics reports, things like that so that way it allows us to modify or adjust whatever strategy that we’re trying to implement, we can always have that flexibility to change based upon the analytics.
Sean: It’s a living program so even if we build a digital platform for somebody it has to suit their purpose but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to change over time because everything changes. I mean once the season ends everything’s up for grabs. Once a recruiting cycle ends, another one starts so you’re basically starting over with a new group of recruits that might be more advance in this platform than somebody else is and you have to keep that going.
Russ: Sure. So how do you make – who do you make the sales call on; how do you win business? I mean, are you there with the coach?
Ashley: Yeah, so we reach out to the Director of Football Operations or in some cases the Athletic Directors, Associate Athletic Directors, those are usually the ones that are the key stakeholders; basically the decision makers. So a lot of times we’ll reach out to those guys and introduce ourselves to them, let them know how we can enhance your program recruiting efforts through digital and social space. So, you know, for us that’s been the most effective when it comes to being able to go to the next steps with potentially working with those programs.
Sean: College football is probably, just in terms of energy, the biggest sport in America so if a head coach at big time university wants something he’s probably going to get it, especially if he’s been successful.
Russ: Okay, so do you actually end up most often meeting with the head coach?
Sean: Absolutely. You have to, they are the gatekeeper. It’s their program, they have to buy in and they have to be about social media and digital media and making sure they’re engaged in the kids because it starts at the top. If the head coach is doing it, regardless of what anybody else wants, they’re going to follow.
Ashley: Yeah and that’s something that we feel like that has made the things that we do successful, when the coach buys in and the rest of the staff buys in, it makes our job easier.
Sean: And it helps if they’re winning as well because if you’re not winning you can’t really think about other things.
Russ: So are there teams now in 2015 who don’t have legitimate social media programs?
Sean: Well what’s your definition of legitimate? Because there are teams that don’t do it very well that have everything, there are teams that don’t have a lot but they work with what they have very well as well.
Ashley: And you have some programs of course, budgets vary.
Ashley: So, you know, just like what Sean was saying, you have some programs that only have one person on staff that handles all these different channels; you may have another program that has ten people on staff. So it just kind of depends but you know for us, we’re always looking out to see what other schools are doing and then how can we help them fill that void? Whether it’s they’re lacking with having a digital website, whatever platform it is, or even if it’s a mobile app; you know, whatever that is they’re lacking we try to identify those things before we even reach out to them and see how we can actually implement those solutions.
Sean: And then of course talking to them. For a while everybody just had a website; what’s the point of having it? So, you know there are challenges but at the same time people that work with us understand because they see success and it’s been measured and that’s why they keep working with us.
Ashley: And real quick on when Sean mentioned about the websites, a lot of times these sites are not responsive. So they may have had a site over for a few years now so for us again that’s another opportunity because okay, maybe they’re interested in doing something like this, they just need to revamp their site because it needs to be responsive.
Russ: And you guys do that too?
Sean: We do the development, we do user interface, user experience and we create it based on a program’s strong points.
Russ: And do you suggest content? Do you create content?
Sean: We do both. When we start working with a school we have to identify what they can sell and they know that, they know what they can sell.
Russ: Well if there’s nothing they’ve got nothing to lose right?
Sean: Everybody has strong points and weak points so how can you make the weak points sellable as well. We weren’t that good last year but we need you; you’ll help us get better.
Russ: Okay, so but can you find yourselves sometimes helping competing schools?
Ashley: Well he’s a former Frog.
Russ: Oh, TCU Horn frogs.
Ashley: So a couple of our clients are competing schools but we keep everything confidential because at the end of the day those coaches have to trust us. So we don’t ever want to put ourselves in a situation where it violates that trust so everything is confidential and for us – they crack jokes on him all the time, one of the other schools that we work with, but
Russ: Because they know he has this history.
Ashley: Exactly, exactly. But at the end of the day it’s all about establishing that trust and honoring that and making sure that the things that we’re doing for this one client doesn’t affect this other client in any negative way.
Sean: You know, I guess we don’t really work with rivals in that sense of the word because we’re not working with traditional old rivals that just hate each other flat out. When that day comes I don’t know, but typically we stay away from that; we want everybody to feel secure in their partnership with us.
Russ: Okay so, you know, you’ve got this college football thing really going on, looking at other sports, maybe doing some basketball and baseball too, but I felt like you’re talking about maybe even moving into a category that’s not involving sports, so tell us about that.
Ashley: All right, so for us just doing research we found that there was a void on the academic side where their still trying to recruit top students as well, as opposed to these athletic programs that are trying to recruit the top athletes; so for us that’s an avenue that we’re looking to explore now because some of the same concepts still apply. You want to be able to sell that school to those top students, whether it be the lifestyle, campus comradery, the seating so to speak; those type of things that we want to be able to capture for the university so that way it enhances their recruiting efforts when they’re trying to go after those top students.
Sean: Even changing perceptions on a greater level, you know developing awareness about programs that people might now know about in a way that the potential student could find engaging as opposed to an old school print campaign.
Russ: Right, right, traditional ways now probably just miss out.
Ashley: I mean we found out that some schools, I mean they’ll send emails and print collateral and this generation of kids, that doesn’t connect with them.
Sean: They don’t respond to that.
Ashley: So, I mean some of the same things that we’ve heard on the recruiting trails with coaches where they say hey, these kids don’t answer emails, I have to always DM them or talk to them on Instagram, it’s the same on the academic side because it’s the same type of age group.
Russ: A lot of them don’t even watch TV – or regular TV nowadays.
Ashley: Yeah, so it’s just applying those concepts to the academic side so that’s an avenue that we’re definitely exploring now.
Russ: And do you have some prospects in that area?
Ashley: Yes, yes we do.
Russ: Wow that could be interesting.
Ashley: So we’re excited about it. I mean we definitely have some prospects so we’re excited about that and seeing where that leads us.
Russ: Does that mean you’re going to change the name from Fusion Sports Group to something else?
Ashley: Yeah, absolutely. We would definitely have to do something about that because then the Fusion Sports won’t apply.
Sean: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
Ashley: It’ll apply to those sports clients but then the academic side we’ll have to figure something else out, but that’s a good problem, that’s a good problem.
Russ: Absolutely it is. It sounds like you guys have a lot of real good problems meaning a lot of opportunity; man I’m impressed.
Russ: I want to stay in touch and hear how this academic thing goes and maybe we’ll have you back on the show.
Ashley: Sounds good.
Sean: That’d be great, we’d really appreciate that.
Russ: All right, thanks a lot too, I really appreciate it.
Ashley: Thank you, great talking to you.
Sean: Thank you.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Ashley Dewalt and Sean Richards with Fusion Sports Group. And this is The BusinessMakers Show, brought to you by Comcast Business, built for business.
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