How JMU Athletics Powers Championship Communications
Blinder is fantastic and I'll tell you why...
Chris Brooks describes how using Blinder has impacted JMU Athletics.
If you haven’t heard much about James Madison University’s athletics programs, don’t worry. You will soon. The Harrisonburg, Virginia, campus routinely supplies NCAA tournaments with title favorites and handfuls of underdogs who train in a picturesque mountain town nestled in the Shenandoah Valley.
Two squads -- football in 2016 and women’s lacrosse in 2018 -- have recently captured national championship trophies. Chris Brooks leads communications for both programs, as well as JMU’s men’s and women’s tennis teams.
"I’m not a status quo person. I never will be. That’s not how I’m wired."
- Chris Brooks, James Madison University Athletics
Chris’s typical week involves generating local, regional and national media coverage, as well as promoting marketing initiatives to drive attendance by creating and publishing awareness-building print and digital content.
At the start of 2020, football was in the midst of another national championship appearance in Frisco, Texas, while the nationally-ranked women’s lacrosse team prepared for the start of its season. By using Blinder, Chris was able to tackle the increased demand of football success while remotely managing the essentials of the lacrosse preseason.
A teaching opportunity
Blinder's features allow JMU communications to provide on-demand media training to its student-athletes.
A Common Thread
Despite small-town logistics and a close-knit vibe, managing media requests at JMU came with several inconveniences. Athletics offices are a 10-minute drive from the football facilities and most player residences are off-campus, too. Any meet-up to conduct a media interview required thoughtful planning and absorbed an extended amount of time away from a workstation.
“It was scheduling, going over there, calling the (reporter) and handing over my phone,” Chris says. “If you think about it, I’m gone an hour for two phone interviews.”
The communications team tried multiple methods to make the process more efficient to no avail. Anything more practical for Chris was less convenient for the media and athletes. And, of course, the simple solution of just having the two parties connect directly is taboo for the sake of privacy and security.
“No one’s going to give out their athlete's phone numbers. That just doesn’t happen.”
How has the media responded?
Blinder has provided clarity and confidence in accurate reporting.
Staying on Top
JMU supports more than 450 student-athletes among 18 teams that contest nearly 200 events each year. Yet, with an operating budget just one-quarter the size of its top-funded competitors, the Dukes have to think differently about how they utilize resources to create a competitive advantage.
Implementing emerging technologies has become part of the culture at JMU. On the field, they’ve partnered with performance analytics providers and, off the field, a range of innovative solutions improve staff productivity.
Among those was the discovery of Blinder, of which JMU has been a high-volume user for more than a year.
“The whole process takes a minute. That’s easy,” Chris says. “I can even do it from my phone.
“When I think about the amount of time I used to spend driving back and forth just to facilitate interviews, it was hard to get in a good flow. That led to some later nights.”
During the football season, Chris estimates he spent six to seven hours each week coordinating interviews. With Blinder, he can arrange the same number of calls in six to seven minutes.
“I’m not a status quo person,” says Chris, “I never will be. That’s not how I’m wired. So, when someone gives me an outlet that allows me to better spend more time doing the things I need to do while still getting the other jobs done, that’s a no-brainer to me.”
"This process has made my job a whole lot easier."
Improving athlete welfare
Chris Brooks details how using Blinder has created a better experience for athletes.
The 'New' Status-Quo
While Chris and his colleagues at JMU have saved hours using Blinder, its impact has benefitted more than just the communications team.
“It wasn’t just me that was inconvenienced, it was the athlete’s time,” Chris says. “They don’t have a lot of time, especially in-season. It almost impacted them more.”
Blinder allows conversations to be conducted in the environment where it’s most comfortable for the interviewee. For JMU’s athletes, that has created a more relaxed, authentic and better representation of their voices.
“They can stay at home on their couch and do the interview in their setting, rather than my setting,” Chris says. “That’s been a godsend.”
Chris uses Blinder’s recording feature to document and archive all interviews. In several instances, he’s been able to supply reporters with a high-quality audio file of an interview when their recordings were faulty. Chris also listens to the playbacks to provide notes to athletes on how to improve. This season, a senior football player approached Chris for interview feedback.
“In 10 years of working in this business, I’ve never been asked that before.”