Why Samford Athletics is Investing in Digital Technology

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Samford - Sports - Digital Technology
Photo by Kristin Twiford, Libris

Facing a budget and headcount reduction within Samford University’s athletic department, Kevin Young turned to create efficiencies this year.

For example, Young, the school’s associate athletics director for marketing and strategic communications, worked with the photo management program Libris and social media content distribution tool Socialie to simplify its photography workflow.

The system essentially streamlines the camera-to-photo-gallery process that takes place on the field and finishes in the press box. From there, a staff member quickly edits and adds a logo and hashtag. As soon as they’re uploaded, Socialie pulls them and texts a link to a team’s athletes before the game’s last whistle.

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“They’re empowering student-athletes to share content instantly, and as a result, they’re creating a wave of energy and excitement for the school and its followers,” said Andrew Fingerman, CEO of PhotoShelter, the parent company of Libris.

The students then can use the photos on their social channels, helping with professional images and Samford branding messages.

“It’s been incredible,” Young said. “We can expand our reach in an old-school manner, almost like putting flags in someone’s yard. We had to find a way to get people to notice us. We’re in Alabama; UAB is No. 1 in their conference and they’re not getting noticed. It’s all about Auburn and Alabama. I can’t afford a billboard, but we can do creative things like this.”

Samford started using the program in August, prior to the football season, and Young said the school almost broke the revenue record in five home games. The first game of the season nearly drew half of the campus’ 3,100 students, and Young attributed that to the use of this program.

The program came out of a conversation between Young and Socialie about trying to more efficiently share photos and track the engagements. 

Socialie came from Kristin Adams’ time leading social for UFC and working with UFC president Dana White and a roster of 400+ athletes around the globe as a way to help build their personal brands, promote the sport, and promoting their fights.

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“I had some money left over and realized it would save us a ton of time and a step in the process,” Young said.

Other schools have similar software in use, Young said, in the way they send bulk photos, but couldn’t find the integrated backend analytics. This was best for Samford’s needs to increase efficiencies within its athletic department.

“It allows us to track followers. We send them content and we can see that it grew followers this much,” he said. 

Samford hasn’t broken the process down for individual athletes, but Young said it could be done by creating rules based on tags. 

“The athletes come in, pick up their phone after talking to coach and post a great photo on social,” he said. “The days of crappy cellphone photos or videos are over. Social media is crucial in controlling the media, and branding is much more than a logo or graphics.”

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“When the players use the photos, they just end up crushing the engagement. They have people following them who interact with [the photos] — and then it’s grown our followers.”

The software is mostly used for football, basketball, and baseball, but Young said it’s also been useful for smaller revenue sports such as tennis and gymnastics.

“We can go to an event two to three times a year and provide those athletes with all the photos they need for the year,” he said.

Young said it’s more than just sending photos to athletes. They can also request content from players, a practice that’s been useful in instances like Instagram takeovers. 

Young said there are still more ways for it to be used in the future — and is very happy with the first semester of its use.

“The return on investment is through the roof,” Young said. “I’m a small FCS school, with a fractional budget compared to some big schools, and we’re able to do it comfortably. It’s worth every penny.”