Teamworks and INFLCR are excited to announce a new partnership with Stony Brook Athletics, the first joint, department-wide partner to launch with both product platforms. Stony Brook will expand its Teamworks agreement to provide all sports with the centralized communication and operations platform.
Additionally, the Seawolves will activate a department-wide partnership with INFLCR to provide student-athletes with photo/video content and educational resources in preparation for name, image, and likeness opportunities that will be available in the near future.
“Technology has become a critical part of the modern college athletic department, and I’m excited to bring such powerful resources to my entire staff and to all of the student-athletes at Stony Brook,” said Stony Brook Director of Athletics Shawn Heilbron.
“Between the communication tools from Teamworks and the NIL platform from INFLCR, our goal is to create an environment that supports our student-athletes in everything that they do. There are so many practical uses for these technologies in our department, and we’re excited to roll up our sleeves and get to work taking Stony Brook athletics to the next level.”
TECHNOLOGY IN THE MODERN COLLEGE ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT
2:00 – Maurides and Heilbron discuss the impact of COVID on college athletics and the role technology has played in helping Stony Brook Athletics adapt to the times and the needs of student-athletes
4:25 – Heilbron shares anecdotes from Teamworks usage by football and other athletics staff that impacted the decision to expand the partnership to include all sports
6:30 – Heilbron explains his leadership team’s approach to leveraging technology to maximize the capacity of a small staff=
12:15 – Maurides and Heilbron discuss the implications of Name, Image, & Likeness, and the role that athletic departments must play in providing opportunities for student-athletes according to guidelines that will soon be developed
15:20 – Heilbron offers advice to other leaders in college athletic administration in adapting to new times and in removing fear as a factor in implementing technology and new operational strategies
Full Interview Transcript:
Zach Maurides: Well, Sean, I know that the goal today, we’re going to talk about this awesome first-of-its-kind partnership between Stony Brook and Teamworks and INFLCR, which is amazing. But before we do that, you know, we were just talking about, this is really, I think, a hopeful time in a lot of ways. There’s a lot of good things happening, a lot of positive energy. What are you most excited about in 2021?
Shawn Heilbron: Honestly, Zach, it just…to see our athletes competing again, to see them smile, to see them do what they love to do with the people that they love. Honestly, just walking out to a practice this weekend where we’re playing our first football game on March 6th, which is completely unusual, but I love it.
I think there’s just so much hope and a return to normal. I’m excited for us to just get some energy back, not only on our campus, but really in our community and in our state. And I think sports have shown a tremendous pathway forward to showing what’s possible. And I continue to be optimistic about where we’re going to go. But just to see our athletes compete and do what they love to do has been so overwhelmingly positive that it’s only going to continue. And I can’t wait. I want to win some championships! And that’s what we’re shooting for.
But just to see our athletes back is really, really uplifting.
Maurides: And I’ll be the first to say to somebody that is a former athlete who is now nothing but a fan, I think there’s no question that the community at large is going to take energy from seeing those kids take the field, take the court. And it’s just exciting to see again, to see athletes have the opportunity to be doing their thing and do it en masse, and to have this much sport going on at once. I’m sure it’s both challenging and very exciting. Let’s talk a little bit.
So, take me back to last year and, you know, walk me through how you navigated COVID. And as you think about, you know, continuing to navigate what we hope is the tail end of COVID, but COVID is still very much a big part of the day to day operations. What role does technology and solutions like Teamworks and INFLCR play in helping you to overcome those obstacles and make sure that your kids are able to get out there and compete, but do so in a safe way?
Heilbron: Well, I think technology, it’s obviously become more and more critical to our jobs and our ability to support our student-athletes. And COVID just brought it into an acute focus like never before. And so even the way we’re talking now, the way we connect with people. But I think Teamworks, (and we had utilized it with our football and basketball teams) I think the ability to connect with people on a level that allows for the best flow of information is really key because it’s one thing to have the technology, but it’s “how effective is it?” And so it’s really being able to utilize it effectively, but having the right platform to do it. And you know, athletes are more and more distracted with all their commitments from homework to class to practice to competition to social. And so, how you get them to focus on what they need to do…and they might get messages from their trainer, from their academic advisor, from their coach. And it’s really important that we’re able to do so in the most productive manner.
So for us, it’s absolutely imperative during this time when we don’t have the face-to-face contact that we’re able to use effective technology in a way that allows our student-athletes to be as successful as we want them to be and need them to be.
Maurides: Shawn I want to ask you to, kind of unpack something there, because you talked about, you know, first and foremost, it’s not just about technology, it’s about effective technology. And you also shared that before you made the decision to make this investment department-wide, which, to be clear, is not a small investment. Right? You had some teams that were already using Teamworks.
What sort of data, anecdotal or, you know, structured data were you getting from those teams and their experience that gave you comfort that this was going to be successful as a department-wide tool?
Heilbron: Yeah, the reality of this is our football coach is probably the most organized human being I’ve ever been around and really has a high standard for those around him (so those who are academic advisors, the trainers, the support staff). And when Teamworks was introduced, the fact that he was gushing about how effective it was, about how it’s streamlined, everything that they were doing, how incredible it was, he was really the first one to say “this is something I think our department should look at.” So just hearing him talk about it and then talking to our academic advisers, talking to our trainers, talking really to the core users. And, just for them to see the results, to see student-athletes reacting, responding, and the ease by which our student-athletes found using Teamworks, it just made it for me a no-brainer. And again, I’m not the day-to-day user. My job is to make sure that our department is as effective and efficient as possible and we’re able to run like a well-oiled machine, and Teamworks helped us do that. And so, by the success with our football and basketball teams, and the overwhelmingly positive feedback, and I think, as they learned more and more ways to utilize the platform, it was just that much more of a no-brainer for me that we needed to look at this from a department-wide standpoint.
Maurides: Talk to me for a second about how you think about the ROI of that investment, because I think a lot of people are going, “do I hire Teamworks and INFLCR or do I hire another human being?” How do you compare, and how do you think about the return on that investment?
Heilbron: That’s a great question, because it’s a little hard to articulate, even on campus where this…my leadership team, we all discussed it. We were all part of the conversation. And we all, to a person, said “we need, not just this would be nice to have, we need Teamworks and INFLCR to allow our department to take a step forward.”
For me, I don’t think you can ever have enough staff. Certainly, at our level, we are doing a lot with a smaller number of human beings, which is why technology is so critical. And I do see Teamwork and INFLCR as, not a replacement of human capital, but really an important part of our business model as we’re moving forward. And we are never, again, going to be staffed at the level that I feel that we need to be. But Teamworks does, it almost…where you can have several people who would be trying to do what Teamworks is doing, we’re able to do this with technology that I think actually will take a lot off of people’s plates who are here, and make their lives a lot simpler, a lot easier, because it’s difficult as it is to keep up with paperwork, to keep up with getting student-athletes to be where they need to be, to know if there’s a team meeting that pops up, to know if there’s a speaker coming. And it just makes everything so much easier. And it’s one of the things that our staff that uses it day to day has said how easy it is to use.
And I think that’s what makes it so incredible, that it is a significant investment, but it’s one that I see a significant return on the back end because our student-athletes’ lives are going to be better, because they’re going to have the ease of use. And then the other thing that really appealed to me now is this ability to contact donors, to contact ticket holders. There’s so many practical uses for this that I’m excited to roll up our sleeves and really take full advantage of all that the platform has to offer.
Maurides: I think you make some great points, and I love the idea of Teamworks as a force multiplier. It takes the people we have and it gives them the ability to do more. Right? And I think if we’re doing our job right, every single person that’s working in Stony Brook is now one point five people. And I love the other thing you touched on too, which is, I think even more important in a time of COVID and specifically from the seat of athletic director, “how do I stay in contact, build and enforce relationships with all my stakeholders,” which is, you’ve got your athletes, you’ve got your staff. But you also brought up the people that are financially supporting the organization, those donors. And I love, you know, we’ve seen this a lot, we’ve seen a lot of organizations say, “gosh, this has worked so well to build deeper relationships during a time of COVID with athletes and staff. We can do the same thing with our donors.” And I think that’s huge, especially now, because organizations are turning to those donors and saying “now’s the time to invest.” So let’s talk generally just about technology. I think we’re at a unique time in college athletics where technology is playing a bigger and bigger role. COVID has accelerated that. Can you just talk a little bit about, generally how have the staff at Stony Brook embraced and leveraged technology as an organization?
Heilbron: I have to say, I think our staff (and it comes from all levels of our department) recognize and have recognized how critical technology is. You know, a lot of our departments are hiring younger people. We have students who work in our department that are bringing ideas to us and showing us new technology. I mean, Snapchat is something, for example, that I didn’t know a whole lot about, but was a tool that was used to communicate with external audiences, particularly younger ones. So for us, it seems to have started with social media. As you know, in traditional communications, SID staffs have really transitioned more to content strategists and content creators. We’re using more video than ever before and we’re using it to communicate with our external constituents in ways that we never have before. So I think the days of having the coach come up and give a pregame talk, we’re shifting more towards doing more with technology, being able to connect with a larger audience rather than those who are able to come physically to an event. But really, it’s become much more important in how we do our jobs on a day-to-day basis. And communicating with student-athletes is chief among them. There may be an emergency where we need to reach out very quickly to our student-athletes, to our campus community, and it only is through technology that we’re able to do it effectively and timely so that we can get our message out there and make sure that those who need to be communicated with are communicated with in a very timely manner. So it’s been coming. But I think now we have to accelerate the timeline with which we use technology to do more and more of our day-to-day jobs.
Maurides: Let’s kind of expand on that and talk about one of the other things that’s coming, which is name, image, and likeness. And, can you talk for a moment about these two eras that are coming at us fast, which is maybe the digital transformation of sport. And name, image, and likeness, how do you see those two coming together? How do you use technology like INFLCR playing a role in shaping the student-athlete experience as we enter the NIL era?
Heilbron: I think it’s huge. I’m a member of the Division One Council and on the Legislative Solutions Group that’s been really knee deep in NIL legislation for the better part of 18 months now. And I think it is so important that we are able to provide our student-athletes, with as many opportunities as possible to capitalize on their name, image and likeness. And so it’s impossible to do it without technology and to make it as easy as possible. And I believe, whether you’re at Stony Brook or a Power Five institution, our athletes will be able to take advantage of the legislation once it’s passed, and we all have to be prepared. So I think for schools to think “oh, this isn’t something we’ll have to address,” I think is a mistake. But I also think it’s not doing a service to our student-athletes who will have opportunities. And we’ve got to do as much as we can within the guidelines to provide them with resources, to provide them with education, but to provide them with a platform. And INFLCR is one that certainly we have some familiarity with through the America East conference, and I knew how effective it could be. And so I was very excited when the opportunity came to partner with Teamworks and to have INFLCR under your umbrella. Again, it was almost a bit of a cherry on top for us because we had already been discussing NIL and then this just put it into clear focus that the INFLCR platform is one that our student-athletes can grab ahold of immediately and instantly see the benefits of it as everyone is trying to navigate NIL. But as more and more of the digital space is able to be monetized, I think we’ve got to jump in that and help our student-athletes in every way that we’re able to through the guidelines established, once they are, by the NCAA.
Maurides: It’s great. Let’s keep going down this line of technology, because this is…we’re seeing this in every industry, right? I mean, how many times do you hear me turn on CNBC, Bloomberg, they’re talking digital transformation, digital transformation. Technology is disrupting and changing every industry. And I think we’re seeing that accelerate in the world of sports. And you’ve got leaders like yourself where, maybe 20 years ago the question was, “how do we win the facilities arms race?” The question today is “how do we win the technology arms race?” What advice would you give to other directors of athletics that are saying, “how do we make technology a central part of our strategy to win over the next five, 10 years?”
Heilbron: Yeah, I think it’s not to be afraid of it. Don’t be afraid of jumping in. You know when you start to see other schools hiring entire departments just to really focus on creative content. They’re doing that for a reason. And I think that there are people out there who have built their business solely to help administrators like me and my team here be the best that we can be without having to hire additional people. And so I think it is unavoidable, but it is something that I think we need to embrace. So just as we’ve tried to embrace the technology, tried to learn about it, it is an evolving industry that we’re in. And certainly technology, I think, is going to be the greatest piece of evolution that we will see. Obviously, you’ll have NIL and other legislative changes, but technology has come at us in a way that, I think for a lot of people that have been in college athletics for a long time, it’s intimidating. And I think you’re going to see a little bit of a shift in terms of how successful departments are, I think it’s going to be in direct correlation to their embracing of technology, to their embracing of new ideas. So we want to win. We want to be at the forefront. We want to be a standard bearer. And so that’s why we’re jumping in with both feet. And there’s still a lot to learn. There’s a lot that we need to do. But I think for us to say we’re going to be able to win, we’re going to be able to support our student-athletes at the level that we want and to not incorporate technology at a high level, that’s just not reality. And so I would just say embrace it, jump in with both feet. There are a lot of great platforms out there. There are a lot of really smart people working on this and in a way that will help us. So we all have to just do our due diligence, find the right partner, find the right platform, and then dive in and go. Because it is going to be ever-evolving, not only over the next five to 10 years, but over the next five to 10 months. And I’m excited to see where it goes, excited to see how we evolve with it.
Maurides: That’s great advice. The last thing I would say is we’ve talked about, we’ve talked about COVID and we’ve talked about digital transformation. We’ve talked about accelerating into the future. Anything else, any other last nugget of advice, any other last thought in terms of, you know as you’re speaking to your peers, how they go forward from here, from this moment in history and have success leading their organizations into the next phase?
Heilbron: I think if we’ve learned anything over the past 12 months, it’s that to, again, not only expect the unexpected but embrace the unexpected. We’ve seen games come about within two days when we’re used to scheduling a year out in many cases. And I think those that are going to survive and thrive in athletics administration over the next, you know, several years, it’s going to be based on your ability to pivot, to be nimble, but to be open to new ideas, to new ways of operating. And I’m excited about it . I think it’s…listen, for those of us that are in this business, we’re competitive, we live this. Our phones are on twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. So to me, it’s exciting. I like learning about things I don’t know much about, and that’s how we’re going to get better. But I think those of us that really figure out how to navigate the curveballs, which will come harder and with more movement than ever before, I think we’re the ones that will be able to lead our departments to greater prosperity. And so I just think as I talk to my colleagues around the country, it’s, you know, we knew it was going to be a roller coaster ride over the last 12 months. But I think those of us that have survived it, in a way that we’re still smiling, we’re still excited, I think we’re going to be the ones that are going to push our industry forward in a productive and positive way. And our student-athletes are the ones who, at the end of the day, we’re here to support. And so for me, it’s I say enjoy the ride, keep asking questions, keep learning, keep growing, keep evolving. And that’s what we’re going to do.
Maurides: Excellent advice. Sean, I appreciate you taking time with me today. On behalf of everyone at Teamworks and INFLCR, we’re thrilled to have Stony Brook be the first athletic department to jump into Teamworks and INFLCR with both feet. Really excited about what the future holds together. Thank you so very much for the time.
Heilbron: Thank you, Zach. Appreciate you, and keep up the great work. We’re excited to really dive into our partnership and look forward to many great years ahead.
Maurides: Awesome. Thanks Shawn.