Sports Industry Management Students Orchestrate National Media Blitz for Gallaudet University Football Team
A trio of Georgetown University’s Master’s in Sports Industry Management (SIM) students organized and successfully ran a national public relations campaign for the Gallaudet University football team this past semester. Gallaudet, the only deaf and hard of hearing university in the world, experienced its best football season in the storied history of the Bison program dating back to 1883.
|Pictured left to right: Shad Sommers, Sam Atkinson and Sarah FitzPatrick
The Bison started the season 9-0, won a school record 11 consecutive games dating back to last season, secured its first-ever Eastern Collegiate Football Conference (ECFC) championship since the conference formed in 2009 and punched their first-ever ticket to the NCAA Division III tournament. Along the way the team garnered the kind of national media exposure that’s usually reserved for the upper echelon of Division I; they were the subject of over 50 stories in one month’s time.
Working behind the scenes, Gallaudet’s Assistant Athletic Director for Communications Sam Atkinson (G’13), a recent graduate of Georgetown’s SIM program, and two current SIM students – Sarah FitzPatrick and Shad Sommers, working as interns – controlled and facilitated the media blitz set upon the Gallaudet campus.
“The unexpected media presence that came along with the football team’s success gave me an incredible opportunity to learn how to work with the media and network with media professionals,” said FitzPatrick.
For several weeks in November the Bison football team became the media darlings of college football. A game-winning blocked field goal returned 70 yards for a touchdown, with no time remaining, became an instant highlight on ESPN’s SportsCenter. Things escalated a week later when ESPN and other national media outlets came out to cover the Bison as they headed into their final home game of the regular season primed to win the ECFC championship.
|Washington NBC 4 sports reporter Jason Pugh (left) interviews Gallaudet’s quarterback Todd Bonheyo during one of the numerous press interviews Gallaudet football received this fall.
“Our goal was to get our story out to as many news outlets as possible without overburdening the coaching staff and student-athletes,” explained Atkinson. “We also wanted to educate the reporters about the deaf and hard of hearing community in the process.”
From the Classroom to the Real World
The immediate crush of local and national media forced the Sports Information Office to prioritize their day-to-day responsibilities for Gallaudet’s 12 other varsity sports. They also had to coordinate the schedules of the head coach, student-athletes, and various American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters.
“The media frenzy definitely shook things up,” recalls Sommers. “I knew the team was having a special season but when you have ESPN come to campus to shoot a story for SportsCenter, it definitely takes things to another level.”
“With all the attention the football team received, it was necessary to be active on the university’s athletic social media platforms,” added FitzPatrick. “Plus, I was given the opportunity to prepare media kits for local and national media guests, work that was relevant to what I was learning at Georgetown.”
|The Gallaudet Sports Information Office working the final home regular-season game for the Bison on Nov. 9 while an ESPN cameraman films next to them.
Communicating With Your Hands
During their internship FitzPatrick and Sommers learned ASL in addition to being trained on the day-to-day workings of a Sports Information Office. Now their hands will have some added “bling” as the duo will receive ECFC championship rings this spring from head coach Chuck Goldstein as a token of appreciation.
“I believe that stepping out of your comfort zone is an important part of developing yourself as a person,” said Sommers. “There is no doubt in my mind that this internship did that for me.”
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Gallaudet University, federally chartered in 1864, is a bilingual, diverse, multicultural institution of higher education that ensures the intellectual and professional advancement of deaf and hard of hearing individuals through American Sign Language and English.
Story adapted from a blog post by Sam Atkinson