This weekend over six dozen of the bluest of the nation's blue-chip football recruits will descend on College Station. Most of them will already have a good feel for what the world of the Texas A&M football player is like by the time they show up for Saturday's showdown with Alabama. One of the reasons for that is AggieFBLife, a new social media hub Kevin Sumlin's program created that went live at the start of the season. It is the first fully responsive digital platform in college sports, built as a launchpad for exclusive lifestyle-driven content from inside the football program.
"The thought process is that we are football coaches and administrators, and with the changes in the (recruiting) rules we wanted to take our resources and not hire a sports marketing firm, but a Texas A&M football marketing firm who were professionals and actually knew something about a 15-20 year-old target audience and what affects them and appeals to them," Sumlin said. "That's where the idea started."
The hub has everything from a Twitter feed (@AggieFBLife) to a Pinterest site geared to recruits' moms and girlfriends. Next month there will also be an iPhone app that'll work for all platforms to better push the content.
"People are going to try and copy this," predicts Justin Moore, A&M's Associate Athletic Director for Football. Moore points out that while other college football programs have social media presences, they're really more just having their media guides online. AggieFBLife, built and driven by Fusion Sports (the same guys who created Ray Lewis' iPhone app) is wired completely differently.
"I think the coolest thing about it is when we met with these guys (Fusion Sports), they said if you can't push the content to a handheld device, then its worthless," said Sumlin. "Everything's got to start with that application, and then it has to be a certain amount of time. It can't be long. It can't be a narrative. With young people now, it's gotta be 140 characters or less or Vine videos."
In the past two weeks the Aggies social content hub has featured content ranging from a Vine video of Sumlin and A&M defensive line coach Terry Price taking off on a helicopter minutes after Thursday's practice to go watch a recruit's high school game to a practice music play list that a DJ sets up and just about everything in between including in-practice video via an O-lineman's helmet cam to a freshman walking on campus trying to find a class on the first day of school.
For Sumlin, who in 2012 led A&M to its first top-five finish in 56 seasons, this has been an ideal way to show what his program is about -- as opposed to what rival recruiters might be trying to sell prospects on.
"Not everybody here rides a horse or wears boots," Sumlin said with a laugh. "There's a perception out there about who we are. And what this platform gives us is a way to show what our players really do and what life is like for them in College Station.
"We want to tell our own story, and have our players tell that story for us, instead of having our coaches explain to you what College Station is really like, what our players experiences are really like rather than have some other school try and tell people what they think our players experiences are really like. And we are getting great feedback from it."
Maybe the best feedback will be when more programs try and follow A&M's lead.