College Sports Video Departments Can Be Game-Changers

By Ken Kerschbaumer

The development of a sports video department at a college or university may seem like a lonely business, but by working through and with a conferencewide video initiative, schools can more quickly meet the sports content needs of alumni, students, athletes, and parents. And it does not necessarily need to be a multimillion-dollar investment. “From a conference standpoint, you should be able to get the approval to give a laptop and camera starter set to begin streaming events,” said Kelly Carney, Conference USA associate commissioner, during a panel discussion at the first annual College Sports Video Summit.

The panel focused on how college sports video can be a “game-changer” for a university athletic department by opening up new exposure for the programs and, potentially, new revenue streams.

Carney added that some CUSA institutions have taken that small starter kit and run with it, building video departments that have as much financial support from the conference as possible. “We started streaming events in 2006 and now stream eight sports from all 12 schools and, as of this year, we had about 1,697 events streamed,” Carney added. “It’s amazing.”

Nate Flannery, Horizon League Network chief operating officer and WebStream Productions vice president for content strategy, said the Horizon League now streams 400 events free-of-charge on its broadband network. “We allow people to know that every time a game is played, they can go to our Web site and find it,” he explained.

Getting the schools the equipment is only one-half of the battle, as experienced operators are also required. Fortunately, today’s equipment is easier than ever to use. “Live production is no longer a specialized skill set,” Flannery added. “We train students to do productions in a few hours, and what they put on the Web is a pretty good product. They still need training, and there are nuances, but video production is not as specialized as it used to be.”

But with both gear and operators in hand, a university can greatly increase the diversity of programming for fans. Jerry Wetzel, director of electronic media for the University of Florida, recalled the days in the early 1980s, when schools would use satellite transmission for point-to-point programming sent to hotels, where alumni fund-raisers would involve live video transmissions. “Now, with the advent of the Web, video is not just used for fund-raising, but is instead all-encompassing,” he added.

Scott Correira, University of Notre Dame general manager of sports properties, said that with programming in hand, the challenge is: How do you serve all of the distribution platforms? “There are a lot of different mediums for sponsors to get involved in,” he added. “We didn’t have all of these platforms five years ago.”

And it’s important to get involved with all of those platforms, whether it’s blogging, Twitter, or the next big thing.

That leads to the tough discussion of a cost model vs. revenue model, like advertising vs. subscription. “We provide all of our content for free because we felt that it would increase traffic and generate revenues through advertising,” Correira explained. “A lot of success is from bundling online assets.” With 30-40 hours of original content per week, he added, a school could generate significant revenues.

Wetzel said that the University of Florida opts for a combo approach, making weekly coaches and other programs available free-of-charge but charging for live game content. “We are constantly looking at whether we want to stay with free or stay with paid,” he added.

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