Horizon League Network Leverages Home-City Advantage for Final Four Coverage

Before Butler University’s win last week to earn a ticket to the Final Four, most college basketball fans had never heard of the Horizon League. The 10-school conference is now front and center in Indianapolis, not just because Butler and the Horizon League are co-hosts of the Final Four at Lucas Oil Stadium but also because the city has been blanketed by reporters from the conference’s official broadband network, The Horizon League Network. HLN, which is now run by WebStream Productions, is headquartered in Indianapolis, and, without travel costs, the network is able to blanket its site with original video surrounding Butler’s week in the spotlight.

“One of the things that I think has been a real advantage for us is The Horizon League Network,” says conference Commissioner Jon LeCrone. “In the four-year life of the network, we’ve surpassed 1,500 Webcasts, so we do have a following. We’re covering the event ourselves through a group of reporters here in Indianapolis, which is another advantage of being in Indianapolis. We have the power of the entire network and all of the reporters because we’re here.”

A First-Round One-Man Band
Network reporter Damon Lewis has followed Butler throughout the tournament, hitting the road by himself in San Jose, CA, and Salt Lake City.

“We’ve been trying to provide a full 360-degree look at everything that’s going on with our team, Butler,” he says. “We do the nuts-and-bolts type of stuff with news conferences, but I also went to the team hotel, hung out with the fans, and showed people that weren’t able to make the trip the support that Butler was receiving, even playing out on the West Coast.”

Lewis’s produces his reports — primarily video — by himself. Using a Panasonic camera and a MacBook Pro equipped with Apple Final Cut software, he writes, shoots, edits, and posts his pieces while on the road, bringing him back to his days in local television when the sports department was one individual.

“The Horizon League Network was built in that sense a little bit,” Lewis says. “We’re a lot more about being on the ground, being at the actual events, and relaying everything back that was going on. We don’t have a huge staff or a huge budget, but we still get the job done.”

Home-City Advantage
Now back home in Indianapolis, he has plenty of backup to support his productions. This week, the network split nine staff members into four crews to cover all the goings-on around town. Those crews have covered events from downtown Indianapolis pep rallies to one-on-one interviews with the Horizon League commissioner, to give fans as much access to the team as possible, and to teach some history as well.

“We’ve taken this opportunity to provide a lot of perspective on the Butler program because it’s such a historic moment,” Lewis says. “We brought in a guy who was Butler’s radio announcer for 17 or 18 years and is now the television voice of the Indiana Pacers. We’re bringing in a player who played in the late ’90s and was on one of the teams that started to turn the program around.

“We took the opportunity to talk to the commissioner,” he continues, “and he told a story about how, when he became commissioner, Butler had 12 season-ticket holders. We’re trying to take that angle, that this program was in some ways raised from the ashes. It was not always this basketball powerhouse.”

Taking Stories Into Their Own Hands
Butler and the Horizon League are the official hosts of the 2010 Final Four, and, as such, the conference has responsibilities to the NCAA and to the Indiana Sports Commission. However, once Butler punched its ticket, those responsibilities shifted away from helping the NCAA to supporting Butler’s needs, and the Horizon League Network is helping provide that support.

“The Horizon League Network gives us the opportunity to get our message out in a timely way and in a way that we wanted to get it out,” LeCrone says, “rather than have to rely on others to do our messaging for us.”

HLN has seen the traffic on its site rise considerably as Butler attracts more national attention. The network streamed Butler’s midweek news conference live, and “the traffic was really incredible,” Lewis says.

“During the NCAA tournament, there are a lot of things video-wise that you’re very limited in being able to do,” he adds. “If it’s not something that you shot yourself, you’re at the mercy of CBS. Our whole approach has been to do everything ourselves so that we can keep it and always have it. When we found out about the news conference, it was another opportunity to separate ourselves and give any college basketball fan an opportunity to find out a little bit more about the team and, at the same time, find out a little bit more about the Horizon League Network.”

Butler’s trip to the Final Four is the first in the 31-year history of the conference, and the Bulldogs will be the first team to play in a Final Four in its home city since UCLA in 1972.

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