CSVS 2010: Athletic Departments Find Video Provides the Ties That Bind

For college athletic departments and related media departments, digital and social media continues to be the glue connecting fans with athletes and coaches, but, in an increasingly fragmented media landscape, how should a university approach production needs? That was the topic during a panel session at the recent College Sports Video Summit in Atlanta, where experts discussed their past experiences and current workflows with more than 400 attendees.

Richard Kilwien, associate athletic director for communications, University of Washington, noted that most schools face a similar challenge: the athletic department has a decent-size overall budget but no true video department. That leads to an odd mix of relying on outside vendors while attempting to take advantage of university assets like students, communications departments, and coaching-video staff. Bringing those resources together becomes the main obstacle to video success.

“We outsource our creative and scoreboard video,” he said, “and the challenge is to keep up with the needs of fans, coaches, and the department.”

Students’ Role
Denise Belafonte-Young, assistant professor or radio, television, and Internet media at Lynn University, considers students an important part of the video-content–creation process.

“We emphasize broadcast quality and give our students real-world experience in daily operations, from creating prepackaged content for the scoreboard to live streaming,” she said. The Sony AnyCast system allows multicamera productions without a truck.

While all agreed that students can play a crucial role in a production, it is also important for staffers, such as sports information directors, to get on board with video and become an integral part of distributing the content directly to the fans. They must understand not only the relationships between rightsholders and partners but also how to turn the video they produce into a sellable commodity.

“Sports information directors who don’t embrace will not be around very long,” said Kilwien. “All of our SIDs have embraced video and how it can tell a story. SIDs have been brand managers, and I love the idea of using Flip cams and grass-roots video to meet the higher and higher expectations of our audience.”

The Importance of Social Media
Selling video assets or building advertising components around them can also be made easier by folding them into online newspapers. Lynn University’s iPulse newspaper is only one way Belafonte-Young builds revenue around video. The school also leases out facilities to local cable stations and others in need of studio and video support. And social networking by iPulse reporters can also build awareness and revenues. However, it’s important that supporting social media like Facebook or YouTube does not damage existing relationships.

“Social media is now a huge part of branding efforts, and video is critical to it,” said Mark Fratto, associate director for communications, St. John’s University, “but not at the expense of media partners like CBS. Our coaches want to put everything on YouTube, but that really takes away from the core responsibility of maximizing the ‘All Access’ service for CBS Sports.”

He added, however, that it can become invaluable for promoting athletes for honors like the Heisman Trophy: “You can reach fans in a one-on-one way that is efficient and affordable.”

School newspaper sites and other related sites are invaluable, but it is the athletic department Website that has transformed the most in recent years.

Fratto opined that Websites today need to be the equivalent of a TV channel for the athletic department. Often, the task of content creation falls on the shoulders of the communications department.

At St. John’s, that means producing 120 live events a year, with scoreboard-video operations streamed out over the Internet and also available on-demand. “We also put up free highlights, features, press conferences, and replaced our printed media guide with an online version with video,” Fratto said.

Showcase the Athletic Department
The online guide is an example of the crossroads for college media. “We’ve taken the written aspects of the media guide and turned them into one-minute video segments that showcase aspects of the athletic department,” says Fratto. Those videos can also help attract athletes as three-minute tours of the campus athletic facilities, and interviews with such staffers as the sports medicine director or conditioning coaches can ignite interest in the St. John’s value proposition.

Key to the live event productions is the Newtek Tricaster, a product that he said offers value for the money and is also easy for students to learn how to use. “They were able to use it with zero days of formal video training.”

Internal and outsourced staff aside, people in the community who have large followings on Twitter or Facebook can also be a prime source of traffic and publicity. “There is a person who has 60,000 Twitter followers, and we give him credentials for all of our events,” said Fratto. “The more the merrier.”

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