College Conversation: The Evolution of the Coach’s Show

The Coach’s Show. Bring up the topic in any sports information director’s office or any network programmer’s office, and you’re bound to get passionate responses, both pro and con.

It’s an old school vs. new school argument. On one hand, coaches are the star of any college program. That’s who the fans want to see and hear from. Traditionally, the Coach’s Show requires giving little information about the program and still tends to lead in viewers, especially with a marquee football or basketball coach.

A new trend, though, spurred by 24/7 and Hard Knocks, suggests that the Coach’s Show is, if not dying, certainly evolving. Look no further than Kentucky men’s basketball head coach John Calipari, who this season partnered with ESPN to create All-Access: Kentucky, a behind-the-scenes look at the defending national champions and their ultra-young roster.

Unfortunately for video-production professionals, which side of the debate one takes matters little. What side the coach falls on truly trumps all. A coach at one school may want nothing to do with having a microphone and camera at a practice. A coach like Calipari, however, looks at granting access as a key to promoting his program.

Coach’s Shows are a keystone of any college sports-video–production arm, and, as technology becomes cheaper and more readily available, the ability to expand the creativity of the Coach’s Show grows exponentially. SVG talked to three video-production professionals about the Coach’s Show and how, in the age of shrinking attention spans and YouTube videos, schools can get the most out of it.

The Panel:
Paul Danna, Multimedia Services Director, University of South Carolina Athletics
Gamecock Productions was founded in 2008 when Danna was given the responsibility of producing the football Coach’s Show for the school’s new multimedia-rights holder IMG College. Since than, Gamecock Productions has blossomed into the video-production arm for the university’s athletics department and employs a staff of three professionals and numerous students.

Brian Smoller, sportscaster, director of Powercat Vision and K-StateHD.TV
The K-State Athletics Broadcasting and Powercat Vision Office is responsible for Kansas State University’s external-media operations. The team produces football, men’s basketball, and women’s basketball Coach’s Shows per the school’s third-tier agreement with Fox Sports Midwest. The shows are also made available on K-StateHD.TV, the school’s digital network, along with online-exclusive Coach’s Shows for volleyball and baseball.

Jesse Aron, producer/editor, Time Warner Cable Sports Net
Currently at Time Warner Cable Sports Net in Los Angeles, Aron was a producer and editor on Lane Kiffin USC Football Weekly during his time at Fox Sports West.

What is the state of the Coach’s Show today?
Danna: The Coach’s Show is kind of in a very, very long transition. Most of these shows are driven by the coach and what they want to do with it and how much they want to put into it. Is it going to be highlight-driven? Will there be a lot of features? Do they want to break down plays or do a behind-the-scene type of thing?

Paul Danna, University of South Carolina Athletics

Paul Danna, University of South Carolina Athletics

The transition is that the younger coaches, I think, are looking to use it as a tool they can repurpose for a variety of reasons. Younger coaches are looking to do behind-the-scenes stuff, and we’re looking at it a lot differently than when these shows arrived. Back then, it was about doing highlights because people never saw the games and the teams weren’t on TV every week like they are now. So it’s going to transition for a while, but it all comes back to the importance that the coach and athletic department place on it as far as what the content is and how much resources are put into it.

Smoller: The attention span of people watching television, for them to sit down and watch a 30-minute show, probably isn’t there. You can hit and get your message across with those smaller videos in a different way that’s probably more direct that can be sent out via social media, as opposed to a 30-minute television show that’s going to be on cable. But, as long as the television partners are using that content as a source of revenue, I think those Coach’s Shows are going to be around for a while.

How do you go about spicing up a Coach’s Show? Not every coach has a hyper-engaging personality.
Depending on the magnetic appeal of your coach, being on camera and just having a coach talk on camera for a long time is not all together interesting, outside of for the diehard fan.

Danna: It’s all based on the personality of the coach and what you can do with them. Obviously, technology would play a big factor in what you are able to do, too. It’s kind of hard because it’s just so different everywhere. You can do so many different things, but you have to have the resources and make sure that the coach approves of it.

Smoller: The fact that we have KStateHD.TV and that we have so much content already that we need to put on there, I think that bullet-proofs against a scenario where [the coach isn’t very engaging]. We have so much content that we can put in that show that we can make that coach understand [that] we’re trying to promote your program.

What are some examples of features that you’ve included to fill out a Coach’s Show and engage the viewer?
For a piece on our basketball training facility, we had to do a ton of historical videos for an interactive display that’s in the facility. So what we’ve done on some of our pregame shows and some of our Coach’s Shows is institute a 30-second historical bump in and out of breaks, and that spices things up a little bit more.

Jesse Aron, Time Warner Cable Sports Net

Jesse Aron, Time Warner Cable Sports Net

Aron: [USC Athletic Director] Pat [Haden] was a really big believer in all of the Olympic sports and getting them out front by telling stories. The initial conversations were all about how they can give us good access to their football team but they would also like us to cover some of the other sports. So the show really did spend a lot of time — in some way, shape, or form — every week on Olympic sports and athletes, whether it was just a wrap-up of the big events from that week or an in-depth profile on a certain athlete.

Danna: If a coach wants to break down a certain play, you might need a telestrator and that helps. It makes it more interesting and makes people want to stay and watch the show.

Aron: You may ask [USC football coach Lane Kiffin] ‘How did Matt Barkley play?’ in regular interviews. He’ll say, ‘He played well; he could do some things better, blah, blah, blah’ — a very short, terse answer. Then, all of a sudden, you put a play of Matt Barkley up on the screen: ‘This is what I love about Matt Barkley. He does this, and this. He needs to do this a little bit better.’ He just really gets into it.

Smoller: It’s all about production time, and there are those discussions about how much time do you want to put into this Coach’s Show, how many people are actually watching, is it getting its bang for its buck? If you already have all of this content that you have created for other areas, it makes perfect sense to put it into a coach’s show just to repackage it in a different way.

What about the rise of more all-access programming? Can those segments be more valuable to the promotion of a program than a traditional Coach’s Show?
In my personal opinion, yes. I would see it as more valuable. But, again, it goes back to the coaches. We can have our opinion and say, hey, we’ve seen some stats [on what the viewers and fans want] but what does the individual coach think and how much are they willing to cooperate? How much are they willing to let cameras in?

Smoller: The thing that you’re selling, that you have over anyone else, that you’re putting up is access. You’re trying to show, in some way, the access that every fan wants desperately to have. The fan would love to be able to go to practice and watch.

Danna: There’s got to be that trust from the coach to allow you to do your job and do it well and to get the content needed. That’s the biggest thing: that the coach trusts your staff. Don’t breach that trust at all, and then you can get some really great content. Then, from there, it definitely helps the program.

How do you go about building that trust with a coach?
The only way to get access is through trust. Whether it’s the actual coach himself or the SID. The coach can’t be afraid to say the wrong thing or make a joke when we’re rolling and we’re right about to start. These guys can be so paranoid.

Danna: Start with just talking to them. Find out what’s their comfort level and then work with them to show that they will get to see everything before it goes out, they can make changes and see all of the changes. Don’t do anything that would break that trust. Don’t go and put stuff out that they haven’t seen, they haven’t approved, or someone on their staff hasn’t seen and approved.

Brian Smoller, K-StateHD.TV

Brian Smoller, K-StateHD.TV

Smoller: We had a meeting with [K-State basketball] coach [Bruce] Weber and sat down with him. He was driven to make sure that the Coach’s Show was good and is a product that people were going to want to watch. We came up with a whole list of feature ideas prior to the year, whether it’s pieces on athletes or miked-up–coaches’ pieces.

Aron: [Coach Kiffin] knows we’re not out to get him and he always had final say. On a Sunday, I would go through the game, I’d pick seven plays, and, if he said he didn’t want to do these plays, then fine.

Danna: It’s a really big deal to have that trust and to gain it, build it, and then to maintain it. If something gets out that shouldn’t, it’s not only your job, it could be the coach’s job as well, that could be on the line. You’ve got to be very responsible.

What types of videos that you produce get the most views and drive the most traffic? Is there a certain style that tends to attract more viewers?
Aside from football? [laughs] If you’re looking at style, our Justin Stoll does for football an NFL Films-style highlight for the show every week that’s between two and 2½ minutes and gets a lot of views. Star-player profiles [are popular]. The behind-the-scenes stuff gets a lot of views when we’re doing it with basketball.

Smoller: For our fans, as passionate as they are and as regimented as everyone has been, those coach’s shows do get a lot. The Bill Snyder Show for us gets a lot of views. But anything that provides a unique look at our sports or our facilities, they will take a look at. An interview? Perhaps not. But, if it’s a case where I’m going to have a microphone on a coach at practice, yes, that’s going to get viewed a lot.

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