SVG College Sports Summit: From Production to Distribution, Business Is Booming

To see what a booming business college sports is today, one need look no further than the rapidly increasing media-rights deals and proliferation of revenue-rich conference and university networks over the past half decade. Nonetheless, significant hurdles remain for schools looking to increase revenue and connect with their fans.

At an SVG College Sports Summit panel in Atlanta on May 28, leaders from universities, sports networks, and major media-rights owners provided a look at how the industry can get the most out of their content and keep an often rabid fanbase happy.

Learfield Sports’ Joe Ferreira (left) and Fox Sports South’s Jeff Genthner

Learfield Sports’ Joe Ferreira (left) and Fox Sports South’s Jeff Genthner

“Pro sports is like trading entertainment stock. It’s day stock: if your team is doing well, then everyone buys the stock, and you jump on the bandwagon; but, if your team is on a 12-game losing streak, everyone is sell, sell, sell,” said Jeff Genthner, SVP/GM, Fox Sports South. “But you don’t see that in college sports. Fans are extremely passionate no matter what. There is something unique about college sports to tap into there.”

Evolution of Production
Both the production side and the distribution side of college sports video have evolved dramatically over the past decade, with leaps forward in technology and changing consumer viewing habits leading the way.

Few have been closer to the front lines of this evolution than Mark Rodin, director of Seminole Productions, Florida State University, who was honored with the second-annual SVG College Sports Summit Pioneer Award. Since he arrived at Florida State University 26 years ago, Seminole Productions has gone from a two-person department shooting on film and focused solely on football and basketball to a staff of 14 full-timers and 50-plus students producing nearly every sport on campus.

“The amount of content we are producing has skyrocketed. We used to be focused on bigger sports, like football, basketball, baseball at FSU,” he said. “But now every sport we are producing. When I started, it was me and one other person. Now I have a staff of 14 with 50 students working on a variety of productions and features. Everyone wants to see everything all the time so we are having to cover things we’ve never had to cover before.”

Evolution of Distribution
Another major development in the past decade has been the total overhaul of the distribution model for college sports content. Genthner harked back to his days as managing director of the U.S. Olympic Entertainment Properties during the Nagano and Sydney Olympics, noting that he had had all the production facilities and tools necessary (including an HD production facility in Colorado Springs, CO, and a Panasonic technology sponsorship) to produce plenty of content in non-Games years but there was nowhere to distribute it. In today’s world, of course, there are countless linear-television and broadband distribution paths for rights owners to distribute this kind of second-tier content.

“We had the tools … but we couldn’t get distribution because there weren’t the distribution paths,” he said. “But today there is so much distribution out there. It goes way beyond television. ESPN3 is a viable distribution network in the eyes of [major college conferences]. The distribution is available; the discussion is, how does an institution invest in and create the machine through which they can feed that distribution pipe.”

The Challenge of the Coaches Show
One element of college video that has yet to evolve to the next level, at least according to Learfield Sports Chief Content Officer Joe Ferreira, is the coaches show. While interest in college sports has never been higher, the production value of this type of shoulder programming continues to lag at many schools.

“One challenge I would throw out to all our school partners and any schools here is, coaches shows stink. They’re horrible,” he said. “They’re the same show that they were 20 years ago. It’s always ‘Hey, Coach, wasn’t that a great week? Here’s some highlights? What about next week? And goodnight.’

“So one of the challenges I present to us and to colleges is, how do we create that coaches show 2.0,” he continued. “You have [University of Alabama head coach] Nick Saban for a half an hour; you just don’t get that kind of access anywhere else. We need to do a better job of that with social-media [integration] and making it more relevant. It’s not just coaches shows but everything that surrounds the programs you care about.”

How Can You Create an ROI on Gear?
Budget-consciousness and student staffing can take video departments only so far. At some point, they have to show their athletic directors and presidents some sort of return on investment. In Rodin’s case, Seminole Productions opted to seek out production gigs in other campus departments to justify the cost of expensive gear and ever-changing technology.

From left: Florida State University’s Mark Rodin, Cella Group’s Bill Cella, and Ferreira

From left: Florida State University’s Mark Rodin, The Cheyenne Group’s Bill Cella, and Ferreira

Then, he took it one step further and began producing content for state and legislative entities in Tallahassee, where FSU is located. Today, according to Rodin, Seminole Productions creates hundreds of thousands of dollars of self-funding by producing these non-sports shows, bringing in more funds for athletics production endeavors.

“About 70% of our work is still athletics with the video boards and all the other content we do, but that other 30% allows us to have funds to maintain our equipment without tapping into the boosters and athletic department all the time for funding,” he said. “It has served us in that we utilize students and help them learn and get the labor but [we ] also maintain a mechanism to upgrade our facilities without having to go to athletics all the time. So everyone ends up benefiting because we have the ability to those types of production.”

The Next Big Thing in College Sports Production
As much as the state of college sports production has evolved, however, there is still plenty of room for further growth, especially when it comes to the search for the next great production or technology element in a sports telecast.

“When we see some kind of technology that is interesting, … it really intrigues people and gets people to be more attentive to what they are watching, and they become more loyal to that brand,” said Bill Cella, Partner at The Cheyenne Group. “The Pac-12 has video of the pregame show with the referees, which I think is really cool. You need things like that in production that really get viewers’ attention. So I only encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing and keep coming up with innovative production ideas for us viewers.”

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