Penmen Ascend: How SNHU Is Building a National Athletics Brand Through Video
The request from the father of a potential recruit wasn’t an uncommon one: “We’d like to see your campus.” The reason for the request? Maybe not so common. The father wanted proof that a campus even existed. It’s almost like a scene out of the movie Accepted.
Southern New Hampshire University’s Anthony Fallacaro deals with many unique challenges as director of athletics at a college known nationally as an “online school,” a school seen more like a University of Phoenix or a Kaplan University than like its Division II or Northeast-10 Conference peers.
The SNHU athletic department, however, is embracing this unique position as a successful athletics program (last year, the Penmen claimed six conference titles and the D-II national championship in men’s soccer) with strong ties to the local community and a vast pool of online students scattered throughout the country.
And the school is building its brand through live sports-video production.
“One of [my tasks] was to think a little bit outside the box,” says Fallacaro, a 20-year veteran of athletics administration who joined SNHU as AD in April 2013. “The school has been growing quite a bit, and I think we needed to grow the athletic department with it. We’ve got a great branding thing going on with our online department and the commercials that they’re doing, and we need to step up what we’re doing in athletics and really get out there with video, TV, and cable. The more exposure we can garner, the better, and it makes a Division II school like ours get into the same realm as a lot of the Division I’s out there.”
With 55,000-70,000 students registered for online courses at any given time, digital and streaming productions are a marriage made in heaven as the Penmen look to capitalize on the huge advantage SNHU has over other online universities: sports teams to root for.
“That’s a real selling point for us and our students who want to take classes online but also want to know that they’re part of something that’s tangible,” says Associate Director of Athletics Tom Wilkins, who joined to SNHU a year ago following a video-centric stint at nearby University of New Hampshire. “They can support their alma mater, and it’s a lightning rod back to the school.”
Says Fallacaro, “We had a student from Wisconsin call us up and ask us if he could buy a hockey jersey because he’s watching our hockey games online and he loves it. Not too many schools have that kind of reach.”
When Fallacaro came on board a year and a half ago, he had a vision for using video to help expand the university’s reach beyond its Manchester campus and engage the tens of thousands of students across the country who were working towards SNHU degrees.
To do that, the department needed to invest in dramatically improving the quality of its live productions, and that started with the hiring of Wilkins. At UNH, he had built a strong video department, producing live Wildcat hockey games for local television station WBIN, and even successfully experimented with IP to television transmission in the early days of the technology.
Fallacaro and Wilkins made the commitment necessary by investing in a mobile-production kit that can be transported from event to event. Included were a NewTek TriCaster 455 production switcher, three HD cameras, additional robotic cameras for added elements and postproduction content, a NewTek 3Play for replay, microphones, and a green screen. SNHU also partnered with Manchester Community Television to purchase a QVidium encoder and decoder that will enable them to transmit games to the station over IP.
“I felt it was really important for us to have an uptick in the video content we put out because that will be important to all of our online students, which are, in essence, our fans,” says Fallacaro. “We just went from a campus community of 3,000 students to a national community of 50,000 students. They are all potential fans for us, so it was important to have a professional video product out there.”
With a fully HD channel on campus and a digital platform online, SNHU is prepared to produce far more live athletic events than ever before, with a strong emphasis on men’s and women’s basketball beginning next month.
Many of the games are produced with behind-the-scenes help from students, most of whom are themselves athletes at SNHU.
“We always hire athletes as camera operators and tell them ‘follow the puck’ or ‘follow the ball,’ rather than hiring people who have an expertise in video and trying to teach them sports,” says Wilkins. “They’ve seen a game on TV before. They know what looks good and what it should look like. Is it perfect? No. Is it getting better every game? Yes.”
Wilkins also has budgeted to hire local on-air talent for 10-12 games and for some of the Penmen’s biggest productions. He hires Pack Network, a local production company that produces midsize college sports events throughout the Northeast.
Wilkins also has help via a new member of the SNHU staff. Geoff Lopes, who has a strong video background from his time at Emerson College in Boston, has joined the Athletic Communications department but spends a healthy amount of his time working on video, a luxury that few — if any — Division II schools enjoy.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find schools that are as committed to video and television as Southern New Hampshire is,” says Wilkins. “That’s fun and encouraging. Being able to have built that essentially from scratch is pretty exciting.”