Live From Final Four: Big East’s Digital Push Reaches the Big Stage

New live, digital-exclusive show, BIG EAST Shootaround, brings its breakout brand to San Antonio

A Final Four run is a huge development not only for the school involved but also for the conference office that supports it. It has been a big year for the Big East, especially in terms of its digital and social efforts.

Most notably, the league made a strong play in the live environment with the debut of a weekly series called BIG EAST Shootaround. With Villanova the favorite heading into tonight’s National Championship Game, the show is ending its Season 1 run with an emphatic exclamation point.

A crew, headed by the Big East Director, Digital and Social Content, Brad Zak is onsite here in San Antonio, gathering content and live-streaming shows to Facebook, Twitter, and the Fox Sports Go app. The centerpiece? Special editions of BIG EAST Shootaround.

“We were very pleased with the show [this season],” says Zak. “It’s been good for us to build our basketball brand. That was the main goal. We wanted to get out there and differentiate ourselves in the space. We’re a league that, since we ‘reinvested ourselves’ five years ago, has to find ways to set ourselves apart. This has been a perfect way for us to do it.”

From left: The Big East’s Ujash Patel and Brad Zak are joined by BIG EAST Shootaround hosts John Fanta and Jay Alter in covering Villanova’s fun at the Final Four in San Antonio.

For the Final Four weekend, Zak has served as producer, overseeing creative direction of the Big East’s content efforts. He’s joined by Coordinator, Digital Production, Ujash Patel, who is acting as director and lead technician. Patel is largely credited with playing a major role in the BIG EAST Shootaround’s success both technologically and in establishing a consistent brand. Also here are the show’s on-camera hosts, John Fanta and Jay Alter.

The conference saw consistent growth for BIG EAST Shootaround throughout the season. It most notably saw a viewership spike when the show aired live from Cincinnati prior to a top-five matchup between Villanova and Xavier in February, with more than 50,00 viewers tuning in. The show also went live four or five times a day during the Big East Men’s Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden.

According to Zak, he and his team have been pleasantly surprised by the numbers and engagement that the show has seen on Periscope (Twitter). He notes that it’s easy for school accounts to easily share and direct their followers to the show in real time.

Typically, when the show is aired from the conference’s offices in New York City, Zak and Patel use the encoder in their NewTek TC1 production switcher to split the streams and send the show to its multiple destinations. At the Final Four, however, the digital team did not want the stress of potentially unreliable connectivity at either the Alamodome or the Villanova team hotel. So the show is being fed to New York via a bonded-cellular unit and streamed from there to viewers via the TC1.

Zak notes that the past month has been a learning experience for him and the Big East when it comes to digital strategy. Most significantly, though, he feels that, when a season ends with drama like this, it’s best to stay the course.

“The best thing you can do,” he observes, “is have your year-round plan in place and don’t deviate from it just because it’s a big event. Find what you do really well, stick to it, and just carry that over into the major event. Don’t let the moment catch you blindsided.”

A pregame episode of BIG EAST Shootaround will air Monday night at 8 p.m. ET prior to tonight’s National Championship Game between Villanova and Michigan.

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