Live From Men’s Final Four: Big East’s Digital Team Tells the Story of Villanova’s Rise From Conference Champs to National Title Contenders

The conference is also highlighting UConn’s push for the Women’s National Championship

Home to one of the nation’s top men’s basketball programs —Villanova University— the Big East Conference has been in lock-stop with the Wildcats’ conquest to the Final Four. Bouncing from New York City to cover the team’s conference championship to the bayou of New Orleans this weekend, the organization’s digital team has managed a full plate of responsibilities. This laundry list of tasks comes with an added twist: they’re also documenting UConn Women’s Basketball’s run to the title game vs. the University of South Carolina in Minneapolis.

“This is the 10th time that we’ve had a team in both the men’s and women’s Final Four, so that’s a big thing that we want to amplify,” says Bobby Mullen, senior director, digital and social media, Big East Conference. “We’ve had to balance multiple teams at multiple sites, which is a good problem to have.”

Nova in New Orleans: Social Media Content Bring Out Player Personalities

The Big East powerhouse that is Villanova conjures up different feelings for different fans. Whether you love or hate the Wildcats, they’ve become a mainstay on the big stage in the last decade. To highlight this current squad, the Big East is aiming to bring out the off-court personality of each of these players. One form of content is conducting intimate interviews with players after each game for organic and raw reactions. Another method is by poking fun at this long-standing stereotype. For example, the conference caught up with senior point guard Collin Gillespie to show some of the mean tweets that fans are saying about him:

“I think the perception around Villanova is that they’re very robotic,” says Mullen. “Getting that fun moment out of Collin was a really good idea.”

Aside from those one-on-one interactions with players, the social team is previewing the upcoming game vs. Kansas on Saturday night. Some of these posts are emphasizing the Achilles injury of junior guard Justin Moore and how that’ll affect the team’s play, what the homecoming of New Orleans native Caleb Daniels means to him, and more.

“We’re looking to tell the story of why this particular team is here,” adds Mullen. “They’ve become one of the standards of the sport, but we want to show fans every side of Villanova Basketball.”

Fanta (left) and Mullen (right) interview Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright after Friday’s practice.

Since Villanova has now made three Final Fours in the last six years, the biggest challenge is coming up with new ideas for content and diversifying the way they distribute these messages. A lot of planning and brainstorming is necessary to generate original concepts. This also requires looking back at some of the posts that they created back in 2016 and 2018 — two years that ended with the Wildcats lifting the trophy. Due to their pedigree, the social team is tapping into their extensive pool of alumni and linking them with active players on the roster for new material.

“Having our followers hear all of these stories shows the legacy of this program,” says Mullen. “Former players like Josh Hart and Allan Ray are interacting with the team on Twitter all the time, and that’s become a main platform for us.”

Keeping Fans Informed: BIG EAST Shootaround Provides Quick Hits From Caesars Superdome

While the conference’s social media platforms are populated with various stills and behind-the-scenes videos, there’s also a treasure trove of analysis and predictions. BIG EAST Shootaround, the conference’s digital-only program that highlights the current state of affairs of basketball, is reporting live from New Orleans in a different form. In previous years, a large-scale presence has been rolled out for long-form episodes. This year, the crew is moving forward with a different approach to make their content more digestible.

“We’ve seen that full shows haven’t performed the way we’ve wanted them to this year,” says Mullen. “These one-off hits have done really well and we’re building up our YouTube channel on the back end with these videos.”

Host and play-by-play commentator John Fanta is at the helm of these quick hits from around the arena. Whether it’s a two-minute standup during Villanova’s practice on Friday or an interview with Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright, he’s bringing real-time updates of the action from New Orleans. Mullen and company are mixing and matching with the style of the show, but Fanta is the team’s bread and butter.

“We’ve brought on guests like [college basketball analyst] Andy Katz during the regional when we were in Chicago,” continues Mullen. “We want to have different perspectives, but so much of the BIG East Shootaround brand is John, and we want to capitalize on that.”

Mullen is relying on an onsite team in New Orleans. Down south, he is joined by Senior Associate Commissioner, Sports Media Relations John Paquette; Assistant Commissioner, Men’s Basketball Operations Michael Coyne; Executive Associate Commissioner, Men’s Basketball Stu Jackson; and Senior Associate Commissioner, Broadcasting Rick Gentile. Offsite, shooter/editor Sebouh Majarian is working on videos remotely. From the university side, Villanova’s Associate AD/Marketing Jacob Whitten is supplying team photos and amplifying the conference’s content by sharing through the program’s social media channels.

Pulling Double Duty: Crew Manages Material for Villanova Men’s, UConn Women’s Teams

Collegiate conferences around the nation love having a representative during the biggest weekend in college sports, but in the case of the Big East, they’re an anomaly that has two institutions in each edition of March Madness. While Mullen, Fanta, and the team in New Orleans dedicate their resources to Villanova, Coordinator, Creative Services Ben Piascik and Digital Correspondent Meghan Caffrey are holding down the fort for UConn at the Women’s Final Four in Minneapolis. Piascik is also assisting the New Orleans crew from his location. Even with UConn’s success of reaching the title game, the duo was also detailing the Cinderella story of No. 10 Creighton University to the Elite Eight.

Big East billboards congratulating UConn and Villanova are up in Minneapolis and New Orleans, respectively. The social media strategy for the women’s tournament has been nearly identical to the men’s side, with postgame interviews with guests and chances to preview the matchups throughout the weekend. With the allure of UConn attached to the most-watched women’s college basketball game in the land, their coverage has garnered a ton of views.

“If we post anything with a UConn women’s basketball player or Coach Auriemma, it blows up,” says Mullen. “They’re our most-watched videos on YouTube.”

Prior to postseason play, the staff needed to divvy up assignments during both Big East Conference tournaments for multiple teams that made the NCAA tournaments. With UConn Women’s winning the conference title, Caffrey and Piascik were put on their beat as they hosted the Bridgeport Regional. As for the other teams, those were a toss-up.

“We were hoping that we had two teams in Buffalo or Pittsburgh since those were the two closest sites,” admits Mullen. “It turned out that we had two content drivers for the men’s tournament — UConn and Providence — in Buffalo and we were only three hours from Pittsburgh for Villanova’s first round game.”

As the, the team split up once more to follow Providence and Villanova in the Men’s Regionals. Big East Digital Network Broadcaster and Xavier graduate Paul Fritschner traveled to San Antonio for the Wildcats with Whitten and Villanova Video Production Intern Austin Yayer while Mullen and Fanta went to Chicago for the Friars.

A Meteoric Rise: Big East Looks Back on Short-Term, Long-Term Success

Seven years ago in 2015, the Big East was in a completely different space than they are right now. With games being shown on linear television, the conference didn’t have a go-to destination for ancillary content that will augment these live telecasts. That was until Wright initially made the pitch to create their own outlet in 2017. Gentile and Commissioner Val Ackerman spearheaded the effort to make this a reality, and with the backing of a National Championship-winning coach and Naismith Hall of Famer, BIG EAST Shootaround was born. Now, the pipedream has turned into the conference’s premier location for diehard fans of Big East basketball.

“I truly have a great team of rock stars,” says Mullen. “It’s been cool to see people liking and engaging with our content. It’s been really gratifying.”

The Villanova University Wildcats will face the University of Kansas Jayhawks in the Men’s Final Four on Saturday, April 2 at 6:09 p.m. ET on TBS. The UConn Huskies will play the University of South Carolina Gamecocks in the Women’s National Championship on Sunday, April 3 at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.

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