SVGU Q&A: University of Minnesota’s John Romo

It is never easy for college athletic departments to navigate the complex restrictions television rights contracts impose upon them, and when Internet rights are added into the mix, the horizon gets even cloudier. Two years ago, the University of Minnesota began live streaming athletic events through its JumpTV-run web site, but as the growing Big Ten Network exercises more of its streaming rights, Director of Internet Services John Romo must find new ways to serve up content to his subscribers. Romo sat down with SVG-U to explain some of the challenges he faces in his third year of streaming events for Minnesota.
What sports content do you currently stream on your website? We’ve been with JumpTV for two years, so we’ve been able to do live streaming for that period. We were never able to do any live video prior to that, so it’s been all new for us since the beginning of the 2006-07 school year. At that same time we launched the premium portion of our website, the Gold Zone. All of our live streaming is part of our Gold Zone package, which people pay for.
How has your output ramped up during the two years?
The first year, we did 70 to 80 live video events ranging from football press conferences to live games featuring soccer, volleyball, women’s hockey, baseball, softball and wrestling. This past season we were able to increase that total closer to 110 just by adding a couple people on staff and utilizing some of our sports’ coaches’ video operations.
How do you get the content?
I’ve shot 90% of the events we’ve streamed myself with a single Canon GL2 camera and a laptop. Working with JumpTV and the process they’ve set up, it’s very simple; it’s a setup of 10-15 minutes and you’re good to go.
In some venues we’re able to pipe into scoreboard video. If we’re doing a big baseball tournament at the Metrodome, we have Dome Vision down there that produces the game for the scoreboard that we’re able to utilize, but otherwise it’s simply a one-camera shoot.
The first year, 2006-2007, we did a handful of women’s hockey games, just me with the camera. Where we’re able to shoot is right next to the coaches’ video, so working with them, I just handed them the laptop and the appropriate cords and they were able to do every game themselves. We’re looking for other areas where we can do that.
The nice thing about JumpTV is we’re able to share along their network of schools, so if we’re wrestling at Oklahoma State, with the click of a button their video will be available in our Gold Zone. If we’re hosting a team that is also a Jump school, we can share directly with them, so that’s a very nice way to see some away contests as well.
Who staffs your productions? Essentially, it’s just me. The biggest challenge for us is finding another person. We were able to add a student this past season which helped alleviate some of the stress on me. We have the technical capability of streaming more than one game at once, but it’s incumbent on me to find someone and train them to be able to handle everything that goes into the broadcast.
What kind of training did you receive?
When we signed up with Jump, my contact came up and trained me on the setup with the firewire, laptop and how to connect to the Internet through our site. It was probably an hour or two session of setup. There wasn’t a great deal of training needed because the process is so easy.
What is the biggest challenge you face to extending your streaming offerings? I doubt we’ll be able to match what we did last year because of the ever-changing world of television rights, which are now morphing into comprehensive multimedia rights. This year, the Big Ten Network launched a new initiative for online streaming and they always have first rights to all our games. What they run on TV and now what they choose to run on streaming will take away from what we’re able to do on our website, so that’s a challenge for this year.
How many events do you think you will do?
We’ll probably drop back to 60-70 live events, but we’re going to try to do some different things, maybe some more sports that we weren’t able to do in the past, like men’s gymnastics. We were able to do a couple live post game press conferences with our men’s basketball coach, but we’ll try to do that for every game now. Those are some of the ways we’re trying to offset some of that loss of content.
How is the relationship with The Big Ten Network?
The Big Ten is probably the strictest of all the conferences in terms of rights. They own the rights for the last 40 years of all football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball games. I see schools in the Big 12 will be able to show games the next day, but we’re not able to do that; we’re limited to on-demand content, no more than 8 minutes of highlights and things like that. We are restricted, but we’re part of the conference so we go with the flow and try to make up for it in other areas.
Between us and the Big Ten Network, we’ll try to cover every event we can. Obviously they’re probably going to get more of the marquee sports, which may detract from our membership and our Gold Zone, but the big picture is as long as everything’s available, that benefits us in terms of our exposure, and probably more importantly, it benefits our programs because of recruiting.