With Football Off Limits, University of Georgia Bites Into Olympic Sports Online

By Carolyn Braff
When a university’s highest revenue sport is off limits to streaming operations, a healthy dose of creativity becomes a requirement for success. At the University of Georgia, television rights prohibit the athletic department from streaming the university’s football games, so the school has found plenty of other content to satisfy Bulldog fans. Producing multi-camera broadcasts of home games for seven men’s and women’s Olympic sports, Georgia has built a broad library of content for their GXtra subscription service.
Manager of Internet Operations Karlene Lawrence and Associate Manager of Internet Operations Mark Leblang have pulled off some impressive coverage of NCAA championship events, as well.
“TV contracts being what they are, the one sport that would be of biggest interest to our fans is the one thing we can’t provide live coverage for,” Leblang explains. “I feel we’ve done a pretty good job of getting around those contracts, but they are a limitation nonetheless.”
By utilizing up to four Sony DV cameras for live streams of gymnastics, men’s and women’s basketball, soccer, volleyball, baseball, softball and swimming & diving, Leblang and his staff have successfully navigated that challenge. Coaches’ shows, press conferences, postgame interviews and features are also available through GXtra, as well as hundreds of on-demand videos across all sports.
Not Supplying the Demand While some institutions strive to make every event available online, Georgia, recognizing its limitations, has taken the opposite approach.
“We’re now in the interest of creating demand by reducing supply,” Leblang explains. “For some of the sports we used to do every home event or, in some cases, every event, depending on audio-only webcasts. But we simply can’t staff every event. That would overstretch and burn everybody out.”
“Everybody” encompasses Lawrence, Leblang, one full-time intern and two part-time interns, along with some student assistants from the university’s journalism school who comprise the game day staff.
“A lot of the staff are in the telecommunications school here, so a lot of the interns are trained,” Lawrence says. “When they come over here, it’s pretty much trial and error; they have to learn by doing it.”
Georgia’s athletic department has found more successful trials than errors. While relying on Sony DV Cam Eng-level cameras for all of their shows, some broadcasts connect to a Newtek Tricaster Pro, while others utilize a component-style streaming setup that integrates a video switcher, audio mixer and four LCD screens as monitors.
For Leblang, whose previous broadcast experience consists of one year at Comcast Sports, researching broadcast equipment for a major BCS program was not exactly second nature, so the school’s streaming contract with JumpTV helps alleviate some of that pressure.
“I did most of the research myself, studying industry trends, industry publications, a little bit of calling around to other schools and seeing what equipment they use,” Leblang says. “We’ve stumbled and bumbled our way to a format that we like and we think our fans enjoy.”
Every Georgia stream is done in Windows Media Player, but all editing for on-demand viewing is edited via Apple Final Cut Pro. “We have found that negotiating between Windows Media streaming and Mac-based editing can be a little iffy, but it can be done,” Leblang says.
Championship Endorsements When Georgia hosted the 2007 NCAA tennis championships, Leblang used the opportunity to showcase his team’s streaming expertise. Placing a standard Telco surveillance camera on each of the six courts used for the tournament, Georgia provided an independent stream of the action on each court. Leblang used a Viewcast Niagara 8226 to stream all six feeds for all three weeks of the competition and supplemented the live coverage with on-demand press conferences, player interviews and match highlights from the participating schools.
For the live coverage alone, Georgia recorded more than 300,000 unique IP addresses. “I’ve had a lot of schools contact us because they were so impressed with the setup they wanted counsel on building a similar system,” Leblang says.
The NCAA mandates that championship events be streamed for free, so fans from other schools did not have to purchase the GXtra subscription to view the content.
Raising Their Own Bar When the women’s gymnastics championships came to campus in April 2008, Georgia had its own high standards of coverage to meet. Offering a unique stream for the national preliminaries, Georgia had several former Bulldog gymnasts offer live commentary and on-demand team profiles were available online.
“Gymnastics has a very passionate fan base and we noticed great amounts of interest in that event,” Leblang says. “We achieved with great success the same type of event we offered with tennis.”
The NCAA awards championship hosting responsibilities using a bid system, and to this point streaming capability has not been part of the equation when pitching the host committee. However, after Georgia’s success with both tennis and gymnastics, the application checklist may soon have a new item.
“Live streaming of an NCAA championship, especially of an Olympic sport like tennis or gymnastics, hasn’t been around long enough to affect the bidding process,” Leblang says. “But I think that in the future it will, just because of the response. It will certainly be included in our bid from now on.”
GXtra Exposure Despite the athletic department’s inability to stream football games, revenue sources for Georgia athletics reach far and wide. Georgia launched a YouTube portal for GXtra, where promotional tidbits are posted with instructions on signing up for GXtra to see the remainder of the content, and the athletic department is charged with providing plenty of content to media outlets, both local and national.
“Being in the sports information office, ESPN, CBS and Fox Sports have come to us requesting footage that only GXtra has that has made its way to national broadcast,” Leblang says. “We get requests all the time from local media who can’t send out a camera crew and we supply them with stock footage, interview packages, press conferences.”