CSVS Recap: Inside the Virtual Arena

By Carolyn Braff

The growing size and capability of in-arena video boards ensures that fans inside college arenas are now treated to a fantastic show. But what about the fans that cannot make it to the arena, and the sports that don’t have high-resolution video boards? At SVG’s inaugural College Sports Video Summit, held last week in Atlanta, experts from colleges, conferences, and networks took the stage to discuss maximizing content in what has become a virtual arena.

“The coverage our TV partners provide is significant and, in some sense, we compete with our own TV partners,” explained Dan Butterly, associate commissioner of marketing for the Mountain West Conference. “I’ve got to try to create an environment in the arena where the game is above the game, because of the great partners we have on the broadcast side.”

In places where a school’s fan base extends far beyond the reach of its geographic footprint, the challenge is to bring the in-arena experience to the rest of the country through streaming, interactivity, and any other means possible.

“Everything we do is geared to the ability to reach out and touch the fan base,” explained Mark Chambers, director of multimedia services at Boston College. “We’re trying to bring the arena experience to people who are not in our region.”

Boston College streams nearly 100 events annually through ACC Select, the Atlantic Coast Conference’s streaming service. The college offers a mix of paid content and free-to-view content, and finding the right balance between what fans should be charged to see and what they should be able to access free-of-charge was a hot topic for the panel.

“Being able to go global with the Texas A&M brand at no cost to the viewer is highly important to me,” explained Drew Martin, associate athletic director for branding and creative development at Texas A&M University. “When we started with a pay model, we were more on the bleeding edge than the
leading edge, so we switched to a free model and experience much higher
success.”

All of Texas A&M’s streaming content is provided free-of-charge with the hopes of building a large fan base for the sports that are not covered on other outlets.

“We don’t have a television contact for soccer, so we’re going to do everything we can to get exposure for that sport,” Martin explained. “It’s important in terms of good will, ROI [return on investment] from a coach’s standpoint, and the recruiting aspect.”

Michael Sheehey, senior vice president of sports content for Comcast Sports Group, provided the network perspective on the pay-versus-free debate.

“Nobody wants to pay for Internet content,” Sheehey said. “Once you’re a subscriber, you should be able to get content wherever you want it. Ad sales should be gravy added to your existing model.”

“College video content will become a Napster,” Butterly predicted. “There are so many ways you can get content. I want to create interest. The more content I can get out there to a mass audience, the better.”

Still, Butterly recognized that once content leaves his hands—to be posted on fan sites or aggregates like YouTube—the conference can no longer be in control of it, which is a scary prospect, but a necessary evil in the digital age.

“We can’t be so naïve as to not go where people are living,” Martin said. “There isn’t just one way to distribute content. The Internet space is where our recruits and fans live, so why would we not want to be there? Having the ability to control your own experience while you’re watching will be key.”

A new place where fans will be able to control their own experience is the media guide. To cut costs, many schools are eliminating print media guides in favor of putting them online, complete with a host of interactive features that are bounded only by the creativity of the school’s Webmaster.

“Even though we’ve eliminated printed media guides in favor of putting them online, that budget may not go away,” Butterly explained. “It’s now going to be a very interactive media guide, with lots of video incorporated. Between the haves and have-nots of video departments, this could become an online-media-guide war.”