SVG College Sports Summit: From Big Schools to Small, It’s All About Building Brands, Boosting ROI
Although many athletics departments are seeing a welcome wave of venue renovations, revamped control rooms, campus-wide fiber infrastructure installations, and acquisition of high-end video-production equipment, it is never easy to justify such investments. A detailed ROI can always help sell them to the administration, but return on these investments usually is increased brand awareness, better recruiting capability, and an enhanced fan/student experience — none of which can be accounted for on the bottom line.
“Our two goals in everything we do are to expand the St. John’s athletics brand … and to enhance the student-athlete experience for those currently on campus,” said Mark Fratto, senior associate director of athletic communications, St. John’s University, during a panel at the recent SVG College Sports Summit in Atlanta. “Yes, the more events we can produce live the better, because that is where a lot of our revenue comes from and we can contribute that back into our budget. But anything we do creatively is to accomplish those two primary goals.”
The Summit panel participants ran the gamut from large institutions with well-funded athletics departments and video-production infrastructure to smaller schools, which are finding new, efficient ways to produce athletics content on a thin budget.
The Centralized–Control-Room Model
The University of Oklahoma’s SoonerVision and University of Florida’s GatorVision are fortunate enough to work at universities with massively successful (and well-funded) athletics programs. As a result, each video teams was able to construct a centralized control room linked via fiber to nearly every on-campus venue, enabling the production team to share a variety of resources for in-venue and streaming productions and even produce multiple events simultaneously when necessary.
“It was a big initial cost, but the savings we saw from not having to rent a truck to do all those productions has been huge,” said Jon Rubin, director of multimedia operations, GatorVision, University of Florida. “Also, our control room and offices are actually within the College of Journalism, so one of the major selling points in getting the funding was that it would enhance the general-student-population experience. We have students working on every single one of our broadcasts.”
SoonerVision has also generated additional revenue by using its facilities to produce content for Fox Sports Oklahoma as part of its rights deal with the RSN, as well as renting out these facilities to ESPN and Fox Sports when they come on campus to produce a football or basketball game.
“We are meeting their production specs so that they will have exactly everything they would be renting in a truck,” said Brandon Meier, assistant AD, broadcast operations, University of Oklahoma. “That doesn’t bring a ton of money in, but it certainly helps and forces us to keep up to date [in terms of equipment].”
The Stanford athletics video-production team — which also deploys a central control room, although it is not connected to all on-campus venues — is in a unique position thanks to its integration with the Pac-12 Networks, which requires a minimum video-production complement at each conference campus. In addition, Pac-12 feeds Stanford high-quality content for its Website and other platforms.
“We have the added benefit of Pac-12 Networks, which pushes a lot of content to us, so we can focus our in-house team on the experience aspect of attracting fans to games,” said Kurt Svoboda, senior assistant athletic director, Stanford University. “All of the content we produce has to extend the brand of Stanford University. So we have to be very well-coordinated with our digital media, communications, marketing teams on what the messaging is.”
The Mobile-Unit Modelr
St. John’s deploys a dedicated 20-ft. mobile unit, dubbed Jenny 1 after Forrest Gump’s first shrimp boat, to produce 100-plus on-campus events a year, as well as 60 on ESPN3 since the truck’s inception. In the five-semester history of the program (which is a dual effort of the communications and athletics programs), St. John’s has funneled through more than 75 students, providing them valuable real-world production experience while also increasing revenues and thereby boosting its own budget.
“Every dollar we generate currently goes right back into our budget, so the actual monetization [model] is really just to sustain the platform,” said Fratto. “But, through the synergistic relationship we have between athletics and academics on campus, … we have been able to benefit the entire university, not just athletics, by giving students the ability to start building a career through real-world experience while also earning a degree. So we are enhancing the student-athlete experience as well as [that of] students who are not athletes.”
The TriCaster Model
The University of San Francisco must find ways to produce events from its 15 athletics programs on an ultra-slim budget of about $10,000 and a two-person staff composed of Director of Creative Video Katie Morgan and a student assistant. In that vein, USF uses two NewTek HD TriCasters located in its primary gym (men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball) and an additional SD TriCaster deployed at various venues.
“Our ROI can really be seen in the recruiting. When students see [content] at a high quality in a documentary style, that makes a difference. I have coaches tell me all the time, You have no idea what this is doing,” said Morgan. “We are getting high-caliber recruits visit and sign that would never even have come visit [in the past].
“We also don’t have a [large] fan base,” she continued, “but, if we bring our fans in and start telling them stories that they can connect with, then they want to come out and support our players. So storytelling becomes very important.”