SVG College Sports Summit: Doing ‘More With More,’ Universities Elevate Live Event Productions

When it comes to college sports content, what do fans actually expect? Increasingly sophisticated screens and platforms raise fans’ expectations for the quality of the content consumed. But, when content creators must decide between producing a simple one-camera shoot of an Olympic sport or not producing it at all, those quality expectations can fade in favor of catering to fan demands. How can universities deliver what their fans really want? At last week’s SVG College Sports Summit (CSS), panelists discussed the idea of doing “more with more” when it comes to live event production.

For Harvard University, that means doing more for every sport, despite limitations in staffing and equipment.

“We have 42 Division I teams, and there’s a general unwritten expectation that we stream as many of those as possible,” said Imry Halevi, director of multimedia and production, Harvard University. “The question is, what can we do for all our games? We have football games, men’s basketball games, men’s ice hockey games. We try to put a lot of effort into those, but there’s a general expectation amongst our fans that we do more for everyone else, do the [same] kind of productions for volleyball, for water polo, and for rowing. That’s something that we’re working on.”

To expect that such an approach will yield substantial revenue, he continued, is unrealistic. A fan watching a volleyball or water polo match might not expect the same production quality as [from] a football or basketball game, and the benefits of lifting the caliber of all productions might not be measurable. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be a goal.

“The revenues that we get from streaming don’t cover our costs and definitely don’t serve as a revenue generator for the university,” said Halevi. “The goal is to just make it look good, and I think that’s something that a lot of us here [at CSS] deal with: people will buy whatever you give them. If they’re parents that want to watch a volleyball game and it’s a terrible production, they’ll still pay to watch their kids play. I think it’s our responsibility to make it look as good as it can: make sure it has consistent graphics, it’s in HD, and the cameras are well placed, even if it’s just one or two cameras.”

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Moderator Mark Fratto (Linacre Media) leads a panel discussion of (seated, left to right) Harvard University’s Imry Halevi, Tightrope Media Systems’ Brandon McKenzie, Fox Sports Regional Networks’ Christopher Lincoln, Webstream Media’s John Servizzi, and NewTek’s Philip Nelson.

Because many college-sports fans — particularly those still in school or recently graduated — no longer consider smartphones and tablets secondary to their living-room TVs (in fact, a growing segment doesn’t even own a TV, much less a cable subscription), universities face added incentive to make their digital offerings look as good as possible.

“The biggest challenge as you’re producing content for the Web is, you can’t look at it as a second screen any more,” said Philip Nelson, chief relationship officer, NewTek. “In many cases, for a lot of people, it’s the first screen or only screen, depending on the sport, so it needs to look like broadcast television. Your product sends an important message about your school and your program, and it needs to look like television.”

Improving the quality of the content, regardless of the sport, may yield more than just viewers. Regional sports networks, particularly those that operate under massive national umbrellas like Fox Sports and NBC Sports, can repurpose university content to fill their schedules, as long as it’s broadcast quality.

“Bring that level up because we’ll take the content,” said Christopher Lincoln, VP, production/coordinating producer, NBA and NCAA, Fox Sports Regional Networks. “We have 22 channels across the country. We don’t have the content to fill 24 hours with live, quick-turnaround content. There’s space.”

But improving the quality doesn’t necessarily mean throwing all the technological bells and whistles in your arsenal at every production. The panelists urged restraint and targeting where additional gear makes sense.

“It’s about the technology that helps you tell the story,” said Brandon McKenzie, developer, Tightrope Media Systems. “That makes a bigger difference than one extra camera, two extra cameras would. And it’s also about what productions you’re doing because the amount of technology you throw at a football game is totally not viable for a volleyball game.”

In addition to allocating an often limited equipment complement to a number of sports, university video departments face an added challenge of having to rely on a young, transient workforce. In other words, he continued, “you’ve got the technical side of it — the equipment you need to buy — but also you need to teach students how to run it. How do we teach kids who have a lot of other things going on how to run millions of dollars of broadcast equipment at the same time?”

And, when those students enter the workforce, knowing how to run that equipment is certainly important but not nearly as important as knowing how to be a part of a team consistently churning out quality productions.

“Learning the gear is not the difficult part. The part in training that really comes [into play] is, what are you doing before the show? What are you doing after the show?” said John Servizzi, CEO/founder, Websteam Productions. “Oftentimes, from the campus perspective, what I see a lot of is, ‘We cover the events. We don’t produce the events; we just cover them.’ Meaning, they just show up, execute the event, go home, and there’s not a lot of thought put into the show beforehand, and there’s not a lot of review afterwards. That’s something we do with our professional staff, certainly, but also with students and young freelancers: a lot of follow-up.”

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