‘The American’ Supplements Conference Tourney With Live Digital Programming

It’s Championship Week across college basketball, and, for some conferences, it’s another year of crowning a champion. For the American Athletic Conference, however, it’s a bit different. This March is the dawn of a new era.

The American is going through many firsts this academic year, perhaps none bigger than its first men’s and women’s basketball championship tournaments. To celebrate the occasion, the conference’s video team is trying something a little different to supplement the live television coverage of its games.

Through The American Digital Network, the league is offering fans more than 80 hours of live online championship programming, which is being produced and transmitted by its video-production and -transmission partner, LiveU Sports.

LiveU Sports produced 30 regular-season women's basketball games and Olympic sports, including swimming (pictured), for American Athletic Conference.

LiveU Sports produced 30 regular-season women’s basketball games and Olympic sports, including swimming (pictured), for American Athletic Conference.

Programming from the women’s tournament (which was held last weekend at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT) and the men’s tournament (which begins Wednesday at FedExForum in Memphis) includes 45-minute live pregame shows, postgame press conferences, halftime shows, locker-room interviews, and more, all produced via the league’s “at-home” workflow.

“We tried to be a little bit leaner, a little bit more live-focused,” says Mark Hodgkin, senior director of digital media at The American. “It’s going to be kind of raw. We’re embracing the idea of a raw feed, kind of a peek behind the ropes. We explored doing a heavily programmed sit-down set, and, aside from the cost factors, I thought it would be fun to try this. Instead of treating it like an obstacle, we’re trying to embrace the challenge of it and the authenticity of it.”

Back in the conference’s Big East days, much of the focus was on postgame interviews and other on-demand content. Hodgkin recalls that the league’s video team would drive a small van packed with gear to New York City to cover the Big East Tournament.

Now the American is using its video-production center at conference offices in Providence, RI, and simply sending out cameras with LiveU backpacks and a small team of talent and production personnel. The direct signals are sent to a LiveU receiver in Providence, where the control-room team handles all the production elements, including cutting cameras, adding graphics, and running video playback.

“This allowed us to travel with less, and we’ll be able to get that [content] up on social media and our Website quicker by capturing it right off the feed of the live show,” says Hodgkin. “So, hopefully, that will help us more on the social front and push awareness of the Website.”

The American will deploy a number of LiveU’s cellular uplink solutions, including its new flagship product, the lightweight LU500 transmission backpack. The LU500 offers reliable HD-quality live-video transmission by bonding up to eight cellular connections in a device that weighs just over 2 lbs. In addition, the American will use LiveU’s Xtender external antenna for enhanced signal in congested venues and the LU-Smart app for streaming directly from smartphones.

Through its growing partnership with LiveU, the American has streamed 30 regular-season women’s basketball games to its own digital platform and has also produced events (for example, cross-country championships and other Olympic sports) through the Providence production center. In fact, LiveU and the conference were able to come through big time this season for a men’s basketball game. Rutgers and SMU were playing on a night that a snowstorm hit the Northeast. When ESPN was unable to get its production trucks to the venue, LiveU was able to produce the event and transmit it to ESPN headquarters in Bristol, CT.

As college sports gets rolling in its spring season, the plan is to continue to further expand the relationship with more live content.

“It’s been really exciting because they’ve been trying to figure out how to create brand awareness around what this thing, The American, is,” says Tim Prokup, head of sports and new media sales at LiveU. “The guidance that we took from the conference all along is, we want to do the most cutting-edge things that we possibly can. And we want to do it in the most economical way, but we still want a really high-quality, compelling product at the end of the day. And I think we’ve been able to really push the boundaries of what’s possible and been able to do that in a very effective way.”

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