SVG Sit-Down: Notre Dame’s Mike Bonner, Brock Raum on Creating a Video Philosophy for ‘The House That Rockne Built’
What it’s like to balance up-to-date tech with 175-year-old tradition
In the two years since the historic announcement that Notre Dame would add video to the football game-day experience, Notre Dame Stadium has been transformed. The university partnered with ANC Sports to install a 10-mm Mitsubishi Electric video display measuring 54 ft. high x 95.5 ft. wide to the stadium’s south end zone and surround the bowl with a wealth of LED displays. To run all this video, the university turned to Mike Bonner, formerly with the Denver Broncos and New York Yankees, and Brock Raum, formerly with the Kansas City Chiefs and University of Nebraska. SVG sat down with Bonner, now executive producer, live events, and Raum, now supervising producer, prior to the Sept. 2 home opener to discuss how each found his way to Fighting Irish Media, the lessons they’ve learned in creating a video-production philosophy from scratch, and the importance of blending the old with the new when telling the story of Notre Dame football.
Two years ago, Notre Dame makes an announcement that they’re going to add a videoboard in Notre Dame Stadium and construct a new Digital Media Center. At what point in the process were you both brought into the project?
Mike Bonner: When I worked for the Yankees, we hosted a Notre Dame home game against Army. It was that game in 2010 that people were saying to me, Yankee Stadium is an iconic place and you guys have videoboards; you run your show the right way; you may help us get a videoboard. I actually [went] to South Bend a few weeks before that game to take in the scene and everything and try to duplicate it in the Bronx. The game went great, Notre Dame beat Army, and, following the game, a couple folks said, You might have just helped us get a videoboard at Notre Dame Stadium. And I said, Well, if you do, let me know, I’d be interested in running it.
We stayed in touch for quite some time, and, I think it was around 2014, I started talking to Dan Skendzel [now executive director, Notre Dame Studios] about this whole Campus Crossroads Project. He said, We are going to have a videoboard as part of this process; would you be interested? And I said, Yes, I definitely would be. After talking to them and another visit to campus in November 2015 for a game, [where] I spent a good portion of the day with Dan, I applied for the job, and they offered me the job. I gave my two weeks to the Broncos, but I still had a trip to Rio for the Olympics before that, so I started [at Notre Dame] in September 2016.
It was pretty interesting being a videoboard guy without a videoboard for a football season, and, when I realized what the layout was — a layout that’s becoming a little more commonplace in sports: control room and replay room without a view to the stadium and a producer box up on the ninth floor [in the stadium] — I realized, Wow, I need someone really strong to direct this game that I can trust and count on. I had heard great things about Brock and the job he did with the Chiefs. So we started talking to each other.
Brock Raum: I had known that Notre Dame had been looking to put in a videoboard [for a while], and I always thought it would be a great opportunity. I started my career at the University of Nebraska, then worked for the Chiefs for the past four seasons. I think Mike and I were always familiar with each other’s work; we were both in the NFL, we both were in the AFC West. So, when Mike got my name, I think it just made a lot of sense. When I heard it was Mike Bonner, I knew it was somebody I trusted and respected in the industry; when I heard it was Notre Dame, I knew it was a brand that is one of the most respected in all of sports, not just college football. It was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.
You both decided to join Notre Dame to build this video-production program. Walk me through the process of joining the university to now. What do you have ahead before your first game?
MB: When the process began, I hit the ground running. I got home from Rio on a Friday, and my first day was supposed to be on Monday. But, the day I got back from Rio, they were doing camera shootouts against Michigan State, and so I [went to Notre Dame on Saturday]. I’ve been a part of the process of making some of the decisions on what camera systems we’re using: what replay systems, router, switcher. … There are folks that, before I got here, made decisions: Chris Williams at WJHW, Scott Rinehart from Notre Dame Studios Group, BeckTV. Then, from that point, it was getting to know the team, getting to know not only who the players were but starting to establish the trust [and] build relationships. I actually sat in the stands as a fan for three games this past year to get what the fan was getting without a videoboard. There were times a play would happen and I would turn my neck to the left and look for the replay and it wasn’t there. I took a lot of notes. We started interviewing players in May, sitting guys down for reads for the board, green-screen stuff, headshots, interviews. At this point, it’s a lot of testing.
BR: One of the biggest differences between here and pretty much anywhere else in the country is, a lot of our screen time on the board isn’t taken up by advertising. We don’t have any sponsored features; we’re just here to promote Notre Dame: the team, the brand, and the university. One of the big things has been identifying what different sorts of features look like and how we make them entertaining and engaging. That’s been a lot of the work going in. We still have the normal things, like interstitials, intro videos, and pops, which we are still working on.
The real challenge has been, OK, we have all this extra time. We [aren’t] beholden to anybody [except] the university and ourselves; how do we fill that time? Luckily, with building a show from scratch, we have a team of people many of whom have never worked on a videoboard, but they’re taking to it like fish to water. We have some great editors, great shooters, great storytellers, great producers who have never [edited] for a videoboard before but really want to try. It’s really helped us try to get a fresh perspective.
MB: We’ve been working for close to eight months now on our graphic look. We wanted to make sure that the graphics we had fit with our brand, so there weren’t going to be crazy graphics jumping off the screen. We used a lot of Notre Dame in the graphics that have been created — current buildings as backdrops, as well as iconic things like the Basilica, Golden Dome, and Touchdown Jesus — and used them as part of the scenery. It has come off looking very sharp.
How have you handled building the video? I’d imagine that Notre Dame has a lot of video assets in its archive but not necessarily any clips that are videoboard-ready.
BR: We definitely lean heavily on the history here, because it’s important to the fans, it’s important to the university, and it’s important to the team. Our [approach to video,] between Mike and myself, is how [to] blend the old with the new. That’s the essence of this entire project. We still have the ‘House That Rockne Built,’ but it’s got some new, modern amenities. In the architecture, the design of the building, the videoboard, the way that’s all been executed: [we always] kept in mind how we’re going to blend the old with the new. We want to make sure our content is the exact same way. We definitely leaned on that history, but we still want to show this new team. It’s been a good blend.
MB: The last piece of content that we’ll work on right up until our first game is the open video, because we want to make sure that no stone is left unturned. We want to make sure that it truly goes from Rockne to [current coach Brian] Kelly, so we’ve been delving into a whole lot of old footage.
You’ve both worked for organizations with established video-production programs and philosophies. What lessons are you taking from your previous positions and using to build a video-production program and philosophy from scratch?
MB: The way I look at it, with the Yankees and the Broncos, they’re both pretty big brands, and they have conservative approaches. They’re big into their history; even though the Broncos [date] only back to 1960, they embraced a lot of their history. So that’s what I know. I’m a disciple of that conservative approach and honoring the past in a lot of what we do, and that’s a lot of what we’re looking to do here as well. You’re not going to see Kiss Cams, Awkward Dad Dance Cams. You’re going to see a lot of appropriate content [that] would belong at Notre Dame Stadium.
There’s also been [the need to] explain to some folks who have never had the visual medium inside the football stadium how certain things are done. [For example,] if it’s a faculty-recognition ceremony, we explain that it’s not just this announcer that comes over the PA and, if the people notice it, great, if not, it’s like it didn’t happen. Now we’re going to tell their stories. We’ll tell their story in footage that we’ve shot in preparation, in photos they may share, and we roll that in as we’re telling that story. Then, we come out to the money shot, the 15 seconds where they’re waving and the crowd’s going crazy. You have to explain that to people who haven’t experienced that before.
The other big thing that I’ve explained to a lot of people is, you let the game dictate a lot of the things that you’re doing. If you score a touchdown, you want to ride the momentum of the team with replays and music and great crowd shots. You’re not going to bring the house down by going to a piece of content that maybe isn’t the most exciting following a touchdown. Everything’s subject to change, and it’s getting by on that philosophy.
BR: [The University of Nebraska’s] fan base and Notre Dame’s fan base are similar in a lot of aspects: they tend to skew toward many different age groups, they’re more national, and they have a huge reference for history. A lot of the lessons I learned at the University of Nebraska I carried over to the Chiefs and to [Notre Dame]. The Chiefs, on top of that, have a lot of history, too, so leaning on the history and having a reference for the history is nothing new to me. But, like Mike said, it is a lot of education from our end to people who have never seen at Notre Dame Stadium before. It’s [seeing what works at other places] and asking, Is that going to work here? [We’re] figuring out what that roadmap looks like.
Building a video-production program for such an iconic football program must be pretty rewarding. What most excites you as the season approaches?
MB: First off, I am humbled and honored to be a part of the history of Notre Dame Stadium. Not many people get to open up a videoboard show in a place that has never had a videoboard show before. I was fortunate enough at new Yankee Stadium to be part of a building from scratch, but we had had a videoboard before [in old Yankee Stadium], so it wasn’t so crazy. This is so new that it’s pretty cool. What I’m looking forward to is, when we run that replay, get the play overturned in our favor, then we run a pump-up video, and the place goes crazy. There’s such a rush that you get from that.
I got to experience something very cool the other day: I was standing on the field when the team saw the videoboard in action for the first time. They saw themselves up there, and they saw a pump-up video, and they were just so psyched. To get that reaction — to get handshakes from players and coaches and athletic directors — that was a pretty cool experience. Experiencing a lot of the firsts that happen here now and [getting] to be part of it is really special.
BR: For me, it’s a lot of the same. It’s the fan reaction, it’s the player reaction, it’s that first replay on a call the maybe fans didn’t have the best look at. I think it’s really going to help win over our fan base. On top of that, a lot of our staff has never seen the board. I can’t wait for [a student intern] to see her work on the videoboard for the first time; maybe that sparks something in her that maybe sets her career path in a direction. Or another student sees it and says, I want to do that. That’s another aspect that I’m excited about.