SVG Sit-Down: Minnesota Vikings’ Bryan Harper on the New Era of Content Creation at TCO Studios
The team’s VP, content and production, prepares for exciting 2018 in a sparking new studio
It’s another exciting summer in the Twin Cities as the Minnesota Vikings christen their sparkling new headquarters and practice facility, TCO Performance Center. One of the cornerstones of the facility is TCO Studios, which showcases the franchise’s commitment to video (and overall media) production.
Bryan Harper, VP, content and production, Minnesota Vikings, oversees the Vikings Entertainment Network (VEN), which — including all elements from digital, social, video, editorial, broadcast, and game presentation — has a staff of upwards of 26 full-timers (following a few timely hires over the next month). It’s their job to create content for everything from linear television to social media, digital platforms, the team’s website, the team’s OTT app, screens throughout TCO Performance Center, screens throughout U.S. Bank Stadium, and much, much more.
For a detailed look at the new TCO Studios, CLICK HERE, but, for now, we sat down with Harper to discuss the impact of these new facilities, the raised level of expectations, how he determines success in the digital-media world, and what makes the Vikings brand unique in the NFL.
Does this new facility make you rethink or change the voice and the brand of the Vikings, or does this just amplify what that culture is?
I think [U.S. Bank Stadium] was what really gave us the opportunity to redirect or set the tone, and this just amplifies that. This is that last step. We laid out this plan and picked [the steps] off one-by-one. Now this makes us whole. It’s all very cohesive, and you can see elements of the brand, not only at U.S. Bank Stadium but throughout this facility. Pretty much everything that we’re doing that’s outward-facing that the fans are consuming, we do a really good job of working together across departments to make sure it is consistent.
How would you describe the Vikings brand from a content standpoint? What differentiates it from the other NFL franchises?
I think what makes us unique is that being the Vikings is so connected to Minnesota and the Upper Midwest. The Scandinavian heritage of the Vikings, which were a real culture, is something that you connect with as someone from this part of the country. We have the Skol Chant, the Gjallarhorn, these rituals and traditions on game days, which fans really get behind and love. That’s part of our brand, and it’s something you can’t do — and this no offense to these teams — if you are the Dolphins or the Falcons, because they don’t have that deep rooted connection to the local culture. It really gives us a competitive advantage when you compare us with other franchises.
Obviously, there’s a lot more going on at this facility than just your part of the business. It seems like you have a pretty involved seat at the table. That’s not always the case in venues or facilities. That must be fulfilling at the end of the day.
You’re right. With any project, there’s going to be things that you look back on a think, “Eh, I would have done that a little bit differently.” Frankly, there’s a few of those here. But I think, for the most part, we did a really good job communicating and allowing for that back and forth and preventing as much of that as possible.
The dynamic nature of the space is important because it gives us the ability to reach a lot of goals on so many different platforms because of the plan that we had going into it. That started with the stadium, as I said. We had this momentum coming from the stadium, and we needed to put the final peg in with the studio here.
Sure, we had a vision and a seat at the table, but, at the end of the day, it comes down to support from ownership. The fact that they love our content, they love what we do, they care about it, they care about our fans, and they want to give our fans the best opportunity to engage. That all raises the profile of the brand, which makes a lot of sense for them. Their support is why we have what we have. Now we have the job of backing it up. Here’s the step forward in our content from where we were in 2017 to where we will be in, say, 2019. This year is going to be a growth year. We’re going to learn a lot this year.
As fantastic as these facilities are and as your team continues to grow, I’m sure there’s still a point where you have to tell yourselves, “All right, let’s not kill ourselves and bite off more than we can chew.” The digital-media world is a beast that can’t be fed. The expectations may certainly be higher, but how do you strike the balance and set ambitious but realistic goals for yourself and your team?
The way we are looking at it right now, you said it best: it’s a beast that can’t be fed. We’ve not even come close to finding that threshold [of what fans will consume]. We try to go back to constantly evaluating what we’re doing. What’s the data that supports it? Is there a sponsor involved? Is it sponsor-able? How does it relate to the game of football? Is it what fans are looking for? You take those numbers, and you’re constantly shuffling and sometimes saying, “All right, this isn’t really working that well for us.” So you get rid of that to make room for something else and see how that goes.
That’s the thought right now: there’s going to be a lot of new stuff coming in. There’s a lot of new technology. Where are you going to go with it? Because time is time and it’s not unlimited; you might have to change out the laundry a little bit. We’re talking about it, and there’s some pretty good content franchises with some equity behind it that we may walk away from to do something new. We’ll see where it goes, but I put a lot of faith in [my team].
Since the content you create ends up on a various digital platforms — website, social, OTT — how do you determine success? Algorithms change on some of these platforms seemingly every day. At the end of the day, how do you determine what’s doing well and what’s something you can cut your losses on?
It’s typically engagement numbers. The NFL does an outstanding job of helping report those and provide the avenues to get the accurate numbers. They give us our off-season number, in-season number, and cumulative number for the year. We get those numbers weekly, and we’re always looking at those numbers. Our social media manager, Felicia Johnson, comes from an agency background, so she has a different angle and insight to look beneath the numbers and figure things out. She’s really talented in that regard. We have a business-intelligence crew here that are diving into the digital scorecard.
What we’re trying to do on top of our standard expectations is to create content that our fans can’t get elsewhere. If we have something like that, it’s going to the top of the list. How can we get this out there, and with what platform will it work best? I probably present at league meetings every other year about our structure, and I have firm convictions that it’s our structure and the people that we have within our structure that makes us successful. That’s it. Simple as that.
People here are passionate, creative; they share ideas, they have no egos. That’s why what we do works. Our team is so trained and so experienced that a bad idea never makes it to the group discussion. It’s out before it ever gets there. There’s validity to everything we do here. And that can be tough, because you do decide not to do things that we may think are really good but just don’t make the cut.
The one thing we could grow on, and we really are working right now, is wanting to be as much quality over quantity as possible. We do have expectations of quantity in some regards, and that does impact us. It’s still good, of course, but, when you are creatives, you always want the highest quality over quantity. Sometimes, it’s not the reality, and you have to strike a balance.