Clemson Digital Media Team Delivers Unrivaled Access as Tigers Take Home Another CFP National Championship
Relentless hustle - and a few mirrorless cameras - play a critical role in content success
The sports-media industry has truly been blessed by the perfect storm.
With a pair of College Football Playoff National Championships in three years, Clemson University has not only thrust the names of Deshawn Watson, Trevor Lawrence, and Dabo Swinney into the spotlight but has also given the ultimate playground to one of the undisputed leaders in modern video production, the Tigers’ digital-media and video team.
Clemson’s talented media-production outfit has been going “full send” since Week 1 of the season, so, when a College Football Playoff berth presents itself, it’s all about sticking to the plan and continuing to execute, showing the world what you can do when the lights are at their brightest.
“It falls under the pillar that this is another football game,” says Nik Conklin, director of creative solutions, video production, Clemson Athletics. “There’s a beginning, middle, and end. Within that, you’ve got a new venue, a new locker room, and a new context that needs to be provided by us. Although the team arrives in some form or fashion the same way they do any other game, the backdrop of the National Championship provides a unique experience to try to tell the story in a different and unique way.”
Says Jonathan Gantt, associate athletic director, creative solutions, “We treat all football games the same. We have an event-coverage content plan, and the good news about that is that we’ve been doing it all season long. It’s really just taking that plan and putting it in a setting that gets a lot more attention and executing the same plan that we have all year.”
A team of 15 (four full-timers and a handful of students and contract employees) was onsite at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA, to tackle the job of covering this National Championship for Clemson fans. With the luxury of so many hands on deck, Clemson was able to supply a feast of content to feed the hunger of fans back home in South Carolina and around the country.
“We want to make sure that we are proving value and showing that it makes sense to have so many people here by having the output be very high,” says Gantt. “When it comes to publishing, it’s fire at will. There’s no such thing as oversharing when you are in a National Championship Game. Fans who didn’t make the trip want to see as much as they possibly can. I’m not worried about clogging somebody’s feed.”
He notes that, given the West Coast location of the game and the three-hour time difference from campus, much effort went into strategizing what content would go out when. There was a desire to avoid pushing out content at a time many fans would be sleeping on the East Coast and, instead, to save some content for fans to wake up to in the morning.
On the gear end, the crew came fully equipped with gear perfectly suited for the run-and-gun nature of an event like this. Videographers were shooting with a lot of mirrorless cameras, mostly from the Sony Alpha series. There was also one shoulder-mount camera, a Sony FS7, used on the sidelines to shoot primary game action with a cinematic flair.
As for the debate behind mirrorless cameras vs. DSLRs, the Clemson video team has found a lot of positives with the newer device format. According to Conklin, it fits perfectly with the group’s need for smaller file sizes, as well as the necessary speed and efficiency of workflow. They’ve also found that the training curve on the mirrorless cameras hasn’t been a substantial challenge.
“The most important thing is — if you are proficient in Canon, Nikon, Sony, whatever — it’s really just a change of buttons,” says Conklin. “Get back down to basics and understand frame rates, shutter speed. How do all of the video and filmmaking basics work their way into each brand of camera? Once you get that down, it’s really, again, just a change of buttons and trying to figure out your custom function menus and find out where things are so we can work quickly.”
One of those mirrorless cameras is being used to capture Clemson’s signature content this year: The Vlog. Using a selfie-style rig, Clemson’s media team has spent all season putting the rig into the hands of coaches and players to speak directly to fans following a win. The content is used in individual chunks on social media and within its popular Facebook Watch series, The Vlog, which gives fans all-access to the team.
We'll be waitin' for ya in The Valley, Coach.
— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) January 8, 2019
Clemson’s Vlog rig is a Sony a6300 with a 10-18mm lens and a Røde microphone mounted to a Manfrotto stabilizing gimbal. Clemson’s videographers have worked hardest at establishing relationships with the players and coaches and getting them familiar with the unit. The content delivered from it plays perfectly in the insider feel that Clemson’s digital team wants to offer fans.
“The natural progression of access is what has differentiated us from years past,” says Gantt. “The access of the Vlog rig on a stage where a trophy is being presented, with the players speaking directly into it and giving that first-person experience connects with the viewers and that has continued to progress over the years as we get to know people [within the athletic department] better. It’s really a testament to [our] videographers that they’ve built quality relationships with the players and staff. That’s what makes our stuff different. Everybody has got really great shooters and great touchdowns to capture, but what we have been able to do to establish relationships gives us great access with top-notch production quality plus speed, and that combination is pretty unique, I think.”
So with another championship to add to the trophy case, what’s the most important lesson Gantt has to impart? At an event like this, he says, it’s critical to not take one’s eye off the ball when the clock hits 0:00.
“The biggest thing I learned the first time around is, if you win, you’ve got to keep the intensity up for the next week,” he says. “That leads into Signing Day. Mentally, you get through what you think is the finish line of the season ending, but you can’t look at it that way because there’s going to be a whole lot that comes after it. It’s a big part of my job to make sure the team is set up for success and doesn’t just totally exhale and take a vacation.”