NCAA Men’s Final Four: Baylor Bears Pave Own Digital Path in Program’s First Semifinal in 71 Years
After years of women’s basketball dominance, the men get their chance at a national title
The past decade of Baylor University Men’s Basketball has seen a resurgence in success. After four appearances in the Sweet 16 and two appearances in the Elite 8, the Bears were finally able to kick the door down to reach their first Final Four since 1950. After a 71-year drought, the digital team is writing their own story that defines a new era of excellence.
“It means a lot to be a part of this moment with the team,” says Joe Gonzales, director, digital media, Baylor Athletics. “It’s really been a blessing to watch them succeed throughout the entire season.”
Spreading the Love: Content Gets Shared on All Social Media Platforms
Like any professional or collegiate team, Baylor fans are extremely active on all social media channels. In that vein, Gonzales and his crew are making a concerted effort to attack all platforms with maximum zeal. To accomplish this plan, Baylor set up workflows both in the bubble and back on campus in Waco, TX. Down south, Gonzales is working closely with Social Media Correspondent Dan Golden; and current student Matthew Kirchner. The quartet is busy generating material from their offices, including Gonzales as the primary graphic designer, Golden supplying 3D and motion graphics, Kaye supplying statistics and other important information, and Kirchner providing additional support with video editing.
Director, Creative Services Justin Hoff and Assistant AD, Communications David Kaye are holding down the fort in the Indianapolis bubble. Armed with multiple pieces of Sony equipment: a PXW-FX9 handheld, and a few α9s and α7s, he is keeping in touch with the Waco-based team through asana, a collaborative project management app. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced this team to communicate in two different places and rethink who was allowed to be with the team during the tournament.
“Normally during the tournament, we would have a photographer travel with the team but with limited capacity, we’ve had to rely on media outlets for in-game photos,” says Gonzales. “In the past, we would also try and showcase other moments from the tournament like the team hanging out and seeing the surrounding sites, but those types of moments are limited to practices. From a creative standpoint, we just had to adjust and utilize our other skills.”
With a strong foundation in place, this strategy includes repurposed content to fit the parameters of any given platform. For example, the trend of “Wallpaper Wednesday” is a digital-centric phenomena that captures the attention of all fans every week. Leading up to one of the biggest games in recent memory, this activation is being spread on Twitter, but also a more temporary option through Instagram Stories.
“We try and mix it up, so each platform has a different piece of content,” continues Gonzales. “On IG, we’ll focus on photos and some video, but we’ll also utilize Highlights to showcase the style and personality of the guys through what they’re wearing on game day. We like to think of our IG as a mini-website for the team by getting a glimpse of each student-athlete.”
Leading Up to the Dance: Fast Break Highlights the Team’s Journey to Indianapolis
Whether it’s to look back on how far this 2020-21 team has come or reminisce on their incredible 26-2 season, long-form content is a special method of packaging highlights captured during the regular season. In the case of the Baylor Bears, the creative staff came up with an episodic series dubbed Fast Break: a two-to-four-minute-long cinematic recap of each contest:
Another elongated video, narrated by motivational speaker Tony Gaskin, was published prior to the team’s participation in March Madness:
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Due to the hectic nature of the March Madness schedule, Fast Break has been reserved for the record-setting regular season. Now in the heat of the Final Four, the staff is more focused on quick hitting vignettes that still pack a creative punch, including this animated piece that mimics Indianapolis’ history of auto racing:
— Baylor Basketball (@BaylorMBB) March 31, 2021
Two at a Time: Digital Team Manages Both Men’s and Women’s Tournaments
Possessing multiple programs with national success is something that every athletics department wants, but when it comes to maintaining a consistent output of content, it’s a bit of a double-edged sword. On a staff that works in unison and with teamwork, Gonzales and his colleagues were able to effectively cover both the current men’s tournament and the women’s run to the Elite 8 simultaneously.
“We’ve had a pretty good setup with designated creatives for both Men’s and Women’s Basketball teams,” he says. “[Associate Director, Digital Media] Josh Fralick and [Video Production Specialist] Wes Jenkins are the primary creatives for Women’s Basketball. Josh will handle graphics, illustrations, and some photography, and Wes does video, motion/3D, and some photography as well.”
This two-pronged approach has given the entire athletics department peace of mind. With new headlines being written, it’s important to give ample coverage to both squads that deserve a ton of credit.
“Being able to have our creative team designated to both sports is great,” he adds. “It allows for both teams to have high-end creativity that’s unique to each team, but consistent with our overall Baylor Athletics brand.”
The Battle of Texas: Setting the Table for a Highly Anticipated Matchup
Baylor University has seen their athletics team experience success in waves: baseball reaching the Los Angeles Regional of the NCAA Tournament in 2019, football and Robert Griffin III’s Heisman Trophy win in 2011, and numerous women’s basketball national titles under Head Coach Kim Mulkey.
The men’s basketball team will now get their chance at rewriting the history books against a formidable University of Houston. The Cougars are on their own path of improvement, but it’s coincidental that only 186 miles separate these two institutions from each other in the state of Texas. Plus, there are familiar bragging rights on the line between Baylor Assistant Coach Alvin Brooks III and Houston Assistant Coach Alvin Brooks. This intrastate showdown will bring out the best in both squads, but Gonzales and his coworkers will do what they can to fire up the fanbase this weekend.
“We had a great team last year, and with how abruptly last season ended and how crushed the team was, you just wanted them to be able to get another opportunity,” concludes Gonzales. “It’s great for the state to have two teams represented, but it’s really good to see Coach [Scott] Drew, Coach [Jerome] Tang, and the entire team get to this point because they’re such great people. Waco is also my hometown, so for our team to be on a national stage, it helps highlight the city and Baylor University.”