NCAA Men’s Final Four: University of Houston’s Robert Sandoval Chronicles Team’s Run in the Bubble

The team has been operating on a road since the end of the AAC Tournament

The University of Houston may not play hoops in a Power 5 conference, but the Cougars have most certainly turned some heads with a 28-3 overall record and their stellar postseason play. After lifting the American Athletic Conference (AAC) championship trophy in Fort Worth, TX, they’re now on the hunt for the program’s first national title. Throughout this historic run amid a season impacted by COVID-19 restrictions, Assistant Director, Content Solutions Robert Sandoval has been the link between the team and loyal supporters back in the Space City.

“He’s been in a bubble for at least a month because the team went to Fort Worth and went straight to Indianapolis.” says Grantscott Greene, assistant athletics director, content solutions, University of Houston. “I’m extremely proud of him and it’s definitely been the Rob Sandoval Show.”

From Fort Worth to Indy: Workflows Link On Campus Crew and Life in the Bubble

Sandoval poses with the AAC Championship trophy.

Since the beginning of the AAC tournament on March 11, the crew has been away from home and operating at multiple neutral sites. As COVID-19 continues to pose as a safety hazard, the university decided to send a small crew to both the conference tournament and the March Madness bubble in Indianapolis. In other collegiate events, like the College Football Playoff National Championship, participating schools like Alabama and Ohio State were able to send a large multi-person staff. In the case of Houston, the onsite representatives are Director, External Operations Lauren Sampson (daughter of Head Coach Kevin Sampson); Assistant Athletics Director, Communications Jeff Conrad; and Sandoval as well as extra help coming from a student and Greene. In addition, the main athletics account is giving this content extra attention through their platform as well.

The University’s main marketing department is also spotlighting the basketball team’s success,” says Greene. “We’re getting double the exposure through those different channels.”

Aside from pushing material to the university’s social media channels, Sandoval has been given access to the inner sanctum. During this down time away from the court, he has been able to keep the team connected to friends and family at home through messages prior to their Sweet 16 matchup vs. Syracuse and capture the subtle moments from practice, including the singing of redshirt senior DeJon Jarreau:

“That moment shows who he really is — a very animated person with a big personality,” continues Sandoval. “We want to keep everyone connected, because at the end of the day, our content and this postseason run is for the fans and our city.”

Whether it’s intimate moments like these or an intense shot during gameday, Sandoval is leveraging a minimal setup that provides optimal visuals. Throughout this one-month span, he is using the Sony α7 III with multiple 128 GB SD cards and two types of lenses: a 70-200 mm and 24-105 mm. A Ronin-S gimbal stabilizer is also being used on some occasions when it’s needed.

Bread and Butter: Long-Form Content Tells the Full Story

Sandoval has been responsible for social media content in the Indianapolis bubble.

Fans have been able to digest content in many different formats over the course of the tournament. Staying true to the city’s roots, a lot of the short-form creative material is geared towards the #ForTheCity hashtag. Despite honoring the heart and passion of Houston, the mantra of this current squad is to separate itself from the mold of Phi Slama Jama: the star-studded roster in 1984, featuring NBA Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon, that was the university’s last team to clinch a spot in the Final Four.

“That’s been the mantra of the Coach Sampson era,” says Sandoval. “This is a new breed of U of H basketball and what they’ve done with this program has been an amazing.”

On the other side of the content spectrum, long-form videos have become a common occurrence throughout the year. According to Sandoval, this is his bread and butter and allows him to dive deeper into the cinematic angle of a moment and flex his creative juices on a full-fledged project:

Fans are also able to get another view of the same moment by juxtaposing a raw and unfiltered version:

Sandoval’s go-to method of production isn’t only gratifying from a personal standpoint. After the team’s last-minute win against Memphis in the AAC semifinal, the extended cut of the game has become one of the most interacted videos of the season that’s driven social interaction up 114% and fans watching entire videos at a 45% clip:

“Whenever I can tell a story, that’s what I love doing,” he adds. “That’s what I did with our AAC tournament games like the ones with Memphis and Cincinnati. I’ll do the quick social hits, but I love doing three-to-six-minute recaps because I get to tell the deeper story.

A Nod to the Culture: Final Four Appearance Highlights Program’s Ascension

Sandoval celebrates after the team’s Elite 8 win over Oregon State.

The University of Houston has come an extremely long way since Greene’s arrival. When the institution decided to hire Kevin Sampson in 2013, it was the start of a culture shift in H-Town. Bringing a new identity and a reinvigorated sense of urgency, the team made a leap to a higher tier of competitiveness. Now nearing the height of their ascension, Greene is applauding Sandoval’s willingness to overcome the challenges of this season and keep the team and its players at the heart of the social media message.

“I truly believe in his dedication, professionalism, and always wanting our content to be great,” he says. “I’m also glad the team has included him because I’ve been a videographer for a long time, and sometimes coaches see you as part of the crew and others don’t.”

From Sandoval’s perspective, his current situation is one that he never expected to be in. Becoming a trusted member of a Division I program is hard to do, but he’s experienced the rewards of a fruitful season, including the chance to cut a piece of the net after their Elite 8 victory over Oregon State. Two steps away from the ultimate prize, he feels fortunate to continue documenting their unique story with this weekend’s matchup against Baylor.

“I was telling people last summer, ‘Man, they have a lot of great people coming back with lot of talent, so if they stick to what they do, I think they’re going to make a deep run,” he concludes. “I would have never guessed that I would be a part of something like this and I’m just happy to be able to capture all of these moments.”

Password must contain the following:

A lowercase letter

A capital (uppercase) letter

A number

Minimum 8 characters