Any Hands on Deck: How UCLA’s Video Team Created Content From Outside the March Madness Bubble

Creative Content Producer Suzi Mellano worked from home during Bruins’ Final Four run

UCLA Basketball may be a legendary brand in all of U.S. sports, but the Bruins’ journey from First Four to Final Four in last month’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament caught quite a few people off guard.

One of those not caught by surprise, however, was the creative video team in the UCLA athletics department. Though not allowed to have a dedicated content producer with the team in Indiana, UCLA’s small creative video staff was able to put together a successful plan for telling the story of the Bruins’ unforgettable run and driving fan engagement and feeding fan appetites along the way.

UCLA Athletics’s Suzi Mellano (here shooting a men’s basketball game prior to the pandemic) edited videos for the Bruins’ social-media accounts from home in L.A. while the team rallied to the Final Four in Indianapolis.

“I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life,” says Suzi Mellano, creative content producer, UCLA Athletics. “Working with what you’ve got and being on your toes at all times was stressful, but we are so proud of how everything turned out.”

Not having anyone onsite simply came down to the logistics of operating within strict COVID-driven guidelines that limited access to the Men’s Tournament bubble in Indiana for even those in the athletic departments of the participating teams. The only way Mellano or another videographer could be onsite with the team throughout the NCAA Tournament would have been if they were “enbubbled” with the team prior to the start of the Pac-12 Tournament and stayed with it through the Final Four. When it came down to it, that was an unrealistic commitment for such a small video team to make, being tasked with also serving the department’s other 21 programs.

As the basketball team went from the First Four to the Final Four, UCLA’s creative group had to get just that, creative, in bringing fans close to the action when they themselves couldn’t be there. That meant entrusting colleagues in the bubble and even the team’s players to gather footage, whether they had shooting experience or not. Associate Athletic Director, Athletic Communications, Men’s Basketball, Alex Timiraos shot and delivered footage from his iPhone 7, while Associate Athletic Director, Operations, Gina Goryoka gathered everything she could on a GoPro camera that Mellano shipped to the team hotel once the Bruins advanced to the Sweet 16.

“It was a really good challenge for me and our whole staff,” says Mellano. “We took it one day at a time because we had no idea what was going to happen in this tournament. We took footage from anybody who had anything: cellphone footage, GoPro footage, anything.”

Throughout March Madness, Mellano worked from her home to Los Angeles, making magic with photos and videos shipped to her via the department’s file-sharing account in Box. It turned into a sort of sports-video–editing version of Top Chef: here’s a handful of random ingredients, make a meal.

One of the top-performing posts from the Bruins’ run to the Final Four was a collaboration with the Nike Jumpman brand. Players were gifted with new game-day swag, and Mellano was able to put together a cool, fresh piece despite having only five promotional photos and three videos shot by players on a cellphone.

“I was really proud with how that one turned out,” says Mellano. “[I] tried to take a creative spin on it with the photos, and adding a sound design took it to the next level.”

Another piece that struck gold for UCLA was a behind-the-scenes shoot in Indy when player Johnny Juzang was reunited with his brother. It was so well put-together that it was re-aired on ESPN’s SportsCenter and shared on SportsCenter‘s Twitter account.

Mellano heaps praise on Timiraos for coming up clutch. The SID’s role is demanding, especially when a team is making a run to the Final Four. His willingness to help came up huge for the program’s media output.

“He’s not a videographer, but it was still really well done,” says Mellano. “He has great access to the team, and the team trusts him. We did what we could, and I’m really proud of the [creative] team. We pushed out some great content and adapted to the situation. It was very successful all around.”

She acknowledges, though, that, although there’s pride in the work done, it was a bittersweet experience, given what she and the UCLA creative team would have been capable of in a normal year when restrictions weren’t so tight.

“It was an incredible run [by the team], and you’d love to be able to do as much as [possible],” she notes. “That part was tough. I couldn’t believe the numbers some of these videos were doing. I cannot wait to go back next year, crush it onsite, and see the engagement that we get then.”

Password must contain the following:

A lowercase letter

A capital (uppercase) letter

A number

Minimum 8 characters