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Experts' Roundtable: Video Content Creators

By Tai M. Brown

Creating video content for an athletics department has grown in to a 24-hour, 365 day undertaking. From strategy, to leadership, to collaboration, to creativity, to reporting lines, the environment for success must be structured in a way to allow those who work in the creative area to thrive. ADU asked four highly skilled leaders in the industry to give some insight into the world of video content creators.


1. Creating content for athletic events, practices, student-athletes, coaches, etc. can be time consuming as social media is a 24hr/365 medium. How does your school address the ever-increasing demand for more creative content? Manpower, resources, better equipment, etc.


Zach Swartz – Director of New & Creative Media, Ohio State Football


Over the last few years there has been a rising demand for creative content to address a constantly expanding stable of needs. When athletic departments initially started creating their own content and seeing the benefits of social media to disseminate it, it was primarily for two reasons: marketing/ticket sales and sponsorship sales/fundraising. It’s really only been over the last few years that coaches began recognizing the importance of social media and creative content for recruiting purposes. It’s hard to remember life before that now. That’s exactly what happened when my position was created in 2016.


At that time, it was me creating video content and two graphic designers. Now we have 5 full-time staff members and 3 students, as well as a much-increased budget and an arsenal of gear. Our men’s and women’s basketball programs have invested in a creative director as well, and multiple other sports are looking to do the same. On top of our creative staff, Ohio State also employs a Digital Media team to cover the athletic department as a whole, and we work together as much as possible to fulfill all needs from coaches, fan experience, development, IMG, etc.


Jay F. Hicks – Associate Director of BaylorVision, Baylor


The demands of creating more original and engaging creative exists for everyone in the college athletics industry. This year Baylor Creative Services added a new graphic design position and created a project manager position which has helped out tremendously. At Baylor football for example, we have a content team that develops the strategy for telling the program’s story across various digital platforms, and while doing so, resources are discussed as a part of the creation process.


Eric DeSalvo – Assistant AD for #Content, UCF


We’re fortunate to have leadership in place that understands the increased demand in premium content at UCF. Since 2016, we’ve added a second graphic designer, a second post production position to our creative video staff and are in the process of hiring an Assistant Director for Social Content, as well as a football-only graphic designer.


Lauren George – Director of Video Production, Alabama


We have thrown a lot of manpower at content creation, but we try to be smart about it. We have our full-time staff make a lot of the main content for each of our sports, and then we also have staff oversee a team of student editors that help edit everything else. We have students who edit hype videos for upcoming games/events, do post-game highlights for each game, and also help create features that our teams use to help fans get to know the athletes.


I understand that every institution is not able to put a lot of manpower behind content creation, so we’re lucky that we’re able to do that. I think making content that you can use in a variety of ways is another strategy to attack this issue. For instance, you could use a ticket commercial intended to air on TV and then make some small changes and use it as a hype video for social media.


2. As a creative in college sports, what do you look for in a senior level leader and how do you like to be led?


George (Alabama): What I look for in a leader is someone who leads by example, is flexible, and holds people to a high standard. Most of what we do involves working with college students so the ability to work with a lot of people who work differently than you do is key. Sometimes all you have to do is tell a student what to do and they do it, sometimes students need to know WHY they are supposed to do something a certain way. So being flexible in your approach really helps both you and whoever you are trying to lead. Another thing is to have a vision and philosophy for whatever you’re creating and being able to get everyone to buy in. It really helps to have an overall framework for where your staff is going and then letting your students be creative within that framework.


DeSalvo (UCF): I value senior leadership that trusts me and my staff to create content that’s going to enhance our brand image and keep us at the forefront of this industry. We rarely hear “no,” but if there is an idea that needs to be revamped, it becomes a collaborative approach so that everyone feels comfortable with the end product.


One of the many perks to working at UCF is our youth. We don’t have hundreds of years of tradition (the schools turns 55 years old in June), so that allows us to be as bold and innovative as we see fit. That approach also comes directly from the top down with Danny White’s leadership. He practices what he preaches, and is pretty bold on a daily basis to help us be in the best position for long-term success.


Hicks (Baylor): The key qualities of a senior leader is someone who is a good listener and is a partner in the problem solving process to serve our coaches, student-athletes, and teams. I like a culture of honest engagement where anyone at any level can share their idea and throw out an opinion, but no matter the final decision we all are rowing in the same direction as a team. It is also important that the leaders of the department have an understanding of the manpower, equipment, and time needed to handle a particular project. They should also have somewhat of an understanding of the overall production schedule because there are often a number of things going on at the same time.


Swartz (Ohio State): There is a fine line in the creative world between brand standards/guidelines and creative freedom. I am a firm believer in brand consistency, but I also believe there are plenty of ways to allow for individual creativity and expression within that. Colors, fonts, logos, etc. must remain consistent, but there are always ways to change up looks. As a leader, I aim to make sure that everyone on my staff knows what those brand guidelines are but also try to allow for as much creative freedom as possible within those standards. We have creative meetings to address the needs from coaches and recruiting staff members, but I will never stand up and dictate what each piece of content must look like. Provide the standards and the level of expectation and let the creatives go to work. Review and make changes after the fact if needed, but let them take ownership of the project from start to finish. That’s how I was taught and in turn that’s how I attempt to lead others.


3. Do you think the recent trend of individual sports hiring creative staffs is the right move? How does that collaboration work within digital & creative staffs of athletics departments?


Swartz (Ohio State): Absolutely; at least for those that can justify the costs. If you look at some the programs that have invested in internal staffs — Ohio State Football, That Team Up North Football (can’t fall them by their name by rule), Texas Football, Alabama Football, Duke Basketball, Indiana Basketball, etc. — you’ll notice a trend in those being revenue-generating sports and major brands. The benefits far outweigh the costs. Digital media teams, especially at a place like Ohio State with 35+ sports, cannot keep up with recruiting demands along with other needs from marketing, development, and sponsorships. In addition to time and manpower constraints, those individual staffs being physically located in the same building as the teams they cover allows for familiarity with players and coaches as well as an overall comfortability with the expectations of the program. Those two things allow for much more personalized, real, and in-depth content.


DeSalvo (UCF): The conclusion I’ve come to after hearing from many counterparts is that individual creative staffs has put up more silos in the workplace and has taken away from a truly collaborative environment. We’ve purposely kept our creatives under the athletics umbrella to avoid silos.


This will change a little for us with the addition of our football-only designer. They’ll work from the football offices because of the demands that recruiting content creates, but they’ll be dual report so that we can stay on brand as much as possible.


Overall, our approach is to be our own in-house marketing agency. From brainstorming to the final product, we feel that between our content, communications and marketing staffs, each sport has plenty of creative personnel in place to meet requests from our coaches’ and administrative staff..


Hicks (Baylor): The trend of hiring creative directors and creative staff to handle the needs for a specific program seems to be appropriate especially as the content needs increase. Across college athletics, we are also seeing creative director positions and creative teams being created for football, men’s basketball, and women’s basketball to handle the demands of creating a robust content plan to make sure these programs have a consistent presence in the digital space throughout the entire year.


George (Alabama): I think it’s good to have dedicated people for your sport who buy into what you are doing and help advance your program both online and with recruits. But, I think the most successful programs do so in a way that all the creative people are under the same banner and working to create things that all look like they came from the same place. From an employee standpoint, it also helps with work/life balance if you have someone dedicated to that sport that can do most of the recruiting stuff and then have the rest of your staff help them when needed, but that leaves other staff freer to focus on the content for everything else. For us, having SEC Network and in-venue shows on top of all the social media, recruiting, feature production can get overwhelming, so having someone focused solely on football and what they need is a big help. But, it’s only helpful as long as you can all work together and communicate well.


4. What does a creative video staff need to consist of from a staffing and infrastructure standpoint to succeed?


George (Alabama): I think every place is different, so I don’t think there’s one formula that would work everywhere. For us, we have 6 full-time staff, including myself, that are dedicated to doing most of the video production work and about 100 students who work for us in a number of capacities. We have 2 full-timers dedicated to SEC Network productions, 2 full-timers dedicated to in-venue production, 1 full-timer who does most of our animated graphics and then I oversee them along with helping out on the SEC and in-venue sides. My boss also helps out with the video productions as needed, so really, we can have 7 people working on the video staff at any time. The football team then has their own creative staff of 3 full-time employees who do the majority of their recruiting and social media.


For us, the biggest key is to recruit and train students. The more students you have who are capable of doing all the different jobs we have, the less you have to work crazy amounts of hours. We try to recruit students as freshmen and have them in our program all 4 years they are here. For some of our rock star students, that means they are producing and directing SEC Network shows on the digital tier before they graduate, producing content for football and men’s basketball or producing features all on their own.


Hicks (Baylor): A creative staff needs a leader who sets out a clear direction for the brand and creates an environment that attracts creative people which can make everyone tell better stories than they thought possible. It’s very important to have clear direction since being creative is a collaborative and evolving effort where everyone needs to know what their aiming for and provide guidelines that help get them there. The team will typically consist of a project manager, video storyteller, a motion graphic storyteller, a social media coordinator, and possibly a motion graphic artist depending on the available resources. This staff needs to work closely with the coaches and staff members in order to appropriately tell the story of the athletic department.


Swartz (Ohio State): Along with an investment in proper equipment, they really need a diverse skill set, a willingness to put in the time and effort, and comfortability getting out of their comfort zone. The more skills each individual can develop on his/her own, the better off everyone is. Every member of my staff has an above-average grasp on graphic design, animation, and video editing. Because of that, I can always count on my staff to cover any event to the maximum level. This world is so cluttered, your staff must find unique and innovative ways to create new content or it will get swept up. Inspiration should not come only from sports either — look at all creative outlets to avoid becoming status quo.


DeSalvo (UCF): First and foremost, it needs a visionary. Someone who’s got a short and long-term plan for what they want each piece of content to look like. Second, it’s important to have a leader who isn’t afraid to get their hands dirty even when their position isn’t required to do so.


There also needs to be an understanding of your resources and how it can get you to meet your goals. Lastly, a good student program is often what sets apart many of the top video staffs in the collegiate space. Students are a creative hotbed and have a good handle on the ebb and flow of social, and what will make for engaging content.


5. What are the biggest challenges to the creatives-in-sports industry?


DeSalvo (UCF): Demand and burnout would be the two biggest challenges that come to mind. We serve 16 varsity sports here at UCF, and we’re trying our best to create unique and engaging content for each. We also take great pride in what we put out which means always trying to one-up ourselves, thus adding to the demands of our job.


That demand ultimately leads to burnout. I think it’s why there have been many leaders in this space that seek new opportunities in the corporate or agency side of social. There has to be time to recharge, and not just one vacation over the summer, but days throughout the month where you set aside time for personal life. There also needs to be time on your calendar to openly think, time that is free of distraction in order to collect your thoughts and reorganize your strategy. If creatives never do this, it’s impossible to be the best version of yourself.


Swartz (Ohio State): Fourfold:

• Producing a high-quantity or high-quality content in limited time frames.

• Staying relevant while also trying to see the future and be a trendsetter.

• Not getting into a rut and finding ways to produce similar pieces of creative content in different ways.


Hicks (Baylor): From an organizational perspective, the biggest challenge is probably finding the balance of adding the right amount of structure —not too much, not too little. Project management for creative work can be frustrating, but can be done with the the right amount of structure based on the team and type of project. Over the last year, we began using a project management software tool and created a project manager position to track requests and manage the workflow across the organization. From an individual standpoint, it’s finding the time so creatives are able to learn new skills and improve their professional development skills.


George (Alabama): I think some of the biggest challenges are expectations and the ever-expanding need for content. The volume of work expected from video production departments is growing every day and I don’t see that slowing down anytime soon. I think finding creative ways to manage the workload and meet expectations is going to be key. I don’t have any great answers to this question right now, other than to try to get as many motivated students who are passionate about making content as possible.