The High School Sports Production Machine

Recently I attended the Sports Video Group’s College Video Summit in Atlanta.

This event is so far out of my league that it is comical but I have gone the last two years for several reasons. The main reason that I go are the ideas and nuggets of wisdom I take from the event. The second reason is that I get to talk shop with some of the biggest names in college sports video production. The best part of talking shop with these guys and gals from around the country is to hear that despite a six digit difference in budget and all of the bells and whistles that go with being a top level organization, we have the same problems and face the same challenges.

This was apparent to my last year when Justin Brandt from Crimson Tide Productions ranted on stage about how his student workers show up late, want to play on their cell phones as much as run a camera, or that they are more interested in being a fan than being a professional.

Before I break down the machine, I need to set the record straight and help manage your expectations. First and foremost, I have the most supportive administration in the world. I also work in a career academy that serves three local high schools. I potentially have three times the opportunities as other programs. We also built our program to this point. It did not happen overnight. We started with one team and have now worked to up to nine teams that we support throughout the season. With that said, let’s dive into how we work to create income for our program and our students as well as help them gain valuable career experience.Machine01 375

The first year I taught, I jumped into live streaming because I was excited about the potential. I will never forget my first “we can do this better” moment. We were already live with our stream. The coin toss was happening on the field. A student clad in the home team jersey fumbles his way up the ladder to the roof with his duffle bag. One end of the bag had the tripod poking out and the other had a tail of miscellaneous cables. The self proclaimed “team video guy” pulled the mangled tripod out of the bag, set the pan handle to the right, placed the camera on the head, and started spinning the entire camera onto the quick release plate. The final step was to pull out the rats nest of power cables and reach in front of my camera to plug into our power supply (without asking permission - if you are a student reading this, ALWAYS ask permission before using someone else’s power). The next week, I made sure to accidently run into the coach for that team and during the course of conversation I asked what the weakest part of his program is. You don’t need a magic 8 ball to know the answer to that question. By the end of the season, that poor child had to watch the games from field level…

As video teachers, we have something most athletic programs don’t have: a group of trained and passionate students that just want to have a camera in their hand by any means necessary. We now work out contracts with all three football and six basketball teams in the county. I have made it a point of focus for our program to try to take all of the video needs off the hands of the coaches. From training through delivery of the final product, the coaches don’t have to worry about anything video.

For the sake of brevity, I am going to only detail how we work with the football teams in our county to fuel the sports production machine.

Machine02 375Here is an overview of what our program does for each of our football teams:
● Record Two angles of each play of each regular and postseason
● Upload all footage to Hudl within 4 hours of the end of the game
● Produce a weekly coaches show
● Produce a live broadcast of each regular and postseason game (home and away, when possible)
● Produce up to three team/athlete/coach feature short each month
● Produce up to five commercials for booster club sponsors
● Provide extensive social media presence throughout the season

This is what we do for each of our three teams. This does not include the other teams and events that we serve. This is why we have set up the program to work as a machine. If I tried to do this on my own, I would be a great businessman but not a great teacher. I prefer to be a better teacher by teaching my students to be business minded men and women.

For football, the process actually starts in March or April. I start in the spring to catch the transition between booster club “administrations,” as well as build off the excitement of the spring game, and before the season gets too close to actually get a coach to focus and communicate. We start with a meeting. I host the meeting with the head coach, booster club president, and my principal. This makes sure that everyone that needs to be in the loop is there. I have already had a conversation with the athletic director so they know what is going on before the meeting (after the first year, this is not necessary).

Our contract (https://docs.google.com/document/d/1wH68dY2mJjF4-F-PvA3rFNYjbRdjWPJfBCRTlqMjxIE/edit?usp=sharing) with the team covers everything that we will do for Machine03 375them as well as what we expect from them in terms of payment amount and dates. This contract looks very simple but has worked to cover us for several years.It should go without saying but just in case: make sure that you can do what you say you will prior to creating the contract.

The relationship with the teams allows us to not only pay our students that film the games, which helps ensure the quality of our footage, but it gives us access to the footage for use in the classroom along with the opportunity to create products (commercials) that will actually get seen. One of the foundational beliefs that I have for success in the video production classroom is to create project that matter. The client commercials give me that opportunity.

Notice that I limited the number of client commercials that the booster club could sell. That is because I will sell sponsorships as well. I will do my best to protect the booster club sponsors with exclusivity but sometimes that is not possible and I am up front about that.

In addition to the commercials, students work to create the coaches shows. This allows the students to get comfortable with the interview process and in the perfect scenario the live news production process (record to tape). The coaches shows are simply a conversation with the coach. I have created a formula (https://docs.google.com/document/d/1svNdLzuqNFU59zJ9NAVshO09dhc3cAc8t5ccu3HBgAk/edit?usp=sharing ) for the shows to make sure that there is some level of format. The key is to keep the show simple and make sure that the coach and the kid are comfortable. The shows range from 5 to 15 minutes. The great thing about this difference is that it can be cut later to fit into other shows and broadcasts.

We also use the footage to create sports documentaries. The E:60 and 30 for 30 films produced by ESPN are second to none and every student that has any passion for sports can list a dozen of these that have made an impact on them. I use this awareness to build excitement in the students as well as to motivate them to produce higher level products. (For example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXSpMi_E_aY ) The relationships with the teams allows us to use the fields, footage, and players to make these films. These films are used during newscasts as well as live broadcasts.

The newscasts are our version of Sportscenter. Students work to produce a mix of score updates, feature stories, and highlight packages. This has by far been the weakest part of our program. The planning for these shows is intense and motivating the students to overcome that hurdle has been almost impossible. During the first year of the Sports Broadcast Institute, we only successfully produced 4 shows that were up to the standards we expect. Year two will be different!

As you can see, once you get the wheels rolling on a sports production program, it’s hard to make it stop. The key to start the machine lies with relationships with the teams. Last year, we had contracts with Nine teams. This year, we have pushed that number to Twelve. This means more content coming in from the field therefore more content being pushed out by the program. If the key to get the machine started is the relationships, the fuel to keep it going is the product and the use of the products. Take the work outside of the classroom and show it off to people.

The formula is simple:
Video students excited to create sports products + sports teams excited to see that someone cares about what they are doing + the natural desire to show off your work = well fueled machine that pays dividends every day.

Next Month in The Sports Production Machine: Training and Gearing up for Football


TomWhiteHeadshot 175Tom White is a video production teacher at the Rockdale Career Academy in Conyers. GA. Tom is also the director of the Sports Broadcast Institute, which is One of Five Georgia Governor’s Innovation in Education award winning programs and the NFHS Network Best Overall Program. The Sports Broadcast Institute works to  produce live broadcasts, newscasts, sports documentaries and more for the Three schools, Rockdale Co, Salem, and Heritage High schools, that the career academy serves. Prior to teaching, Tom was a marketing, promotions, and online content director for a major radio corporation in Atlanta. Tom studied exercise science at High Point University prior to his radio career. Despite his winding career path, his mother still thinks he is special.