Building a brand behind the camera: How Social Media teams are influencing college athletics.

LSU Head Football Videographer, Will Stout. (WAFB.com)

College football and basketball are billion-dollar industries, with high-level division one programs bringing in millions each football and basketball season. But continued success is paramount to these schools if they want to build new buildings on campus, keep tuition low, and fund some of the lower level sports teams. For some of these programs, winning can completely change the complexion of their schools. “After making the Final Four in 2006, George Mason generated more than $650 million in free publicity, according to a university professor, and monthly bookstore sales increased by 1,300%.”

George Mason celebrating their trip to the 2006 Final Four. (NBC Sports)

There is a lot riding on these team’s coaches and players — And when the team reaches new levels of success, they are celebrated (as they should be). But what about the other guys?

Social media teams and staff videographers have become essential parts of these programs since the internet has taken off, but you don’t hear about them — Because when the team is celebrating their championship and the confetti is falling, they aren’t the ones getting interviewed on TV… They are the ones holding the camera.

But their job is much more than simply holding a camera.

Due to the lack of job openings at the division two-level, sports videographers will usually also have to do the work higher-level programs hire 5-6 people for. “I do creative video and graphics for the sports department,” said Scott Vander Sloot, the communications assistant at Ashland University, in Ohio. “I shoot some photography as well and then I also serve as the main (communications) contact for six different sports.” Vander Sloot is apart of a two-man team devoted to creating online content for their athletics programs, but their work has more of an impact than merely score updates — They are key factors in building their athletic program’s brand.

“We want our athletes front and center (in all our content),” Vander Sloot said. “They do a lot of cool stuff and if we do a storytelling narrative video for them, it can really make them look awesome.” Through the creation of riveting and engaging content, sports communication teams are helping to shape their program’s brands and can help paint a picture of “what playing for their school might look like” — Which can really help bolster their recruiting.

A hype video created by Vander Sloot for the Ashland Swimming and Diving team. (@goashlandeagles)

Throughout the 2019-2020 College Football Season, the LSU Tigers were dominating opponents on the field on their way to the National Championship, but off the field, their videographers were also dominating social media. With each victory, the videos became more and more popular, earning “over 48 million views and 265 million impressions throughout the season,” according to TwitterSports. It’s hard to quantify the video team’s impact on the recruiting side of things, but it’s naive to think that the Tigers #4 ranked 2020 recruiting class wasn’t swayed by LSU’s video content. The football team was good, sure… But the video team made them iconic.

QB Joe Burrow smoking a cigar after winning the National Championship. (@LSUFootball)
LSU’s 2020 National Championship Hype video, narrated by Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson. Yeah, you read that right.

That’s the power these social media teams hold and the coaches know they need to utilize it if they want to maximize their recruiting efforts. “The football team is always coming to me saying they ‘want me to do this or do that’,” Gabe Soto, the head of videography and photography at Saginaw Valley State University, said. “I did a video for their spring practice and it blew up on social media (25K views), when that happens it makes more people notice us.” The better the content you can create, the more people will see it and the more people see it, the more likely a prospective recruit will. “It’s our number one goal is to appease the current athletes and coaches, but the recruiting aspect is huge,” Vander Sloot said. “If you aren’t making content that recruits will see and say ‘hey, I’d really like to be person in that video and go to that school’, then you are missing a huge part of what your role is.”

SVSU’s 2019 Football Spring Ball highlight film created by Soto. (@svsu_football)
Just one example of the lenghts these social media teams will go to lure recruits to their schools. (@ashlandFB)

The competition doesn’t stop on the field, it also continues off the field behind the camera and into the editing room as well.

But trying to create viral content that is unique to your school’s brand can be difficult. It’s becoming an arms race between schools and the pressure is incredibly high to be the best. “There’s a keeping up with the Joneses mentality you have to have in this job,” Vander Sloot said. “We don’t compare ourselves to anyone in our conference (GLIAC), because we want our stuff to look and feel like a division one program, that’s our goal.”

A program’s social media feed is an important part of what separates them from the pack because, without their documentation, people would never know what it’s like to be an athlete at their school. And the brand/identity these teams create online is what can make the difference between a championship… and a program that loses money. “People take for granted a lot of what goes into making the gameday experience what it is,” Soto said. “We’re just trying to make our school look good and help build our brand for others to see.”

Within each of these school’s social media feeds and video content, you can see their social media team’s fingerprints all over them. They take part of what makes themselves unique and use it to create a compelling brand that also builds their school’s identity in the process. But crafting an identity can be a daunting task that takes a lot of work, but when it’s done right, it’s worth it. “It will usually take me somewhere between 8-12 hours to create our narrative video pieces,” Vander Sloot said. “To me, it’s more about establishing and creating timeless pieces that will be watched over and over for years to come, that’s why we do it.”

By: Jerod Fattal

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