Archive Page 2

30
Mar
12

How I Helped the Providence College Friars Hockey Team

It’s been a while since I’ve made any new posts to my blog. Well, I’ve ben busy. Let me share what I’ve been doing.

Two years ago I had preliminary talks with Tim Army, then the men’s ice hockey coach for the Providence College Friars, about how I could bring my knowledge of new media to help the program at Providence. Whole it took some time to jump through the hurdles, I eventually got the chance to do consulting work for the Friars. Although it turned out to be Tim’s last year on the job – he’s now an assistant coach with the Colorado Avalanche — I am forever grateful I got a chance to make an impact. And I know I made an impact because some of things I started have been picked by the new coaching staff and the media relations department.

Using the tools of new media – blogs, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc. – is an essential thing in what Seth Godin calls our “sharing economy.” However, in order to share your story it needs to be packaged as interesting content. Yes, being interesting is important. Using your Facebook page to tell the world you had strawberries this morning for breakfast does not qualify as interesting.

Providence College (PC), while it has a huge brand name across the country, is actually a very small school. My first trip to the school was an eye-opener for me. The campus was about as big as Hamline University here in St. Paul. PC’s undergrad enrollment is only 4,000. Given the shrinking numbers of people working in newsrooms in both TV and newspapers, it’s critical for an athletic program to have a structured method to get their message out. New media is the great equalizer a program at Providence has to get their message out to recruits and fans. Recruits first, fans second. If you don’t have the players who can play – even of they are good students in the classroom – you won’t win, fans won’t show up and coaches will get fired. That’s the way it goes.

Here are some things that the Friars have done that have them headed in the right direction. I’ll also discuss some things I think they need to do.

Friar Hockey Blog and Twitter

Having a blog is the most foundational thing you can do in new media. Why? The algorithm Google uses to search the web love blogs. So, I got one started last year and they picked it up. Mine was heavy on opening visuals, as you might imagine. All my copy lead with a photo or photos at the top or an embedded video. I believe strongly in using a compelling photo or video in everything. There’s still a lot of truth in the Chinese proverb “A picture is worth a thousand words.” See mine here.

You can check out the official Friar Hockey Blog on the PC hockey web site HERE. Way to go, Friars.

With the proliferation of smart phones, using Twitter is another absolute essential. I got it started last year, a separate Twitter account just for the men’s hockey team. And I started tweeting from the penalty box when the Friars played at Merrimack. (I was also shooting photos from there, too, which was a challenge.) This season the program fixed up the Twitter page and delved into using it. Come game night there was nothing better this year than getting game updates on my phone. I loved knowing how the Friars were doing and not having to search for any information. There’s still a ways to go, different ways to use Twitter to get the message out about the Friars. But they are off to a great start.

What PC Needs to do Next

1. To get to the next level, PC needs to organize like a newspaper or TV station does. Ever heard of an editorial calendar? From a PR standpoint, you use it to plot important dates on the calendar you want to get your message out. Of course, you have to decide what your message is and by what method you are going to use. Putting out content on a consistent basis is crucial to developing an audience.

2. Use video and audio way more. Technology has made it possible to create and post high quality video quickly. PC isn’t doing much in this realm, and that’s where they must go. Words on a computer screen are OK, but the most powerful communications media are moving pictures with REALLY good sound. In fact, if I had to pick one or the other, I’d take great audio first.

Here’s perfect example of something very well done! It’s the audio podcasts from the U.S. Hockey League’s Sioux Falls Stampede, right from their home page. They keep you updated on the current team as well as their alumni. Simple stuff, but it’s excellent.

Nate Leaman was hired away from Union College to be the new head coach at Providencen last year. Coach Leaman has worked for some great coaches, Shawn Walsh at Maine and Mark Mazzoleni at Harvard. And he worked with one of the legendary college hockey recruiters in Grant Standbrook while at Maine, too. I’d like to hear Coach Leaman talk about what he values, his formative experiences, what he wants in a player, etc. At the very least, he should do his own version of a weekly coaches show. Something short in audio or video format that’s just a few minutes long.

And if PC wants to get really, ambitious they can do a version of Friars 24/7. Tim was very much in support of showing what playing at PC was about and his style as a coach. When you have a coach on board like that, you have the that magic word — access! And that’s what wins awards. Not to mention, it’s the sort of thing that builds on audience. And that’s what we were after. This is the sort of thing that’s worthwhile for a school to do internally because they can control the message. Moreover, they can deliver something an audience can’t get from the local TV or newspaper. The North Dakota fighting Sioux did something similiar this year and got very position comments from it. While I won’t claim mine was anywhere near the HBO version, you can check out my version of Friars 24/7 on YouTube. Just click here.

One opinionated suggestion: Skip doing the media guide in PDF format or any other format. Use the company and their software the Wisconsin Badgers use, ProForma, to do online-style magazine. Why use this? In a world of smart phones and iPads, this format fits perfectly. It allows you to use video, use big pictures and share content. It won’t be long before a major athletic department like Wisconsin will abandon at least partially if not totally printing game day programs for football. Why print thousands of programs that run the risk of going unsold when folks are brining their iPads to games anyway? Customers are already using their smart phones will shopping at Tartget and Best Buy. My bet is it’s only a matter of time the proliferation of the hand-held device leads to this. This is just a way cooler way to do things.  You can catch a sample of Wiscon’s magazine, Varsity Online, here:

3. Use Facebook to connect with recruits and fans.

Why an emphasis on Facebook? Virtually every athlete you’ll recruit from now on is on Facebook. And if you have compelling content, you can be feeding them information all the time about your program. It’s that simple.

Plus, Coach Leaman has shown a genuine interest in reaching out to the student body at PC through his Mission 3000 program. I’d best most of the students who could fill Schneider Arena are on Facebook. Moreover, coaches should be monitoring potential recruits social media use. Many colleges are using software for student recruitment alone, making it possible for admissions offices to capitalize of the role of social media. What students say on social networks offers the most complete picture of their interests, concerns and goals. Knowing that enables you to engage them in ways that are the most relevant to them.

There you have it. There’s a lot more to be done, but I that’s all the free stuff I’ll give out for now. Thanks, again, Providence for letting me be part of your athletic program.

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20
Jul
10

Don Coryell: Communications Genius (1924-2010)

Don Coryell (photo courtesy AP)

Don Coryell was a communications genius, although he wasn’t a professional communicator. He was a football coach, a coach who revolutionized how offenses are run in football. Coryell recently passed away at the age of 85, and Sports Illustrated took the occasion to run a major piece on his contribution to the game in their July 12, 2010 edition. Professional communicators, particularly those who design web sites, could learn a lesson from the man.

What made him so unique? Coryell (the communicator) devised a very effective play-calling method for his players (his audience) when he was the head coach at San Diego State for 12 seasons (1961-72). It enabled his offenses to discern and run very intricate plays with a minimum of information. Football players have very little time between plays to process information. When it’s late in the game and the weather is lousy and the fans are loud, those elements can further complicate the ability to communicate. In order to be successful, each of the 11 guys on the field has to understand their individual assignment on each play. One mental mistake by one guy can be the difference in a play that results in a positive net gain or a loss – or even worse, a turnover!

Here’s what he did. Prior to Coryell, offensive plays were referred to by a formation plus a name for the play. For example, “Power I Maverick.” “Power I” referred to the formation and “Maverick” was the play. You certainly hoped your guys had memorized the playbook! The SI article goes on to describe how Coryell’s system was brilliant and why it has stood the test of time. In football, teams often use two wide outs, in football speak referred to as the X and Z receivers. Another receiver, called the split end because he plays close to the line, is often called the slot receiver and is designated by the letter Y. So, you have the X, Y and Z receivers. With me so far?

Coryell devised a numbering system to identify pass routes for those receivers. Let’s use the example of the play here, the 525 F Post Swing (image left). According to Sports Illustrated, “Routes for the outside receivers in a formation (the X and Z receivers) were assigned single digits, from 1 to 9; routes for an inside (or Y) receiver were assigned multiples of 10, from 10 to 90.” The numbers corresponded to different pass routes. For the X and Z receivers, a 1 route is a curl route, a 2 is a basic out, a 3 is a skinny post, etc. The route list for the Y receivers were assigned multiples of 10. And the route descriptions are precise! All a wide receiver had to memorize, however, was what pass patterns 10 digits corresponded to, not memorize a whole playbook the size of a metropolitan phone book.

Getting back to our example, the play called 525 F Post Swing, the X and Z receivers run a 5 route (a 15-yard comeback) and the Y receiver runs a 20 route, a shallow cross. “F Post” just gives the F position, which in this example is a running back, directions to run a post pattern. “Swing” refers to the formation the team should line up in. Not that hard, right? Every play was built from the foundation of the digits.

The key was Coryell’s system was visual, not cognitive. As quarterback Trent Green said in the article, “It was always a great thing for me… The first thing I do when a play comes into my headset is visualize it. In this system, with every play call, you’re actually telling everybody what to do by what you say. Instead of saying, ‘I Right Omaha,’ you’re saying, ‘R 428 H Stop,’ and that tells everybody what to do, instead of relying on their memorization.”

Simply put, Coryell designed a way to make it easy for his audience to understand his message. He had high respect for them and figured out a way for them to get his message easily, with a minimum of effort. He didn’t leave them to figure it out. In his profession, it enabled his football teams to run very complex plays – and win a lot of games! He was way ahead of his peers. Tony Dungy, winner of Super Bowl XLI as the coach of the Indianapolis Colts, told SI, “Super Bowls count so much now; that’s all anyone talks about. But if you talk about impact on the game, training other coaches – John Madden, Bill Walsh, Joe Gibbs to name a few – and influencing how things are done, Don Coryell is probably right up there with Paul Brown. He was a genius.”

Sadly, Coryell isn’t in the NFL Hall of Fame yet. Two coaches who were once his assistants, Madden and Gibbs, already are. The only thing Coryell lacks on his resume is a championship. His contribution to the game is already legendary.

07
Jul
10

Miami Twice?

Miami Hurricanes Head Coach Randy Shannon and Seantrel Henderson (Photo by Vince Muzik)

Much to my surprise, USC released Seantrel Henderson from his letter of intent today. I thought they’d fight harder, but I think the decision will serve bother parties well. Based on what I know, I’m not sure Miami wasn’t Seantrel’s first choice to begin with. And here’s why:

Between 1:00 and 1:30 p.m. CST on National Signing Day, Feb. 3, a PIPOL (person in a position of leadership) at Cretin-Derham Hall High School (CDH) got a text from Trel. He was in New York waiting to announce his college selection on Tom Lemming’s TV show. The message? “Miami.” The PIPOL at CDH texted him back for confirmation: Miami? “Yes, Miami,” Trel said. That person went on to show a bunch of other employees at CDH Trel’s message. (I can name a bunch of them who saw it.) I don’t think it was a coincidence the Minneapolis Star Tribune ran that information on their web site around 2:30 p.m. Except it turned out to be wrong.

At 4:30 p.m. CST when Seantrel made his announcement, he picked USC. Either Seantrel had a change of heart or he was just being a prankster, just to tug at the chain of his superior. I’m not sure we’ll ever know the answer to that one. However, I do know something.

The visit the Miami Hurricanes got from Seantrel that last weekend in January, the NFL Pro Bowl Weekend as it turned out to be, was the visit Oklahoma was supposed to get. Heading into December, the schools on Trel’s list were “the Big 5 plus one.” The Big 5 were USC, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Florida and Oklahoma. The “plus one” was Minnesota, the local school. Two other schools were on the periphery, Iowa and Miami. Oklahoma had tried to arrange a time for Trel to visit, but things just didn’t work out. Keep in mind, Seantrel’s high school football team played until the last Friday in November when they won the state championship. After that, basketball season started and the Christmas holiday wasn’t too far past that. The available weekends for visits withered away. When Oklahoma faded, Miami became appealing and got him to visit. From everything I heard, he had a great time meeting the brotherhood of Miami Hurricanes. It does pay to persevere, doesn’t it?

01
Jul
10

News Flash: Seantrel Henderson is not at USC

All the boys from So Cal: The Kiffins (Monte and Lane) along with James Cregg and Ed Orgeron.

It sure didn’t take long for the word to get out about Seantrel Henderson not showing up at USC last week. Yesterday afternoon I got a call from someone from the west coast who had a source at USC tell him not only was Seantrel not coming, but that USC wasn’t going to let him out of his letter of intent (LOI). Interesting. Seems to me the athletic department at USC leaks information like my bathtub faucet leaks water.

I couldn’t help the guy. To be honest, I have no idea what’s going on. And if I did, I wouldn’t tell anyone let alone a sportwriter. (Duh!)  But I know enough that if I were a betting man, I would wager where there’s smoke there’s fire. (Actually, the Star Tribune did a good little piece on this scenario.) Something isn’t quite right here that much I can tell. Seantrel’s a neat kid with immense talent who deserves some sort of closure on this chapter of his life. I just want to see him playing ball this fall for somebody’s school, and I want the best for him.

16
Jun
10

Two Minutes in the Box at the Air Force Academy

Online websites are the great equalizer in college recruiting these days. Would you take a job without looking at a company’s site to see what they are about? Of course not! Recruits are doing the same thing. This idea I’m profiling here is so original my friend the Nike marketer Andy Pawlowski over at the Digital Hoops Blast blog is absolutely going to love it.

One of the best recruiting tools any school has is their own student/athletes. If they like the experience they are having, they’ll be more than happy to spread the word. One of the best features I’ve seen in this regard is “Two Minutes in the Box,” a short, two-minute or so interview show done by Cadet Jeff Hajner, a hockey player at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Hajner really did his homework for the show which consisted of interviews with various members of the Air Force Academy staff and students. In the first part of the show, he asked questions about various things from a guest’s bio. The second part consisted of a five-question quiz against the clock. Fun stuff considering Hajner got most of the top-ranked officers who run the academy to be on his show: Brig. Gen. Samuel Cox, Commandant of the Cadets; Brig. Gen. Dana Born, Dean of the Faculty, and Lt. Gen. Michael Gould, Superintendent of the Academy (he’s the top dog!).  These are some pretty accomplished people, and they all walked out on the ice to get into the penalty box to be interviewed by Cadet Hajner.

Hajner had to love it, too. In his interview with Lt. Gen. Gould, the last question he asked on the quiz part was open-ended: “Lemon jello or chocolate pudding?” The head honcho of the U.S. Air Force Academy picked chocolate pudding, which, according to Hajner was the wrong answer. I guarantee you this is probably the only time a cadet at the academy could tell a general he was wrong!

So, what does this tell me about playing at the Air Force Academy? These people obviously take their jobs seriously. (Since they are part of defending our nation, let’s hope so.) However, they are not above having fun with what they are doing without making it a joke. Anyone who can handle the academic load at the academy will undoubtedly get a great education. But it’s obvious they are about more than the serious business of the military. They have a personality and it definitely comes out through “Two Minutes in the Box.”

01
Jun
10

“Broad Street Bullies”: A Review

HBO hit the timing bulls-eye when it debuted it’s latest documentary film, “Broad Street Bullies,” a film about the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers teams in the 1970s, on May 4. The current version of the Flyers are now playing in the Stanley Cup Finals (against the Chicago Blackhawks) and would certainly make the guys from that era proud. I grew up watching those teams as a little boy growing up in Southern Minnesota. This was before ESPN and countless sports programming was available. When you saw your team on TV, it was truly an event. And the Flyers were an event you didn’t forget. When I was in college one of my biggest mentors, Ron Woodey, was a scout for the Flyers and he taught me a lot about their philosophy. Seeing this documentary brought back a lot of memories.

Before I saw the film, I read the New York Times review of the film which basically described it as a love story between a city and their team. The Flyers won two back-to-back titles in the mid-70s when Philadelphia was going through tough times. (It was about that time a film about an average boxer named Rocky Balboa debuted at the box office and captured the heart of a nation.) True to the review, the film chronicled the times in which the franchise was born, in 1967 when the NHL’s original six were joined by another six teams (one of which was the ill-fated Minnesota North Stars). After its first six seasons — mediocre ones to be sure — the team started winning and never looked back. The film credits the arrival of Dave “the Hammer” Schultz in 1973 with transforming the team into what Philadelphia writer Jack Chevallier called the “Broad Street Bullies.” Schultz was a tough customer, known for fighting. In his first year he run up 259 penalty minutes. (That’s a little more than four games sitting in the box.) He “infected the team” said Bob Kelly, who along with Moose Dupont, Don Saleski, and Schultz changed the nature of the NHL brand of hockey. It certainly expanded the NHL rule book. But keep in mind one thing: While they had more than 600 more penalty minutes in 1973-74 than the next team, the NHL never disciplined the Flyers for their style of play. Not once!

Bobby Clarke

The Flyers are credited with using fighting as a tactic, winning through intimidation. I think that’s a fair argument. However, the documentary spent more time chronicling that than emphasizing some of the great achievements the Flyers organization has accomplished. Yes, I think the physical style of play changed the team; it opened up things for the world class players the Flyers had at the time. Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber, Rick MacLeish, Reggie Leach, Bernie Parent — these were some great players in their day. Their coach, Fred Shero, was a genius. He knew he had a team that liked to fight so he let them do so. Shero was also a student of Eastern bloc training methods and Soviet hockey. Aside from coaching the Flyers to two Stanley Cups (1974, 1975), Shero orchestrated one of the most memorable games in NHL history when his team defeated the Soviet union’s superpower Red Army hockey team, 4-1, on Jan. 11, 1976.

There’s an old saying that goes “It starts at the top.” For the Flyers it started with their founder and owner, Ed Snider. He pooled an investor group together and paid $2(m) for the expansion franchise in ’67. Mr. Woodey always told me about the personal touches Snider did for the people in his organization. Start with the fact he knew every employee’s name and go from there: The Flyers were the first to offer career counseling and voluntarily renegotiated contracts. They were the first to hire a full-time assistant coach, a full-time goaltending coach and a full-time strength and conditioning coach (Pat Croce). They helped their players find housing when they came to Philadelphia and any special needs a player might have away from the rink. People didn’t show up to watch just one of the Flyers like people would pay to see one guy play like Wayne Gretzky; people showed up to see the whole team. Talk about brand name recognition! Ed Snider provided the leadership to make it happen.

They have always had a consistent philosophy: They want players with good work habits! “We look for overachievers,” Mr. Woodey would tell me. Even if you were a talented player, Flyers scouts were instructed to find out how you went about your work. If you were lazy, forget it. And they have always wanted big (no one under six feet tall), aggressive players. The size thing has cost them some players in the past who would’ve made great Flyers (Theo Fluery, Gary Suter), but you always knew what a prototypical Philadelphia Flyer was. Anybody remember what a prototypical Minnesota North Star was? Neither do I — because there wasn’t any!

It would have been great to see how the Broad Street Bullies legacy carries onto today’s Flyers, but the doc didn’t go there. Nevertheless, the “Broad Street Bullies” is a fun tale cast into a 60 minute piece. It’s definitely worth the time.

24
May
10

Welcome to the Brave New World

I’m not a fan of the Hugh Laurie show “House,” but the last show of this season was worth watching on a TV-sized screen. The reason? The last episode — yes, the whole episode — was shot using a 35mm digital SLR camera (DSLR), the Canon 5D MKII, which you can buy at your local camera store for around $2500.00. Pretty amazing, eh?

This is nothing short of a landmark event in communications history: A multi-million dollar TV network show done on a 35mm camera. Imagine how this opens up opportunities to produce video on an elite level for people who do not have a major motion picture budget? Those of us in the business have known about the capabilities of the Canon 5D for several years now, mainly through the work of former New York Times photographer Vincent LaForet. He really showed the potential of the camera through his two-minute short film “Reverie” produced in 2008:

To date, my conclusion is that the Canon 5D MKII and HDDSLRS in general offer an incredible entry into filmmaking for a wide variety of individuals that would otherwise never have access to similar tools that would allow them to obtain the ‘professional film’ look. The economic barrier that has been around for so long (in terms of the incredibly high cost of cinema equipment) is being chipped away in part to the low cost of these camera bodies.

Canon 5D MKII all "rigged" up

Adding video capabilities to 35mm cameras is something relatively new. Unfortunately, one cannot get major production quality out of a camera like the 5D just by whipping it out of the box. The camera is just the start. Once you get it you need to build a “rig” to stabilize the camera and provide a way to get sharp focus. Plus, good lighting is essential no matter what sort of photography you are doing. Having the knowledge to recognize dramatic lighting and, if necessary, make it on your own with lights is no small skill. And you have to be able to edit, putting good images together that communicate a story. In reality, none of it is particularly easy.

Nevertheless, this breakthrough will forever change the way TV and film  is produced.