New York Giants' Don Sperling Speaks
November 08, 2012 by O.J. Zukerman
The Vice President and Executive Producer of Giants Entertainment Discusses Web Streaming, Social Media and the Importance of Protecting the New York Giants Brand Image.
By O.J. Zukerman Photos by Guillaume Gaudet
Radio, television and newspapers have long kept fans connected with their favorite teams. But opportunities are emerging online for forward-thinking sports organizations to engage their fans with new tools, ranging from live streaming video and on-demand highlights to interacting via social media websites like Facebook, Google+ hookups and Twitter.
The NFL’s New York Giants, winner of Super Bowl XLVI, are among the most successful at exploiting these opportunities. The team employs a comprehensive lineup of online vehicles to complement its presence in traditional media — all with the goal of deepening the bonds the storied organization has with its fans.
The man who oversees developing and delivering content across all media platforms for the organization is Don Sperling, vice president and executive producer for the New York Football Giants. A television production veteran, Sperling came to the team five years ago to build up Giants Entertainment, a full service production company. Sperling ultimately is responsible for stadium game presentation produced with seven HD cameras and a state-of-the art control room, 11 TV programs produced by the team, Web content, social media and even radio.
NewTek Magazine spoke with Sperling about how Giants Entertainment is leveraging streaming video, the team’s website and social media to build a greater relationship with fans and the role of the NewTek TriCaster as an integral piece of that strategy.
NewTek Magazine: How does Web-based video distribution fit into the overall communications goals the New York Giants organization has established?
Don Sperling: It is a key part of our communications strategy through our website and links to our website, through Facebook and through other social media. We utilize the TriCaster in a studio setting and also a field setting to give the public access to our players and to our shows and to send out the messages of the organization.
We do features, short features and full shows. We do live call-in shows for our fans. So it creates a one-way and a two-way conversation and message with our fans.
Increasingly we are trying to do more two-way with the advent of Facebook and the advent of Twitter and other social media outlets. We try to then take our video and make it more interactive. The TriCaster helps in creating that environment.
NM: Didn’t you employ this two-way communications strategy using social media and the TriCaster at the Super Bowl?
DS: We had social media night where we had two things going on simultaneously. We had a live feed streaming out through TriCaster on the Web. We gave all of our players their own hash tags, and we basically had live interviews with our players talking and the fans asking questions on Twitter through a live interface with their own hash tags with our hosts. We fed that out for an hour.
At the same time we were shooting that and doing cut-ins and cutting back and forth, we had another room next door where we had four players over that hour talking about 15 to 20 minutes each to 40 lucky fans who had won a Google+ hangout.
Forty fans got to video chat — direct one-on-one video chats — through their computers with our players, and we were capturing that and intercutting that content through the TriCaster. We really created a social media night. We had a Google+ hangout chat, and we had live Twitter questions being answered and streamed on our website. The Twitter pages blew up. It was incredible. It was one of the best things I think we have ever done.
NM: Sounds like the Super Bowl social media night was quite a success.
DS: We really have been lauded by a lot of people. You know, you really hate to beat your own chest and pat yourself on the back, but in this case we all felt like that was OK. Even Mark Cuban (owner of HDNet and the Dallas Mavericks), who was at the Super Bowl, said it was one of the best things he had ever seen in the social media environment.
NM: Beyond Super Bowl social media night, what does the typical week for Web-distributed video from the New York Giants website look like?
DS: We have so many small features. We’ll do a morning and an afternoon report. Those are live to tape. We will do a live call-in show in the morning, which is audio only. A call-in plus that goes over giants.com.
We’ll shoot a host of different features, like Papas Perspective, a clip with Joe Skiba, and interviews. We’ll have our Giants’ Insider. We have player showslike Roll Call with Antrel Rolle; Dave Tollefson does a show with us. We have Canty’s Corner with Chris Canty. These are five-minute mini shows that we tape. We’ll utilize the TriCaster, and sometimes we’ll tape it and send it over the Web later.
Then on Thursday, we have Big Blue Hits, which is a half hour show on camera that we do in our studio. We bring players in and have different commentators. We have fans do live call-ins and talk to the players, and they answer the questions. We’ll simulcast special events.
For instance, when we had our rally at the stadium after the parade following the Super Bowl, we streamed that from the website. We produced that through the stadium system, but we took the switched feed and sent it out through the TriCaster to our fans.
NM: From a production value point of view, are you able to achieve online what TV viewers are accustomed to seeing?
DS: I think so, especially with all of the upgrades that NewTek has done with the TriCaster. I think if you go in to a production with a plan and say, “This is what we want to achieve,” you can do it.
I don’t think you want to do something that’s never been done before, because that’s not smart television in general. Producing content with the TriCaster for the Web is TV in a much more economic fashion.
NM: I would imagine that there is no comparison when it comes to the budget set aside for Web vs. TV video production.
DS: Oh yeah, there is no doubt.
NM: So, how have you gone about delivering a product that is similar to TV from a quality point of view while working from a different sized budget?
DS: We do certain television shows live to tape, which we send out via satellite or fiber. We shoot those a little bit differently in the studio, not using the TriCaster. But then there are shows that are basically done for the Web that have a look and feel of an elevated type of production, but aren’t necessarily the network-type of show where you would use the EVS machines and multi Chyron graphics.
However, most of the shows we do you can use the TriCaster because there are only a limited number of shows that we do on TV, and many more that we do on the Web.
NM: Many organizations streaming video content on the Web have to balance the quality of the end product delivered with the bandwidth available to most people viewing on the Web. How have you approached that balancing act?
DS: It’s always a concern. Our cameras are really good. We use Sony 700 XDCAM cameras; we have Sony EX cameras. So the quality of cameras that we’re using, the quality that we send out is important, because it really is important to your brand.
Anytime you put your players, your team, your game, your organization, your uniform, your brand, your logo in front of people, it has to look great because that is your brand and that is the message you are sending out to everybody. This is what the Giants represent. And as you know we have a very long, storied franchise — one of the most well-known sports franchises in the world, and we are very, very concerned, and we care about that brand and we protect that brand.
But we gauge what we can do. When we do things over the Web, there are certain things we would use it for and certain things we wouldn’t. But we make that judgment on a case by case basis.
NM: So what has been the response from the audience? Have they been pleased with the video streaming smoothly, or do you get calls from Web viewers who complain about fits and starts related to insufficient bandwidth, or has adaptive bit rate and other streaming technologies eliminated those sorts of concerns?
DS: I think that has all kind of played itself out. Yeah, four years ago we used to. But with greater bandwidth, higher speeds and our use of Akamai delivery systems, with the NFL backup, we are having a lot of success getting out a smooth, seamless broadcast.
Of course, things happen here or there. Something breaks down. This place isn’t good; the connection is slow; we are in another stadium, and they don’t have a good connection. But most of those issues have gone away with time.
NM: You’ve been using the NewTek TriCaster for about four years. Did its toolset and price help you achieve what you wanted to accomplish on the Web?
DS: Absolutely, and right from the start NewTek has been very good. Anytime we needed a replacement or a part, they were there for us. We used to take the TriCaster on the road with us everywhere and ship it and bang it and knock it. And they were great. If we needed a part or an upgrade, or when we needed the HD upgrade we got that right away. Or, we needed the new control surface or any kind of part, they were great.
NM: How has the TriCaster played into the return on investment equation formulated by the Giants for its Web presence?
DS: Our costs are minimal and our content is optimal so as an ROI, it’s a win-win.
NM: You mentioned that you upgraded since acquiring that original TriCaster? What are you using now, and what production features of the latest acquisition are you finding most beneficial?
DS: We like the new control surface. That makes the workflow a little bit easier and smoother. We also like having HD, because we shoot everything in HD and don’t use anything that’s not in HD. We have been HD now for two-and-a-half years, and it’s incredible. When we get footage that’s not HD, we have to put wings on it. And you see that so clearly, so easily. It’s like, “Oh my gosh, look at that.”
So the quality is really important and again that goes back to the brand. Protecting the brand is a key issue, and the TriCaster does a great job with that.
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