High school sports is a market niche well worth exploring. Parents use DVDs to help their college-bound kids get athletic scholarships. Coaches appreciate videographers who get them clear shots they can use for game analysis. And many schools' booster-club coffers are filling, especially when football season rolls around.
So it was no surprise that "Winning with School Sports Videos" was a popular seminar at August's WEVA Expo. Taught by Entertainment Tonite's Tracy Painter, it covered the marketing techniques, production, and packaging that his suburban Pittsburgh company employs. In his session, Painter said that one way videographers could justify their fees for player-highlights DVDs is that a football scholarship could shave $16,000 per year off the cost of going to college; that's $64,000 for four years—a sizable payoff from a modest investment in a professional videographer.
When discussing school booster clubs, he noted that football brings in the most money, and consequently gets the largest pool of discretionary resources when that money is disbursed. Painter said he made more than $20,000 last fall producing sports videos for high school teams. That figure does not include sales of game DVDs to parents or DVDs of individual players' highlights.
Another videographer doing well with school sports videos is Bonnie Durkin. Her New Jersey-based company, D-Vision Video, has been producing the usual run of wedding, bar mitzvah, and corporate videos for over 12 years. But Durkin carved out a niche for her company by videotaping school graduations and, about eight years ago, added sports events. She has given seminars at both WEVA Expo and the 4EVER Group's Video 06 and was profiled in the November 2005 issue of EventDV.
We spoke with Durkin just as football season was getting underway. She said the phone had been ringing off the hook. "It rings all year long for sports videos, but our best time is the football season, when we make the most money in ten weeks." According to Durkin, the New Jersey Intercollegiate Sports Association requires that every high school team videotape its football games and send the tapes to schools that it will play against later in the season. Some coaches try to videotape the games on their own, while other schools use Durkin or other professionals. Her company recently added two additional schools to its roster of regulars after coaches expressed disappointment with tapes shot by amateurs.
On the other side of the country, operating out of a storefront studio in one of San Francisco's affluent suburbs, Simply Interactive's Rusty Worden provides multicamera sports videography in addition to documenting weddings and other events.
He manages a staff of three full-time camera operators, two full-time editors, and twelve freelance videographers. When we spoke with him, he had contracted with six families from two high school football teams to make highlights DVDs for the current season.
Worden says his company has videotaped at most of the high schools in the Bay Area, and he works hard at developing good relationships with the coaches. They help him maintain confidentiality so other parents don't know which students his crew is recording.
Jay Wren of Denver-based Wren Video Services produces an end-of-year photo montage that he shows at the team's awards banquet. He uses Canopus Imaginate to produce the montage and create pans and zooms that he puts together with fast-paced music suitable for sports. Each team gets about 30 photos cut to a single song. He uses the school's projector to display the show and sells DVDs to the parents.
The other product that Wren produces is a DVD package for parents to send to college recruiters. He gets footage from the high school coaches and creates three-chapter DVDs, including a two to three-minute highlights chapter, one half of one game, and one half of another game.
Wren got started shooting sports videos when his own son was playing high school football. He attended booster club meetings and asked if he could announce his video services there, and he bought ads in the club's publications to support its fundraising efforts. Wren advises that the time to start producing recruiting videos is in the students' junior year.
You don't have to videotape high school football games only for the money. Keith Rhodes of South Carolina-based outfit Creative Video Productions (not to be confused with Brett Culp's Tampa, Florida-based CVP) videotapes homecoming games, playoffs, and contests with certain rival teams for his alma mater. "I do it because I love it," says Rhodes. "I was in the first graduating class of the school, and I want to help them maintain an archive of their events."
In addition to being an alumnus, Rhodes also helped the school design and purchase its field PA system. He lends the referee his wireless mic and feeds that signal into the PA system so all can hear. The PA is loud enough that during videotaping, Rhodes gets clear audio with only his camera-mounted mic.
Tracy Painter added school sports videos to his company's repertoire when he learned that his local high school's booster club had $20,000, drawn from donations from parents, in a rolling account. He took out an ad in the program sold at the team's Friday night games and also purchased ad space in the local newspaper's sports section. During his WEVA seminar, Painter recommended that the enterprising videographer arrive at a game an hour early, visit the concession stand, and ask to be introduced to the booster club contact person there. When making a pitch, the videographer should explain that coaches like professionally shot videos and how parents benefit with athletic scholarships for their kids.
Worden says his single best marketing technique is to provide excellent customer service. The first year his company produced sports videos he had only one client, the parents of a girl playing lacrosse. He worked closely with the coach and parents to show the student's best performance. Those parents told other parents, and the next year Worden had two clients. One was the family of a boy who played both lacrosse and football at a different school. Once he got in with the football crowd, referrals multiplied. The third year it was three schools and six students whose parents hired him to make recruiting DVDs. Worden says sports videography has boosted his company's revenues by 25%.
His preproduction planning includes speaking with the coaches and parents so that the video can focus on the strengths of the individual student. He gives the unedited MiniDV tapes of the game to the parents so they can select the plays they want to show. If the parents don't have a MiniDV camcorder, he lends them one.
The three to five-minute highlight chapters include fun effects like fast motion, shakes, and rumbles. His editors add text to highlight certain plays and intersperse graphics of players' stats between the plays. The DVD also includes complete games with chapter markers so the coaches can navigate through the discs.
Worden's relationship with his local school pays off when he is able to book the field for what he calls "portrait-style" shots. These are shots of the student running, throwing, catching, and demonstrating moves that highlight his particular skills. Worden includes some fun shots on the field, rack-focus shots of the scoreboard, and the student's on-camera presentation where he talks about his love of the sport and what else he wants to do with his life.
Worden believes that videographers should give back to their communities. An alumnus of Menlo-Atherton High School, he donated video production services for the school's dedication ceremony when the field was named after his own high school coach, Ben Parks. Worden also provided footage for a documentary about Parks's life.
Referrals from coaches and parents comprise the bulk of Durkin's new sports video business, but other prospective clients find her company when searching the internet. Her website, like Worden's, has pages devoted to sports videography.
Durkin says it all started for her when D-Vision began duplicating game tapes shot by a local school and used as gifts to seniors. She recognized a need, since the parent-shot videos were shaky and hard to watch. Once she started producing highlight versions and shooting games herself, the market niche blossomed.
Kids would play one sport that her company videotaped, then they would move to a different sport in the next season, or their siblings would start playing. This creates what Durkin calls a "marketing chain." This marketing chain includes not just families, but also coaches who took jobs with different schools and brought Durkin's team on board. Every sport needs highlight tapes, and according to Durkin, D-Vision Video has a virtual monopoly on school sports in Morris County, New Jersey.
There's no single, sure-fire way to shoot high school sports videos, of course, but all of the videographers we interviewed described techniques that work best for them.
The D-Vision Video videographer positions Camera 1 on a tripod in the press box, but is careful not to use audio from the camera-mounted mic there. Durkin explains that the coaches in the box sometimes get upset and can be heard cursing the kids. The videographer takes a long XLR cable with a hand mic, runs it out of the press box, and hangs it over the crowd. Camera 2, on the field, uses a shoe-mounted shotgun mic.
One concern when producing school football videos is that the coaches want to see entire formations so they can evaluate the plays. But the parents, for their recruiting highlight videos, want to see tighter shots of touchdowns, receptions, interceptions, and good passes. Even though the parents' booster clubs pay for the video productions, ultimately it's the coaches who call the shots.
One word of advice from Durkin: use videographers who know the sport. D-Vision Video has hired former ESPN and Philadelphia Eagles' shooters. A sports videographer can better predict when the quarterback is going to throw the ball or run with it and can relate to the coaches in the press box, talk with parents about the plays, and share in the excitement of a winning team.
Another consideration for wedding videographers is that while most games occur on Friday nights, some are played on Saturday afternoons. That's one reason why Rhodes says he videotapes only select games. He shoots weddings nearly every Saturday, and rehearsals could interfere with Friday evening games.
Rhodes performs very minimal editing: he adds titles and edits in shots of the scoreboard. Rhodes's in-camera editing techniques include starting his camera five to six seconds before each play and running it another few seconds at the end of the play. He positions his camera on the field at the sideline, and when it looks like a team is going to score, he moves behind the goalpost. Rhodes says he has a good relationship with the coach but still always asks his permission before positioning the camera. He can go anywhere, as long as he stays off the field. But he does enter the field for the coin toss.
The crew at Worden's Simply Interactive uses Canon XL2 camcorders for day games and Sony PD 170s for evenings. They record to portable hard drives to help speed the editing process. That usually takes three to four hours of editing time on a Final Cut Pro system, Worden says. Parents get game DVDs in two days.
When Simply Interactive has only one student to cover, Worden places a single camera in the bleachers. If two or more parents have contracted for videography of the same game, he sends out two cameras. The second camera is located at field level. That camera operator will try to go tight to a dramatic shot of the action but pulls back to track the ball.
At his WEVA Expo seminar, Painter said he shoots from the press box when possible, but will set up at the top of the stands if need be. Painter described one school's press box that was designed with tiny windows—too small to pan the camera. Positioning a tripod over bleachers can be tricky. He uses a single camera for most of his shoots, but for the times when he needs a second camera, that one gets positioned on the field.
Painter recommends that you purchase a camera cover so you can shoot in inclement weather. A warm jacket and insulated socks for yourself will help during those frosty Friday nights. To facilitate fast editing, Painter, like Worden, records directly to a portable hard drive recorder.
Painter says he edits his footage the next day so he doesn't end up with a backlog of footage at the end of the season. He creates separate scenes with their own title pages for kickoffs, rushes, touchdowns, and punts. He uses Digital Juice sports backgrounds for added impact on the title pages, and he adds exciting music to finish the package.
To add even more value and interest, Painter creates a video montage opening and uses it as a template for several highlights DVDs. He gets a low-angle shot of the players running onto the field and sometimes includes still photos for a "memories" segment.
When possible, he shoots practices and team warm-ups; that enables him to add shots of the kids who the coaches don't play as frequently. Another value-added segment is team introductions; each kid runs up to the camera and states his name and position.
When Painter shoots interview segments, he asks the kids such specific questions as "What was your most memorable moment?" "Who would you like to thank?" and "Any advice you would like to give other players?" To give the DVDs dramatic endings, he includes slow-motion footage that includes all the kids.
When the team banquet rolls around, Painter compiles his pre-edited footage into a highlights DVD that he projects at the event. Sometimes he adds baby photos to the current footage of the players.
On his highlights DVDs, Wren keeps the athlete's name and number on-screen constantly, as a lower-third key at 50% transparency. Sometimes it is really at the lower eighth of the screen to allow more room to see the plays. To point out a player running on the field, Wren uses a Canopus motion-control filter to frame a box or a circle highlighting the athlete.
Each DVD gets a title at head and tail with name, email address, and other information such as awards the student earned or that he was named captain of the team. In the menu, Wren indicates the running times of each of the chapters—a technique to encourage busy viewers to watch the DVD.
He prints a photo label on the disc showing the athlete in a football pose, and also adds contact information. He packages them in clear, slimline DVD boxes.
Interview Segments and Narration
To demonstrate the punting skill of a junior college student on a highlights DVD designed to help the player get a scholarship to a four-year school, Wren scheduled the use of the stadium during off-hours. He placed his camera in the press box and set up shots of the student punting. He put a wireless mic on the student so he could narrate his own action. In the edit room, Wren created CG keys that showed release times and hang times.
On the highlight DVDs Wren produces, he adds interview segments where the students talk to the camera—and not just about sports but about their other interests as well. For example, Wren recalls one female athlete who used the interview portion of the video to discuss her aspirations to go to beauty school.
Contracts and Pricing
Painter recommends that you draw up a clear contract and have a single individual be your liaison with each school. He shoots all ten games the school team plays and charges $125 per game, in addition to a $500 production fee that covers basic editing. Specific-game editing costs an additional $80, and filming a practice or interview is $125 more. He brings a VHS VCR on site and runs off a quick copy after the game for the coach. Anachronistic as that seems, Painter explains that most schools in his district still don't have DVD players.
Parents can purchase DVD copies of all ten games for $80 total. Painter just breaks even with these dubs, but it gives him a foot in the door with parents who may want a highlight DVD for their own children. He usually charges each family an additional $150 to edit and produce an individual highlight DVD. An added source of income is the $250 he charges the school to project the school highlight DVD at the end-of-season banquet.
Rhodes does not charge the school for the game tapes, but he does charge parents $20 per DVD when they ask for one. On some occasions, Rhodes has edited parent-shot football footage into a highlights DVD for a particular player. He charges his standard editing fee for that. When one family asked Rhodes to videotape a game against a rival team so the player's older brother serving in Iraq could see it, Rhodes happily complied at no charge.
Worden's Simply Interactive videotapes all ten regular-season games and puts in over 90 hours of production and postproduction time per team. Parents pay between $6,500 and $7,750 for ten copies of a DVD that includes highly polished highlights, portrait-style shots, and complete games. These rates may be higher than in other regions, considering the higher cost of living in the San Francisco Bay Area, and particularly in the upscale suburban area where Simply Interactive is located.
Durkin's D-Vision Video offers three different sports video services. When shooting a game from the press box for the coaches or parents, Durkin charges the school booster club or team $250-300 per game. Parents pay her company $15 for a DVD of unedited game footage.
For a two-camera shoot, Durkin places one camera in the press box and a second camera on the field, as described earlier. The field camera gets dramatic "in your face" shots following players on the field, scenes in the locker room and warm-ups—adding another $250 to the budget. This dynamic footage adds to the excitement of the highlights video she produces for the end-of-season banquet. The budget for editing that is $1,500-3,000.
Another product that D-Vision Video provides is a recruiting DVD for college scholarships. These DVDs include game footage that D-Vision has shot or that parents provide. Sometimes the company gets hired by parents from a school that it doesn't even shoot for. When a team has a better season, there is more video footage to work with. The rate is $250-300 for the shoot, plus another $500 for editing. Parents make the edit decisions.
Last year one of D-Vision Video's client schools won the state championship. Including post-season videography, adding photo montage production, and videotaping the banquet, D-Vision took in $18,000 that season.
For any videographer accustomed to the lull that follows the summertime wedding season, that's an eye-popping post-season bonus.
Stuart Sweetow (email@example.com) runs Oakland, CA video production company Audio Visual Consultants. He taught video production at UC Berkeley Extension, was associate editor of Wedding and Event Videography, and is a contributing editor to Camcorder & ComputerVideo magazine.