As many shows and productions across the country are adjusting to new norms during the pandemic, College GameDay has created a new way for fans to continue to be a part of the show each week by launching a Virtual Pit (there have been more than 5,000 sign-ups in less than 24 hours).
The show’s tradition and fabric was built on big crowds, high energy, and great signs – components that ESPN hopes to continue capturing and highlighting on screens everywhere.
Managing producer Lindsey Lloyd and sports marketing associate manager Alexa Dettelbach, among others, were integral in the creation and launch of this unique opportunity, in conjunction with Ross Production Services.
They shared some insight into the making of this virtual experience.
How did the idea to have virtual fans this season come together?
Dettelbach: With coronavirus an obvious concern for getting fans to the show in a traditional fashion, we wanted to figure out a model for fans to join the show virtually no matter the circumstances of the virus or the sport. This was a multi-month project figuring out how we could first get fans to the show. Secondly, how could we make it an engaging and rewarding experience in the same way attending College GameDay on a college campus is?
Lloyd:: There is one factor that separates our broadcast – our fans. The signs, mud dives, surprise proposals, and beyond are all those moments we simply cannot live without. Following the success of the virtual NFL Draft, we quickly recognized we needed to find a way to keep our fans integrated into the broadcast. We wanted to make it our own and figure out how we could control everything from recruitment to execution.
What technology/innovation contributed to the project?
Lloyd: This initiative was fully customized at every step. We had a concept in our minds of how we wanted the system to function, but this was brand new territory. We have all seen different iterations of virtual fan feed integrations, but the leagues (NFL, NBA, etc.) have maintained those. We wanted to detail the creative from design to how fans were filtered, and that required finding the right partner to execute. Our third-party provider, Ross Production Services, developed a production portal that has allowed us to have hundreds of fans join live on a weekly basis.
College football fans are integral to the College GameDay experience. They are what make GameDay more than a pregame show. Having them be part of the broadcast virtually this year lets us reach fans from all 50 states and every football program.
– Alexa Dettelbach, ESPN Sports Marketing, associate manager
Why was it important to have fans be a part of the show from home?
Dettelbach: College football fans are integral to the College GameDay experience. They are what make GameDay more than a pregame show. Having them be part of the broadcast virtually this year lets us reach fans from all 50 states and every football program. We are opening this up to over 750+ schools across Division I, D-II, D-III & FCS (whether their team is scheduled to play this fall or not). GameDay is the home of “College Football Nation” at large no matter the circumstances of each program’s season.
What other changes were made to keep the tradition and energy of College GameDay?
Dettelbach: Bringing fans virtually to College GameDay allows us to keep the show traditions alive. We will have fans sharing their signs each week in the virtual fan environment; and on social, we will showcase our super fans – and as a bonus, their fan caves; we will have Washington State fans and Ol’ Crimson in the crowd.
I have never taken part or witnessed an initiative of this magnitude come to life. More importantly, to see the collaborative efforts from so many different groups, internally and externally, that took pride in seeing through every step. – Lindsey Lloyd, managing producer
Lloyd We turned Coach Corso’s [CGD analyst Lee Corso] backyard into a mini GameDay set. His headgear selection is the pinnacle of our show, and just like our fans, we were challenged to reimagine how to incorporate and elevate his role. All I can say further is, stay tuned for headgear selections like you’ve never witnessed before.
Corso … Pool … Sounds like College GameDay!!
College GameDay will, of course, still have its guest pickers and other surprises along the way for fans to keep everyone guessing and make the show just as memorable as ever. I have never taken part or witnessed an initiative of this magnitude come to life. More importantly, to see the collaborative efforts from so many different groups, internally and externally, that took pride in seeing through every step.