BGS Interview with Alan Wasielewski of ND Sports Properties, 2/22/07



BGS: Alan, thanks for taking the time to do this little chat with us. First, can you briefly explain your position and what your job is like?

Alan Wasielewski: My official title is 'Director of Digital Media' which is just another way to say that I take care of all the multimedia offerings on und.com. If it is audio or video, it crossed my desk before it showed up on the web site. My day-to-day schedule fluctuates greatly because of the weekend hours, late-night hours and different seasons. During football, it seemed I was in the office 24-7. The office in the Stadium is very nice, I have by far the best parking (since I get to drive into the concourse during the week), but since our office is immediately adjacent to the visitors locker room, I have to move operations out of my office on football Fridays and Saturdays, which you can imagine is a pain considering everything we produce on those two days.

Was the drastic increase in online multimedia (practice reports, pre/post game shows, pep rallies, etc...) available this year to ND fans a response to the capabilities of the revamped CSTV All-Access package or was ND already planning on developing a more robust online presence?

We were already planning to expand our offerings and I was already on board when CSTV Online decided to revamp their All-Access product. It was a difficult transition, because the new All-Access product was not going to be ready for the start of football practice. We had to make a choice - wait for the All-Access to be ready, but miss the preseason (not an option), or start the coverage but deal with the inevitable difficulties of switching mulitmedia platforms in the middle of the season.

This is perhaps the biggest question many ND fans have about the online content available at und.com . Notre Dame's All-Access offerings differ from nearly every other school partnered with CSTV in that it is free and does not require a monthly or annual subscription fee. Why did ND decide to go in this direction and can we expect the access to remain free for the foreseeable future?

There are absolutely no plans to charge for our product at this time. The fans will eventually decide where we go in that capacity. If they continue to watch our videos and the numbers continue to increase, then there is no need to even think about a subscription service. We view this as a service to our fans - and no one wants to pay a subscription fee. Nothing annoys me more than clicking on ESPN and finding that half of their content is hidden behind the 'Insider' wall.

Anything that is produced from our staff (this means that CSTV network broadcasts are separate, as they have different pay-per-view packages) will be free of charge on und.com this year, next year and many years in the future.

You do make a good point that people need to realize, however. The CSTV All-Access package was developed to service all of their schools in which they are partners with. To that end, we have to deal with the limiation of being one of the few schools involved that offer the product for free. You still need to sign in with an e-mail address and password because that is the way the system is designed to work for the other large percentage of schools that have a subscription service.

That also leads to the PC vs. Mac controversy. When CSTV set out to design their multimedia player, they had to make a decision on who to serve - the 85-90% of the computer community using PC-based machines or the 10-15% using a Mac. We all know which way they decided to go. We are in the middle of developing a Mac-friendly page that will have all of our content (save for the live streams) available for those Mac users. It should be fully up and running by the 2007 football season, possibly even sooner.

We noticed that Chevy was named as an official sponsor of the Sugar Bowl multimedia updates. Is this the type of business model that we can expect going forward in order to keep the All-Access content free to the fan?

Yes. Sponsorship deals like the Chevy package for the Sugar Bowl information is a key component to keeping All-Access free to our fans.

Are there any plans for future development of the available online multimedia content via All-Access? We've noticed that non-conference ND hoops games as well as home Olympic sports contests like hockey have been streamed live. Is there a movement to show more home games on UND.com?

The ultimate goal of Fighting Irish All-Access is to offer every available home game/event live on-line (video and audio) to our fans. What the time frame is for that goal has not been set yet, but we want to develop a broadband channel that turns into the ESPN for Irish Athletics. We also have an eventual goal of doing at least one interview/feature with every one of our student-athletes during his/her four years at the school. Fans need to realize, however, that if that ultimate goal is a 100-story building, we are in the sub-basement right now. We are trying to set a good foundation for the future, but also strive to do as much as possible right now.

The good news is that the BIG EAST and ESPN have a television contract next year that will allow und.com to broadcast all non-conference men's basketball home games that are not picked up by a television network. Instead of being limited to one broadcast this season, we can show any non-conference game that the networks decide not to pick up. We will also continue our home game coverage of women's basketball and hockey next year - and we have plans to cover a number of baseball, softball and lacrosse contests this spring.

With a spring game that is already drawing unparalleled interest and will likely shatter Blue-Gold game attendance records, have their been discussions to stream the game online or at the very least make it available for later viewing on und.com?

The decision to broadcast the Blue and Gold Game is held by the head football coach. In the past, it was always broadcast locally on television by WHME, but at some point, I can't remember if it was the end of the Davie Era or the beginning of Willingham, the coaching staff decided not to broadcast the game. As of this moment, there are no plans to stream the game live, or have it as a video archive (we will produce a highlight package). But, if access to the game changed, we could quickly turn around and make the game available. Of course we will be there will full coverage of the post-game, pre-game, etc. We also have practice coverage scheduled this spring as well.

With the new All-Access package still in it's first full year of use, what are some of the early results in terms of usage? Has there been a noticeable increase in the web activity and traffic to UND.com?

The football season was very good and the traffic numbers for the site are up, but they have been steadily increasing every year as more and more people spend time on-line. In October we peaked at about 7.8 million page views for the month and my personal goal I would like to see is 10 million. As for the All-Access product, since it was our first year we really did not do much marketing, as we wanted to make sure we could pull off everything that we want to. We did not want to promise fans a product that we could not produce. After one season, we know now what we can do, where we can go and we are ready to let Notre Dame fans know about it.

I think that the computer-savvy Irish fans out there know about the All-Access product and use it, but there are many more fans that probably do not know what we offer. For example, we had exclusive coverage of the hockey team when they took the ice ranked #1 for the first time - and while some people watched it, I can't imagine that more people would not have taken a look-in if they would have known that the game was on.

And for those fans that have not seen a live game stream from All-Access, I really believe they are missing out. We offer a three-camera feed with audio from the official radio play-by-play call - and each of our broadcasts continue to improve. It is not like you are going to be watching one camera just follow the ball/puck around.

Looking back on the football season, what part of the revamped access would you consider the biggest draw to the website? What hasn't worked as well as you had hoped?

Our biggest draw, in terms of live numbers are the pep rallies. They always have been and I think they always will be. When we were still a small operation in 2005 and we did the USC pep rally from Notre Dame Stadium with one camera, we had over 30,000 people watching that stream. Back then, the CSTV Online multimedia stream was part of the MLB.com family, and we easily outnumbered several baseball games that night. We had thousands of fans watch the pep rallies this season as well. Of course with new technology, it is a little sensitive and my biggest regret this year was that the pep rally footage with Paul Hornung was not archived correctly. ESPN and the local news ended up with it, but we didn't - I am still kicking myself about that.

Our biggest draw, in terms of day-to-day traffic is Coach Weis. His press conferences are events, I believe, and since I am at every one of them, I have learned more about football in the last two years than I ever knew before. When asked good questions, Coach Weis can hold your attention for 45 minutes and you don't even know that the time has passed. A lot of fans need to know that every time Coach Weis speaks, we have it on und.com. The Thursday night meetings after practice are usually the best, as Coach's feelings that night are usually a really good indication of how we are going to play that Saturday.

I think our pregame shows this year were great, but they did not find a big audience. We are going to continue to do them and continue to improve them. Once again, it might be something that the normal fan doesn't know about, but Jack Nolan, Mirko Jurkovic and Reggie Brooks break down the entire opposing team, offense, defense, special teams and give you a really good idea of what to look for at the games on Saturday (the show is posted on Thursday evening of each game week). I was really proud of the one from the Sugar Bowl, however, as we moved around town to different locations to give fans an idea of what New Orleans looked like, in addition to giving them a complete preview of the game.

The post game show worked out great and our numbers steadily increased over the year, save for the huge increase we saw for the Michigan game. I think a lot of Irish fans were shocked and just needed the therapy of listening to someone talk about the game to get over it. The post game show is also a great place to go for those that are at the home games. We are just outside of Gate 3 of the Joyce Center and, in addition to Jack, Mirko and Reggie going over the entire game, we run Coach Weis' post game comments in their entirety. If he speaks for 25 minutes, you will hear all 25 minutes uninterrupted. If you are still tailgating, grab your chairs and come over to listen to the show.

Finally, or two biggest videos from the year were my two favorite packages I put together - the Michigan State celebration on the field and the UCLA final drive. I filmed all the footage on the MSU celebration - and you can see that being a lifelong Irish fan, I was having just as much fun as the players on the field. I remember the exact moment, Lambert returns the interception and I realized we were going to win. I ran up the tunnel to set up for the post-game press conference and on a whim, grabbed the camera to head back down to the field. Nothing better than celebrating on another team's field, especially MSU's.

For the UCLA final drive package, everything came together well, I had the interviews and footage I needed to put together a great package. I also was really proud of my USC series retrospective and I intend to take it up a notch this year as well. Those packages take a lot of time to produce, however, so I did not get to do as many of them as I wanted. What did not work so well was the week-to-week tape studies. I think that the footage is compelling for hardcore football fans, but it is hard to translate the tape to a 400x300 screen. This fall, it might be more of a mix with television coverage and coaches film. I also really dropped the ball on podcasting this year - we were just too busy to turn around our events onto MP3 players, but we are going to make that a priority in 2007.

Getting back to CSTV for a second, ND is one of 165 Division I colleges partnered with the CBS owned company. However, notable universities like Florida and Texas are not so aligned and have decided to maintain their own, independent, web presence. Why has ND decided to work with CSTV as opposed to developing their own, unique website? What are the major benefits of such an alliance? What are the drawbacks?

One thing I can point out right away is that Florida and Texas have several people working on their web sites. At Notre Dame, it is me, Jack Nolan and a handful of student workers. Our assets are going to increase over the next several years and conditions could change, but right now our alignment with CSTV Online serves us the best. Their on-line editors are a dedicated bunch and und.com would not look as good as it does today without their help. CSTV's Kathleen Lopez deserves as much, if not more, credit than I do for the look and feel of our site. We are also planning on a re-design of the site over the summer to incorporate the new multimedia aspects better than they are right now.

Schools like Florida and Texas also have coach specific webpages for their head football coach. Has ND ever seriously considered designing and integrating a Charlie Weis specific website?

We have no plans to develop a Coach Weis web site at this time. But if the phone rang and the Irish football staff decided that they needed (or wanted) something like that, it would be done.

Along those lines, it's rather obvious that those sites are geared in no small part towards recruits; from their splashy flash intros, to pages describing the "family" aspects of the program, to coaching bios that highlight the number of players put into the NFL. When designing the ND football site, is there much thought put into how it affects recruiting or is the primary audience Notre Dame fans? Does Coach Weis have any input into the content on UND.com?

Our primary audience is Notre Dame fans. Recruiting is done by the football staff. If they need something changed on the site, then we go ahead and do it, but by a general rule, we do not orient our product toward recruiting - we are focused on the Notre Dame fans out there.

Switching from coaches to players for a second, Notre Dame's online push for Brady Quinn's Heisman campaign was rather muted when compared to interactive offerings like MattReggieTV by USC. Were the largely reserved public relations push for players like Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija a University decision or something that your office decided?

It is part of two things. One, we develop our special pages (Heisman Trophy, All-America pages, Hobey Baker candidate) in cooperation with Notre Dame Sports Information and traditionally (since I used to work in that office) they are conservative in their approach to national award candidate campaigns. Second, it goes back to the personnel issue, we have a tendency to develop pages that are functional, eye-catching, but also not difficult to keep updated. MattReggieTV probably had 6-10 people working on it from at all times, that is not something we are capable of at this time.

Keeping with the internet video theme, with the rise of YouTube & other internet outlets for self-publishing videos, we started a grass roots effort last year to catalog all the various game clips available on the internet. The result was the BGS Video Vault, a living repository for great plays of Notre Dame yore. It has been tremendously popular. Unfortunately, some of these clips are disappearing.

Just recently we've noticed YouTube pulling more and more videos at the request of Viacom and other rights holders. With the grass roots video vault being denuded, this seems like an opportunity for UND.com to get involved and host their own official video archive. The 1947 page on ND's archive site is a great start, but given the wealth of historical audio and video, not to mention archived photographs there seems to be the potential for a wonderful online resource for Irish fans. What do you think?

One problem that we run into with self-published video is the rights issue. Joe Fan out there can put together his own videos using NBC, ABC and ESPN footage, but we have to tread lightly in that direction. We have used NBC footage - along with the other networks - from time to time but only in small bits and pieces. If we were to host a page like the BGS vault, we would get in just as much trouble as the people at YouTube - eventually.

Fans need to understand that NBC holds the rights to home football broadcasts very close to their vest, and they should considering the amount of money that have paid for them. We were gearing up to do a live on-field pregame show this season, until NBC decided they were going to do the same thing. While NBC is a partner of the University - they are ultimately the rights holder to the home game footage, so it is up to them to determine how we use that footage and how much of it we can use.

One of my goals over the summer months is to make sure that we have a space on the site, easily reached, that holds our archive. Right now, everything we have ever produced is in the multimedia archive, but it takes a while to search through.

We have a very good relationship with the archive personnel at Notre Dame and will be producing more and more historical videos in the coming months and years. For a final answer, we are not looking to become a spot for self-published videos - even though some of them are very well done.

Great, thank you very much for your time and answers Alan. But before we let you go though, one last question. Sharpley, Jones, Frazer, or Clausen?

Oh man, I want to plead the fifth on this one. Can I stress that this is my own opinion and I have nothing to back it up? I think that if our offensive line comes together, it could be any of the four and Sharpley has the advantage of time in the system, while Clausen might have the most physcial tools of them all. If the offensive line has some problems, Jones might have the advantage with his ability to move around and avoid the rush.