Big East’s digital team tells the story of Villanova’s rise from conference champions to national title contenders

Conference also highlights UConn’s push for National Women’s Championship

Home to one of the top men’s basketball programs in the nation, Villanova University, the Big East Conference has been stymied by the Wildcats’ conquest all the way to the Final Four. Bouncing from New York to cover the team’s conference championship at the New Orleans bayou this weekend, the organization’s digital team handled a full plate of responsibilities. With that long to-do list comes an added twist: They also document UConn women’s basketball’s run to the title game against the University of South Carolina in Minneapolis.

“This is the 10th time we’ve had a team in the men’s and women’s Final Four, so that’s a big thing we want to amplify,” said Bobby Mullen, Senior Director, Digital and Social Media, Big East Conference. “We had to balance multiple teams across multiple venues which is a good problem to have.”

Nova in New Orleans: Social media content brings out player personalities

The Big East powerhouse that is Villanova evokes different feelings for different fans. Whether you love or hate the Wildcats, they’ve become a mainstay on the big scene over the past decade. To highlight this current team, the Big East aims to bring out the off-court personality of each of these players. One form of content is conducting intimate interviews with players after each game for organic, raw feedback. Another method is to poke fun at this long-held stereotype. For example, the conference caught up with main point guard Collin Gillespie to show off some of the mean tweets fans are saying about him:

“I think the perception around Villanova is that they’re very robotic,” says Mullen. “Shooting this funny moment from Collin was a really good idea.”

Along with these one-on-one player interactions, the social team previews the upcoming game against Kansas on Saturday night. Some of these posts focus on junior guard Justin Moore’s Achilles injury and how it will affect team play, what the return of New Orleans native Caleb Daniels means for him, and Moreover.

“We’re looking to tell the story of why this particular team is here,” Mullen adds. “They have become one of the standards of the sport, but we want to show the fans all the facets of Villanova Basketball.”

Fanta (left) and Mullen (right) interview Villanova head coach Jay Wright after practice Friday.

Since Villanova has now made three Final Fours in the past six years, the biggest challenge is coming up with new content ideas and diversifying how they distribute those messages. A lot of planning and brainstorming is required to generate original concepts. It also requires revisiting some of the posts they created in 2016 and 2018 — two years that ended with the Wildcats lifting the trophy. Because of their pedigree, the social team taps into their vast pool of alumni and connects them with active players on the roster for new material.

“Having our subscribers hear all of these stories shows the legacy of this program,” Mullen says. “Former players like Josh Hart and Allan Ray interact with the team all the time on Twitter, and it’s become a main platform for us.”

Keeping fans informed: Filming of the GRAND EAST Delivers Caesars Superdome quick hits

While the conference’s social media platforms are populated with various behind-the-scenes photos and videos, there is also a treasure trove of analysis and predictions. Filming of the GRAND EAST, the conference’s digital-only program that shines a light on the current state of basketball, reports live from New Orleans in a different form. In previous years, a large-scale presence was deployed for long-running episodes. This year, the crew is moving forward with a different approach to making their content more digestible.

“We saw that sold-out shows didn’t work the way we wanted this year,” Mullen says. “These single hits have done really well and we’re building our YouTube channel back with these videos.”

Play-by-play host and commentator John Fanta is leading those quick shots from all over the arena. Whether it’s a two-minute stand-up during Villanova training on Friday or an interview with Villanova head coach Jay Wright, it brings real-time updates of the action from New Orleans. Mullen and company mix and match the style of the show, but Fanta is the bread and butter of the team.

“We brought guests like [college basketball analyst] Andy Katz at regionals when we were in Chicago,” Mullen continued. “We want to have different perspectives, but a lot of the BIG East Shootaround the brand is John, and we want to capitalize on that.

Mullen relies on an on-site team in New Orleans. To the south it is joined by Senior Associate Commissioner, Sports Media Relations John Paquette; Assistant Commissioner, Men’s Basketball Operations Michael Coyne; Associate Executive Commissioner, Men’s Basketball Stu Jackson; and Senior Associate Commissioner, Broadcasting Rick Gentile. Offsite, shooter/editor Sebouh Majarian works on videos remotely. On the university side, Villanova AD/Marketing Assistant Jacob Whitten provides team photos and amplifies conference content by sharing it through the program’s social media channels.

Pulling Double Duty: Crew manages gear for Villanova men’s teams and UConn women’s teams

Collegiate conferences across the country love having a representative during the biggest weekend in college sports, but in the case of the Big East, it’s an anomaly that has two institutions in every edition of March Madness. As Mullen, Fanta and the New Orleans team pour their resources into Villanova, Coordinator, Creative Services Ben Piascik and Digital Correspondent Meghan Caffrey hold the fort for UConn at the Women’s Final Four in Minneapolis. Piascik also helps the New Orleans crew from his location. Even with UConn’s success of reaching the title match, the duo also detailed Cinderella’s story from No. 10 Creighton University to the Elite Eight.

Big East billboards congratulating UConn and Villanova are in Minneapolis and New Orleans, respectively. The social media strategy for the women’s tournament was almost identical to that of the men’s side, with post-match interviews with guests and chances to preview matches throughout the weekend. With UConn’s appeal attached to the most-watched women’s college basketball game in the nation, their coverage garnered a ton of views.

“If we post anything with a UConn women’s basketball player or coach Auriemma, it blows up,” Mullen says. “These are our most watched videos on YouTube.”

Prior to the playoffs, staff had to break down assignments at the two Big East Conference tournaments for multiple teams that competed in NCAA tournaments. With UConn Women’s winning the conference title, Caffrey and Piascik were put on their rhythm as they hosted the Bridgeport Regional. As for the other teams, it was a draw.

“We were hoping to have two teams in Buffalo or Pittsburgh since those are the two closest locations,” admits Mullen. “It turned out that we had two content pilots for the men’s tournament – ​​UConn and Providence – in Buffalo and we were only three hours away from Pittsburgh for Villanova’s first-round game.”

As time went on, the team split once more to follow Providence and Villanova into the men’s regionals. Big East Digital Network Broadcaster and Xavier graduate Paul Frischner traveled to San Antonio for the Wildcats with Whitten and Austin Yayer, video production intern at Villanova while Mullen and Fanta went to Chicago for the Brethren.

A meteoric rise: Big East reflects on short-term and long-term success

Seven years ago, in 2015, the Big East was in a completely different space than it is now. With the games being broadcast on linear television, the conference did not have a prime destination for ancillary content that will augment these live broadcasts. That was until Wright initially offered to start his own outlet in 2017. Kind and Commissioner Val Ackerman led the effort to make it a reality, and with the support of a National Championship winning coach and the Naismith Hall of Famer, Filming of the GRAND EAST was born. Now, the pipedream has become the conference’s go-to venue for die-hard Big East basketball fans.

“I really have a great team of rock stars,” Mullen says. “It was cool to see people liking and interacting with our content. It’s been really rewarding.

The Villanova University Wildcats will face the University of Kansas Jayhawks in the Men’s Final Four on Saturday, April 2 at 6:09 p.m. ET on TBS. The UConn Huskies will take on the University of South Carolina Gamecocks in the Women’s National Championship on Sunday, April 3 at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.

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