This is the second in a three-part series about how a blog can move beyond the internet and onto a weekly television series. Read Part 1 here.
In addition to Blog Talk TV, Bess Auer also started a website that focuses on competitive swimming. Her husband Joe, known online as SwimmerJoe, is a swim coach and her son a competitive swimmer, so it makes sense that she would write about a sport that consumes so much of her family’s life.
Florida Swim Network was founded in 2011, just as the fervor for Michael Phelps and the London Olympics began to ramp up. Florida is one of the biggest states for swimming, having hundreds of private swim clubs, many of which have hundreds of team members. They are avid athletes who take the mantra “Swim, eat, sleep, repeat” very seriously.
The blog caught on quickly, as it was the first of its kind to shine a spotlight on Florida’s swimmers ranging from 10-and-unders through high school, college, and Olympians. With the addition of contributors like Sharon Robb, a sports journalist in South Florida, and Michael Lyn, an amazing photographer, people came to view Florida Swim Network as a valuable source.
Pro swimmers from all over the world come to the Sunshine State to train under the elite coaches stationed here, so although Florida Swim Network is just a regional blog, it has gained a worldwide readership with an average of more than 38,000 unique monthly readers and 100,000+ views a month.
The Addition of Live Streaming
Like all bloggers, Bess was looking for additional ways to to provide engaging content, so Joe suggested she experiment with live streaming at a swim meet where Ryan Lochte was competing. Word spread quickly on deck among the coaches and swimmers, and suddenly they were all texting their friends and family to tune in. The built-in chat room allowed the viewers to ask Bess questions about what was happening on deck, and she answered them via the microphone. She immediately saw this as a way to further build the Florida Swim Network community.
Soon, she was being asked to live stream other swim meets, and so the Auers invested in cameras, switchers, and other streaming equipment. A swim parent named David Van Buskirk offered to bring his experience as a sports commentator to the live streams, along with another swim parent, Mike Kennedy, and so a true broadcast team was born.
But the thing that made the live streams so popular was although team treated it as a professional broadcast, they still kept it interactive with the chat room. This led to an average of 2,000 views per live stream, and on a broadcast day, Florida Swim Network can get up to 10,000 page views that day.
University of Florida Takes Notice
Gregg Troy, former Olympic coach and current head coach at the University of Florida, was impressed with the way Florida Swim Network was connecting with their readers via the live stream, and so he invited them to live stream a Gator home swim meet.
Fans from as far away as New Zealand, Ireland, and Italy tuned in and chatted, including Olympian Sebastian Rousseau’s parents back in South Africa. His mother Vanessa would even ask the cameras to get a close shot of her son, since he was in school so far away from her. The viewership numbers impressed the university, and so they booked Florida Swim Network for the next season. This in turn led to their broadcasts occasionally being picked up and shown on the SEC Network and watchESPN.
The High School Dilemma
Armed with this broadcast experience, Florida Swim Network approached the FHSAA about streaming the high school state meets. Unfortunately they were turned down as the FHSAA had already signed a multi-year contract with Play On Sports to stream all of their different high school sports championships.
So, after a bit of brainstorming, Bess contacted her Blog Talk TV production company Concrete Lion Pictures to see about doing an in-studio, ESPN-style pre and post-show for the state meet instead. Wanting it to be even more authentic for their fans, they asked local high school coaches to host alongside David and Joe. And for extra legitimacy, they added in Sid Cassidy, a world-renowned swim coach, as a regular host. Florida Swim Network live streamed the two broadcasts while Concrete Lion Pictures recorded them to tape.
Bright House covers local high school sports and had used Joe as a special guest for swimming in a previous season, so he contacted them to see if they wanted to air the two shows. Bright House reviewed the content, and saw it was already packaged and TV-ready, so they acquired it. (You can still find replays of that post-show at odd hours on the network.)
Pitch for a Weekly Show
Response to the show was positive so Joe followed up to see if Bright House Sports Network would be interested in a weekly show dedicated to competitive swimming. Although the high school season was over, club swimming is year-round and with the Olympic year coming up, there would be plenty of interest in swimming. Plus, Florida is home to more than 30 swimmers who will probably be representing their respective countries at the Rio Olympics, and some of them are high schoolers.
Proving there were plenty of topics relevant to viewers in Florida and already having a strong first showing, Bright House agreed and began negotiating a contract for 20 episodes of “On Deck with Florida Swim Network” which will air once a week through the 2015-16 high school swim season.
Creating the Show on a Budget
Once the television show was landed, Florida Swim Network then had the task of not only creating “On Deck” in conjunction with Concrete Lion Pictures, but also finding a logo, designing a mobile set to go poolside, and getting coaches as guests and footage of swimmers from around the state. And all of it had to be done on an extreme economy budget, as no sponsorships had yet been sold!
Fellow blogger and graphic designer Justice Mitchell graciously agreed to design several logos, and then Bess put them on social media and had the Florida Swim Network’s fans give feedback and vote on the one they liked best.
Designing a Set
This is where Concrete Lion Pictures excels. They know what looks best on camera, and how to build it affordably! They acquired a second-hand broadcast desk and then used a large monitor to display the winning logo.
Shooting the Episodes
They decided to shoot several episodes at once, just like they do with Blog Talk TV. However, there was no budget to bring in the many coaches and athletes from around the state. Joe suggested they film in conjunction with a big swim meet, when coaches would already be in town.
So at a recent swim meet at the Y of Central Florida, the cameras and desk were set up poolside, and they brought in coaches one after another to shoot several episodes at once. Even NBC commentator and Olympic Gold Medalist Rowdy Gaines joined in the fun, doing a special promo:
And as a marketing bonus, the production created quite a buzz on deck as swimmers arriving for the meet wondered what was being filmed.
For additional segments, Concrete Lion Pictures brought in individuals like former collegiate swimmer Kaitlin Frehling and Dr. Bradd Burkhart to shoot in front of their own green screen. Meanwhile Ryan Rosenbaum, a former Gator swimmer who is majoring in broadcasting, was able to get footage of swimmers and coaches in South Florida.
Promoting the Show
They decided to promote “On Deck with Florida Swim Network” using the social media channels that had helped land the show in the first place. So, grabbing an iPhone, they headed out to the teams themselves.
Coaches and swimmers were more than willing to ham it up for the camera in a series of commercials similar to the ESPN ones where the athletes are “working” in the ESPN offices. Posting to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, the promos went over well because it was the swimmers and coaches themselves starring them.
In this manner production of “On Deck with Florida Swim Network” truly became a product built by their community of fans, just like any blog. It is the readers’ hunger for more content and their willingness to provide support that makes it successful.
“On Deck with Florida Swim Network” has its premiere this Saturday, July 22, at 2 pm on Bright House Sports News.
Stay Tuned for Part 3
In the final post of this series, we’ll review the things Blog Talk TV and Florida Swim Network had in common when working to land a television show. We’ll also list the take-aways that you can apply to your blog if growing from the monitor to the small screen is an ultimate goal for you.