Charles Bloom remembers the mid-1980s, when he was a young assistant sports information director at South Carolina. Each week would write, he said, “one-page features on a kid from Sumter or Spartanburg, and then send it to the kid’s hometown paper saying, ‘Please run this.’ ”
That, he suggested with a laugh, often felt like stuffing the release into a bottle and tossing it into the ocean, hoping someone might read it … someday.
These days Bloom, now USC’s senior associate athletics director for external affairs, is tasked with having his department do some of the work once left to those mainstream media. By telling more of the Gamecocks’ stories in greater detail, he said, the plan is to do it better.
The newest vehicle for that is “Gamecock Insider,” a weekly half-hour TV show that debuts Sunday at 11:30 a.m. on Fox Sports Southeast (Time Warner channel 21, DirecTV channel 649, AT&T U-verse 729). Several years in the planning, the program replaces USC’s coaches’ shows, not just for men’s and women’s basketball, but year-round, including during football season.
Instead of a traditional coach-discusses-games-and-shows-video-highlights structure, “Insider” will present a multi-sport “magazine” format. The inaugural episode will have basketball updates from coaches Frank Martin and Dawn Staley – but also stories on football player Pharoh Cooper, the USC softball team, USC’s military salute during The Citadel football game, women’s basketball player Asia Dozier and the men’s team’s freshman class.
The goal, Bloom said, is to make “Insider” timely and diverse – and watchable, unlike too many “stale” coaches’ shows.
“We’d had the feeling for several years that with (ESPN’s) SportsCenter and GameDay and the Internet, you’re able to watch highlights online, on your phone, any time you want,” Bloom said.
And, he added, “we’ve put together some tremendous feature stories in the past couple of years, and we thought a magazine show highlighting those stories would be a tremendous benefit for us and our fans.”
“Insider,” as well as the athletics department’s website and social media operations, are more inclined and have the latitude to tell an interesting story about a swimmer, tennis player or track athlete – so long as they are USC athletes.
USC isn’t alone. Two years ago, Clemson endured a brief furor after a newspaper ran an athletics department memo stating that Clemson’s sports information department would no longer have as its focus “to help the media do its job.” Joe Galbraith, Clemson’s assistant athletics director for communications, later conceded the memo was poorly worded, saying the message was that Clemson now must take responsibility to tell its athletes’ stories.
That’s USC’s goal, too.
Hosting Sunday’s show will be Andy Demetra, radio voice of USC men’s basketball. Women’s radio anchor Brad Muller will share those duties. Gamecock Productions, a division of IMG Sports, is headed by Paul Danna and employs four full-time staff plus 12-15 USC students who edit, shoot video and do on-camera duty (another dozen or so students work locally for the SEC Network).
Those numbers give USC more manpower than any local TV station or radio station – without having to follow non-USC news.
“We want to take this half-hour and re-imagine it,” Demetra said. “Look at HBO, Showtime, (ESPN’s) ‘30 For 30’ – that’s the kind of storytelling we want, and it’ll serve fans a lot better than reheating highlights or asking the same questions from press conferences.”
Muller, described by Bloom as USC’s “storyteller,” writes for the department’s website in addition to his on-air duties.
“You’ll hear more than X’s and O’s, get more of a feeling about the athletes and coaches as individuals,” Muller said.
“I love a good feature, so it kills me that (Twitter’s) 140 characters is (the industry standard) now,” he said. “This is a great way to tell stories that (mainstream) media don’t have time to tell.”