How Fox Sports uses college students for an R&D lab

Fox Sports is going back to school with Fox Sports University.

The program counts 39 universities as partners including USC, Syracuse and Northwestern. Media rights partners including college conferences and pro-sports organizations like NASCAR and the U.S. Golf Association also work with the program. It is a relatively small team with two people overseeing the program. But the team shepherds roughly 39 projects a year — usually one with each partner school — and receives assistance from other Fox Sports departments depending on the nature of the project involved.

For instance, earlier this year, students from the University of South Florida’s sports management program were tasked with developing a multiplatform marketing strategy to get people to watch Tampa Bay Rays games on the Fox Sports Go mobile video app. This required participation from the team that oversees the Fox Sports Go app as well as executives at the Fox Sports Florida and Sun regional sports networks. The team of students with the winning pitch was on hand when Fox Sports shot their creative, which involved Rays players and Fox Sports on-air talent and aired on Fox Sports Sun during the second half of the 2016 season.

“The program gives us all a front-row seat to how [college students] work and interact with media,” said Molly Stires, manager of marketing and strategic partnerships at Fox Sports. “This is the challenge that we and many of our peers face today.”

Bonus: It’s a recruiting tool. To date, Fox Sports has hired 15 full-time employees and more than 50 interns who have completed the program.

Fox Sports University is currently working with students at Arizona State University and St. John’s University to develop strategies for how Fox Sports can use virtual reality and 360-degree videos in live sports. ASU J-school students are focusing on how to bring VR to college football and, specifically, to the Pac-12 Championship Game, which Fox Sports will broadcast. St. John’s sports management majors are focusing on college basketball and the Big East tournament. Working with the Fox Sports Lab group, Fox equipped students at both universities with Samsung 360 cameras to shoot videos that highlight their concepts.

“Let’s go to the source and ask these students directly, ‘What type of VR and 360-degree video will get you to stop scrolling down the Facebook feed?’” said Stires. “A lot of what they’re focusing on is the on-campus experience on game day — tailgates, the press box, the locker room.”

Participating Fox Sports executives visit the classrooms multiple times during the semester and readily hand out their contact info. More recently, the program has included an internal surveying software which asks students to fill out what kind of career paths they want to pursue in an effort to match them when openings do become available.

“These students have spent more time working with our data and resources than other applicants who haven’t gone through the program. It gives them a leg up,” Stires said. “It’s also a testament to the value the company places in this program.”

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