SBJ/February 13-19, 2017/Colleges

Court projection video carries Florida’s ‘Swamp’ theme indoors

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Editor’s note: This story is revised from the print edition.

When University of Florida fans refer to “The Swamp,” they’re usually talking about the Gators’ football field.

But last week, thanks to a new court projection video, Florida turned the basketball playing surface inside Exactech Arena into a swamp. With four Christie Roadster projectors displaying a video on the court during pregame against Kentucky, animated gators came to life, fire sizzled across the court and championship banners unfurled from sideline to sideline.

“We knew the crowd reaction would be good, but it was better than we ever imagined,” said Alicia Longworth, Florida’s assistant athletic director for marketing and promotions. “It was so loud in there.”

The court projection video lasted just 65 seconds prior to player introductions, but the energy inside the arena never dissipated in the Gators’ punishing 88-66 win over their SEC rival.

The projection video shows the Gators’
national championship banners on the court.
Photo by: UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA


Longworth had seen court projections at NHL and NBA games before, so she knew the effect it had on pumping up the crowd, while also entertaining fans. She had wanted to try something like that at a Florida game for the past three seasons, but it’s not cheap. Finding the money was an obstacle.

It costs $25,000 to rent and mount the projectors and another $10,000 in fees for the creative work on the video. Longworth said it would cost $250,000 to $300,000 to buy the projectors and have them installed, which is the long-term goal.

“This is going to be the next big thing,” she said. “You know how, 10 to 15 years ago, people were just starting to put in video boards. Well, 15 years from now, everybody’s going to have these projectors.”

Longworth secured the funding for the Kentucky game through a grant from the school. Florida a few years ago established an innovation committee as a way to spark creative thinking. The committee sets aside money each year to fund the best ideas, and Longworth’s marketing and promotions team won it last year.

Through a referral, Longworth found a company in Orlando called ON Services, which primarily creates projection videos for trade shows but is trying to get more into sports. Longworth worked with ON Service’s creative director, David Coalter, and the director of new business development, Lee Torregrossa, since last fall to be ready for the Kentucky game.

In the week leading up to the game, several campus and athletic events occupied the arena, compressing the amount of time ON Services had to install the projectors (four primary and four backups) and prepare the video. It wasn’t until the day before the Kentucky game that a staff of 10 Florida employees saw the video projected onto the court for the first time.

Within 24 hours after the game, Longworth had heard from a half-dozen of her peers at other schools. By the next day, she had taken close to 20 calls from other collegiate marketers.

Florida’s social media team, meanwhile, flooded its social channels with video of the court projection. Less than 48 hours after the game, the video had 600,000 views on Facebook and 1,500 retweets on Twitter.

“We’re all trying to provide a unique setting for our teams, our fans and our students,” Longworth said. “Especially with the element of surprise … nobody knew it was coming.”

Florida has no immediate plans to do it again because of the cost, though the arrangement with ON Services allows the school to own the video and re-use it. The Gators’ long-range thinking is to buy projectors that could be used for all events in the arena, not just basketball.

“If we find the money to do it again, we’d love to,” Longworth said.

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