WCC Embraces New Media As Its Basketball Profile Rises

Posted by rtmsf on November 2nd, 2011

Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.

When you’re smaller and lesser-known than the competition you’ve got to do things differently from them – and preferably smarter.

That’s been the operating philosophy of Jamie Zaninovich in his four years as commissioner of the West Coast Conference, a basketball-first league of faith-based institutions with no pretense of BCS connections. It showed in the contract Zaninovich negotiated with ESPN in one of his first acts as commissioner to bring WCC games to a wider audience than the mighty Pac-12.  It worked last August when Zaninovich snuck in under the radar and convinced Brigham Young University to leave the Mountain West Conference and play all sports outside of football in the WCC. (Granted, BYU’s inclusion in the WCC might be short-lived as the Cougars’ infatuation with membership in the Big 12 continues even though the Big 12 apparently doesn’t return the affection. For now, though, Zaninovich has seen his conference rise to seventh place among Division I basketball leagues according to CBSSports.com analyst Jeff Goodman.)

Jamie Zaninovich's Progressive Ideas Are Pushing the WCC to New Heights

Zaninovich’s flair for innovation manifested itself again last week when the WCC held a groundbreaking Media Day. Rather than the dreary non-event most conferences schedule once a year to allow coaches to make their pre-season predictions, the WCC’s event was all about new media and new ways to reach the public. For starters, the conference took advantage of its high-tech neighborhood and staged the event at the headquarters of growing media giant YouTube, which counts some 450 million monthly viewers. Chew over that figure a second and then compare it with the few millions that the biggest traditional media outlets brag about.

YouTube is just down the street from the WCC headquarters in San Bruno, a sleepy town on the San Francisco Peninsula twenty-five miles from SF but on the cusp of Silicon Valley. With that proximity and YouTube’s massive audience, it just made sense to Zaninovich and his media-savvy staff to join forces. They cooked up a fast-moving day involving live, interactive interviews with all nine WCC coaches, including questions asked by WCC fans utilizing Facebook, Twitter, email and any other electronic medium. While one coach’s interview was being broadcast live over YouTube, media in attendance were grilling the other coaches where they sat in a horseshoe-shaped conference room. Cameras rolled, notebooks opened and the event had an active, spontaneous feel that engaged all participants.

“The days of the dais are over,” remarked WCC Associate Commissioner Scott Leykam. “This is so much better.” Leykam said the WCC was the first conference in history to utilize YouTube in its media day activities, and Zaninovich followed up on that by announcing a “digital content partnership” with YouTube that will undoubtedly feature a lot of streaming video from the campuses of Gonzaga, BYU, Saint Mary’s and other member schools in the upcoming year. “YouTube is very invested in live streaming video,” Zaninovich explained, planning a big splash at the 2012 Olympics in London. The WCC will be kind of a guinea pig for the company, which will stream the WCC championship game next March, as well as “shoulder content” from this season’s games – behind-the-scenes activities.

The WCC Coaches Gathered at YouTube Last Week (AP)

While he was on the subject of contracts, Zaninovich also revealed that the WCC and ESPN recently concluded negotiations on an eight-year agreement that will bring seventeen conference and ten non-conference games annually to regional and national ESPN markets. Combined with pending agreements with cable providers Comcast and Cox, Fox and BYUtv, the WCC will have some seventy per cent of its games televised regionally or nationally.

“It’s the best TV package of any basketball conference in the country,” Zaninovich announced casually. Note he didn’t say the best non-BCS package, but the best basketball package, period. That’s the kind of statement Zaninovich has been making more and more as his influence deepens and his conference’s stock keeps rising.

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