Three-woman MocsVision team are major multitaskers on game days
by Chuck Wasserstrom
HHave you ever wondered how University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletic highlights wind up on shows like ESPN’s SportsCenter? Chalk it up to the MocsVision crew, the digital media services leg of the athletics department.
MocsVision personnel are behind- the- scenes game production workers. You never see them on camera, but they are very much a part of the face of UTC athletics. Comprised of Assistant Athletics Director-Digital Media Services Leah Gill, Production Director Tate Johnson and Production Specialist Abby Walker, they produce 65 broadcasts of Mocs Athletics events. They also create graphics, video pieces that appear on social media, podcasts and many other functions such as engineering, staffing and teaching. And that doesn’t include the grunt work of setting up, breaking down and moving equipment. “On a game day, I usually do about three jobs,” Walker says. “We’re all good at multitasking.”
This trio makes it easy for ESPN to take Mocs content and put it on air, bringing national and international exposure to UTC athletics. In a time when the University’s sports teams had limited numbers of fans in the stands due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more eyes have been watching the MocsVision group than ever before. “So much of what we do is practice and teamwork, just as a sports team does,” Gill says. “We always talk about things like, ‘That was a great broadcast; everything fired on all cylinders.’ And to do that, everybody has to do their job. Everything has to click.”
The Southern Conference’s ESPN package puts all production responsibilities on its schools, and all conference members have their own crews producing content for ESPN+, a streaming subscription service considered a complement to existing ESPN content. Usually, MocsVision can spread its 65-event content from mid-August to May. But thanks to the pandemic and the movement of most UTC fall sports to the spring, the bulk of Mocs events overlapped this year in February and March. It has kept the MocsVision group busy.
It also has given them a time to shine. Case in point: Over one four-day stretch in February, the Mocs were featured in two extended segments during the midnight edition of SportsCenter and other ESPN highlight shows. “Sometimes you get a magic play, a magic moment or a magic storyline that lends itself to that,” Gill says, “but I also know if it was two-and-a-half-minutes of a broadcast and the quality didn’t look right, ESPN would not give you that. They might mention it and show a short clip, but they’re not going to give you much airtime unless it’s quality. So it’s rewarding and feels good when that happens.”
Gill has been involved with Mocs productions since 2006 and came onboard full-time at UTC in 2011. Her role includes overseeing crews for game days. For football, a crew of camera and technical personnel could be 18 to 20 people. Basketball uses some 15 people and volleyball uses six. She explains that the ESPN+ productions are just a part of what they do. “We do the in-venue video board work for basketball and football while the games are in progress, and we also do creative content production,” Gill says. “The video board is my favorite. I like to live in the game presentation world. Abby is our point person for our ESPN broadcasts in terms of producing the game itself, and Tate is our storyteller and content creator.” These three colleagues are accustomed to wearing many hats.
“My new normal is performing as a Swiss army knife. You can throw me wherever you need me, and I’ll get it done, somehow,” Johnson says. “Yesterday, I ran graphics on a volleyball game. It was my second time doing that but, you know, it’s all about a learning curve. So I’ve been really lucky this year to be given many opportunities.”
Working with Puzzle Pieces on fire
Walker describes the controlled chaos as a combination of fun and frenzy. “There’s always something happening. It’s like there are 1,000-piece puzzles around you and you have to put them together, yet some of them are on fire.” A 2018 graduate of the UTC School of Communication, Walker has a laundry list of to-dos on game day, including—but not limited to—getting team rosters, head shots, creating graphics, updating statistics, uncovering key storylines, writing the scripts and making sure she has the commercials and the sponsor logos the broadcast needs. “I would say my mindset as a producer is, ‘How much can I do pregame to make it easier on the crew and me?’ Gameday is usually chaotic, and you never know what’s going to happen,” she says. “And if something does happen during the broadcast, you have to do it all quietly.
“Nobody at home can know you’re having problems. It’s very much Wizard of Oz, paying attention to the people behind the curtain. You’re on a headset and you have to communicate everything with your crew, whether you can see it or not, and you have to know all the puzzles in your head.” Under ordinary circumstances, there is constant juggling.
But the pandemic has changed their way of doing business.
“An interesting challenge for us has been our normal pregame routine,” Gill says. “Normally, we get the entire team together before games to talk. With COVID, our whole crew could get contact-traced if one person gets in contact with a virus-positive person. We don’t want to have to cancel broadcasts, so we’ve had to change the way we do things.”
Because Mocs football was postponed last fall, the MocsVision group produced tennis and golf for the first time, “and there wasn’t much of a blueprint on how to do those,” Walker says. “Golf was something that we hadn’t seen, and we were excited for the opportunity to take on a new production. It was definitely an experience, and I learned a lot from it. And then we were able to do tennis, too, and I really enjoyed that.”
When non-revenue sports such as tennis and golf get television coverage, it becomes a tremendous recruiting tool for those program coaches. “Absolutely,” Gill says, “and we were excited to do our work for those sports. We are also going to be doing soccer for the first time on ESPN in the spring. So once again there will be a case of, ‘All right, let it fly and see where it goes.’”