Vision Quest: Rutgers athletics moves into new media

This KnightVision Event is made possible by a special gift in memory of Melvin Newman

Those fifteen words greet any visitors to the KnightVision online video service on ScarletKnights.com.

Jon Newman was looking to make a difference. He had been searching for a proper way to mark his father's passing a year back, and one set of memories kept coming to mind. Newman would always fondly think back to the two of them listening together to Rutgers sports broadcasts on an old transistor radio.

"I remember having to move the radio to certain areas of the house to listen to football on basketball games in the 70s on WCTC and WRSU," he recalled, owing to the unreliability of New Jersey public television broadcasts at the time. "We had to hope the weather would 'blow' the signal our way.

"I have vivid memories of riding in my dad's old Chysler New Yorker as a five year old, on the trip from Northern New Jersey to West Point for a game against Army. We'd also make the annual trip to Princeton, and battle the bees that would attack our food at old Palmer Stadium."

These broadcasts from Newman's youth helped a father and son to connect. Through this burgeoning affinity for the school, a subsequent matriculation at Rutgers comes as little surprise in retrospect. It was there that he eventually rose to sports director at WRSU (working alongside Kevin MacConnell, the future Deputy Athletic Director at Rutgers), before embarking on a career in media and later public relations. In his current capacity as a partner at Virginia-based firm The Hodges Partnership, Newman advises clients in more-effectively enhancing their media communication and promotion.

The articulate and telegenic Tim Pernetti took over as Rutgers Athletic Director in April of 2009, and the former CBS executive soon launched several forward-thinking new initiatives; chief among them the web streaming video service KnightVision.

"The launch of Knightvision is another important step forward in our constant effort to deliver content and connect with our fans in more ways than ever before" said Tim Pernetti, Director of Athletics. "This streaming network will provide national exposure for all 24 Rutgers sports, while at the same time bringing the University and Athletics together with the creation of credited internships to students in the School of Journalism and Media Studies"

To Jon Newman, this strategy was an ideal meeting of his professional background in social media, and personal passion and enthusiasm for Rutgers sports. Despite living with his family several states away, he remains a season ticket holder, and involved in the athletics booster organization Scarlet R. KnightVision had launched successfully last fall, but was in need of additional funds to help spur further growth.

"Right now we're kind of limited budget-wise so we're slowly trying to upgrade different aspects of the infrastructure," Osborne said. "But the nice thing is the reaction we've received, from parents, to coaches, to student-athletes has been so positive that it's something we need to keep working on and improving in the future."

That provided the impetus for Newman's recent decision to help make a difference by earmarking a donation for upgrading and expanding the service. "The days of [Rutgers] depending on Trenton for funding is over," he explained. "It is up to alumni to finally step up and help fund facilities and programs like KnightVision. One day those might be able to sustain themselves, but for now some seed money is needed to help them take off."

"For those of us like me who lives hours from Jersey, KnightVision gives us the opportunity to stay connected with the program, including all of the sports," he said. "I was taken by Tim's vision for the product, where someday we'll be able to watch all home games and matches of every sport live online, or later archived and on demand. As a former WRSU sports director, I also loved the fact that students are involved on air and behind the scenes." He sees another benefit for the school's Olympic sports, noting that athletes' families only need an internet connection to watch competitions from across long geographical distances.

Newman further argued that the Rutgers athletic department needs to be proactive in its future growth into social media, and they seem to be receptive to that message. Tim Pernetti and several school coaches, including C. Vivian Stringer and Mike Rice are regular Twitter users. One notable exception among them is football coach Greg Schiano, who along with Pernetti serves as a public face for the athletic department. (Schiano, however, is friends with many prospective recruits on Facebook.) In his stead the school's A.A.D. for Athletic Communications, Jason Baum, has embraced the medium as the official public spokesman for Rutgers football.

While new media platforms serve as powerful messaging tools to help brands engage and interact with their desired audiences, the evolving reach of these technologies additionally present their own unique challenges beyond merely meeting those stated goals. When it comes to an interest as emotionally charged as sports, the internet can at times resemble a digital Pandora's Box of unflattering opinion and chaotic commentary.

The increasingly-necessary step of monitoring and educating student-athletes on these and related matters is fraught with difficulty. That was made crystal clear by J.R. Inman's infamous Facebook rant from several months back, which first made the rounds on various message boards before hitting the front page at Deadspin. North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin may end up inadvertently imperiling the Tar Heel football program by attracting attention from NCAA investigators. The daunting process of monitoring fan and booster activity promises to be an even bigger compliance minefield. Not only can one bad apple spoil the bunch, but even innocuous mistakes can lead to secondary violations.

An important arbiter will be whether or not the athletic department will show the ability to change and adapt to a broad swath of challenges coming from a variety of angles. Newman, for his part, is confident in his belief that the Rutgers athletic department has a leader well-equipped to handle any obstacles that may arise. "Tim is the right person, in the right place, at the right time. His television background makes him a proponent for the KnightVision product."

If Tim Pernetti is as dedicated as he appears to be, then indeed the Rutgers athletic department is in very good hands.

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