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Notre Dame behind the scenes content blitz marks start of #FreemanEra

NCAA Football: Notre Dame Head Coach Press Conference

Dec 6, 2021; Notre Dame, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish head football coach Marcus Freeman shakes hands with Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick during his formal introduction on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Days after the Notre Dame football content team garnered widespread acclaim for its videos announcing Marcus Freeman as head coach, it followed it up with a savvy Signing Day campaign.

Through a series of videos playing to a theme that “the world is talking” about the Irish signees, the content team continued to captivate internet attention. Every piece began with variations of the phrase “Did you hear?” and followed with a slew of Notre Dame alumni and adjacent people raving about the commits in the class of 2022. The carefully curated videos were released as each member of the class signed, and they featured cameos from Hannah Storm, Mike Golic Jr., Joe Theismann and many others, each ending with Freeman affirming the commit was coming to Notre Dame.

While the videos seemed to fit the theme of a new era of Notre Dame football and reflective innovation from its social media accounts, assistant athletics director of football communications Katy Lonergan said the Signing Day content had been in the works for much longer. She estimated the first plans for the “world is talking” videos came in late April or early May, when the content team first met to discuss the Signing Day still seven-plus months off into the future.

That portion of the content was planned months before former head coach Brian Kelly left for LSU two days after the regular season ended, and the production team had already intended to release a video showing the behind-the-scenes work of the coaching staff. But Kelly’s departure led to an unexpected benefit for the content team, allowing for greater access on the road.

Compliance regulations mean that only the 11 members of the coaching staff (head coach plus 10 assistant coaches) are allowed in the homes of recruits. To accommodate those restrictions, cameras had been purchased for coaches to take on the road with them. But, according to Lonergan, the newly vacant spot on the staff allowed for football producer Emily Ragan to be designated as a coach for compliance reasons.

“The plan was already in place,” Lonergan said. “We were just able to kind of shift it and navigate it for what ended up being the view we originally wanted but couldn’t do because of compliance purposes.”

The look inside the coaching staff’s week of travel came at the tail end of a string of content showcasing different aspects of the start of Freeman’s head coaching tenure. It included day one and week one videos that featured the new head coach’s family and provided a look into the beginning of his time as head coach.

Lonergan said the day one and week one videos began with a suggestion from director of athletics Jack Swarbrick to document as much as possible. She said Swarbrick’s idea boiled down to this: “Don’t miss a moment, and then let’s see what moments should be shared.”

“And maybe you don’t show anything,” Lonergan said. “And maybe you end up with a great day one video. And then a lot of what we shot went into the first-week recap.”

On Dec. 9, the Notre Dame football PR team posted a summary of some of the key statistics from what they called “the week.” As of then, the videos from Nov. 29 to Dec. 6 had been viewed more than 7.7 million times, and there were more than 46 million impressions on the Notre Dame Football Twitter account.

The videos received overwhelmingly positive feedback, with many social media nods to the impressive production work throughout the whirlwind week inside the program. Freeman’s introductory press conference, which took place on Dec. 6 right before his packed recruiting road trip, was also highly lauded on Twitter.

Lonergan said the press conference planning began with a 20-person meeting and credited executive producer Jodain Massad with directing the production as it unfolded. But with the press conference and every other endeavor, Lonergan acknowledged there were too many people involved to name each one and emphasized the collaborative efforts that led to every piece of media throughout the two weeks.

Meanwhile, Lonergan said the players always remained the focus for the producers — as evidenced by the video of strength and conditioning coordinator Matt Balis telling the team he was staying at Notre Dame. Shot on a cell phone so as not to alert the players that something would be happening, the video honed in on the reaction of the team more than Balis himself.

“Obviously, Balis was central to it, but their emotion was what was important for the video,” Lonergan said.

That drew parallels to the videos of offensive coordinator Tommy Rees announcing he was staying and of Freeman’s first introduction to the team as head coach — both of which placed a heavy emphasis on the players and their reactions. The latter video, which demonstrated Freeman’s popularity among the team, seemed to further increase the external excitement surrounding the program’s new coach.

“I think a lot of it is that people are really excited to get to know coach Freeman. And that’s what we’re allowing them to do,” Lonergan said. “I think that right now we’re trying to tell stories. We’re trying to tell his story, who he is as both a person and a coach.”

A senior at Notre Dame studying Film & Television with a Journalism minor, Caroline Pineda has assisted the “ND on NBC” broadcasts from the sideline since 2019 and is bringing some much-needed quality writing to “Inside the Irish” this season, as well, just as she did throughout 2020.

tweet to @carolinepineda_