PROVO — On his profile found at BYUtvsports.com, "BlueBeard" describes himself as "die-hard" BYU fan from Lehi. He has uploaded a few photos, including a recently taken panoramic view of LaVell Edwards Stadium.
"TemeCoug," from Temecula, Calif., rates rushing the field after the Cougars upset No. 1 Miami in 1990 as his (or her) all-time favorite BYU sports memory.
And after Thursday night's season-opener between BYU and Washington State, those BYUtvsports.com registered users, and many like them, will have much more to discuss.
Unlike other fan sites, though, the innovative, interactive BYUtvsports.com also provides opportunities for fans to immerse themselves in various aspects of the game — in new ways, on various devices, in real time — by linking themselves with BYUtv's vast broadcasting resources, technologies and capabilities.
What BYUtv officials have learned in the year since the football program jumped into independence is that Cougar fans, both nationally and around the world, possess an insatiable hunger for information about BYU sports, and a desire to connect with other fans.
This newest fan feature on BYUtvsports.com, billed as "an online tailgate party," fills that void by uniting on-air product with on-line content.
"We want to build a community," said Ryan Holmes, BYUtv's digital media director. "We want there to be tens of thousands of BYU fans that have profiles on BYUtvsports.com that can share content with each other and connect their content with our content … These days, every fan with a smartphone is a semi-pro videographer. They're uploading photos and putting videos (on the Internet). We wanted a place to aggregate all of that content. So when you go to watch the BYU-Washington State game, there can be a whole bunch of fan content associated with that game that you are able to look at. It's a broadening of the concept, 'We are BYU.'"
BYUtvsports.com also provides fans with the chance to design a personalized BYU jersey, create their own stat sheets, win prizes, and be interviewed by BYUtv sports commentator Dave McCann.
"Sports by its nature is tailor-made for social media, as we're finding out. Social media is really driving the growth of sports broadcasting these days," said Mikel Minor, senior coordinating producer of sports events and programming at BYU Broadcasting and a former ESPN Sports Center producer. "To be able to take that on-air experience, and integrate a social media component that allows the fans to have not only a voice but real interaction with what we're doing with our sports productions is catered to serving that huge appetite for the social media experience that fans crave."
Holmes, a gaming industry veteran, said it's easy for fans to register on the site and become a member of this online community.
"You start out as a one-star recruit and improve your social rank as you interact with the site," he explained. "Fans are able to fill out a profile, they get to pick a jersey, a number, and a sport. The whole objective of this game is to earn enough points by doing things on the site that you progress from recruit, all the way to getting your jersey retired as a 'Legend.' It's all about fun and games. This isn't a message board per se, it's a place for fans to aggregate their media. The hope is to expand the notion of a game. That's the heart of what's going on here — fans playing a game and sharing media. Sure, there are websites out there, like Cougarboard and others, where people do try to share some media, but it's awkward. That's not really what those platforms are designed to do. But that is specifically what this platform is intended to do, and we wrap it in a game mechanic to make it fun."
When it comes to providing access to fans, BYUtvsports.com is breaking new ground, Holmes said.
"It really is unprecedented to give this kind of access. It's all possible because the football team went independent and because of our relationship with ESPN. We have digital rights that most teams just don't have. I don't see anything out there yet in the college sports landscape that compares to what we're doing. There's not another fan site that can do what this site can do today and we will keep expanding what we are doing in the coming years."
BYUtv will also incorporate social media often in its broadcasts of sporting events this year, according to Minor.
"We plan to be very aggressive in using social media and the BYUtvsports.com platform within our sports broadcasts this year," he said. "You'll see a much more aggressive effort to integrate social media real time within those telecasts. We'll incorporate Twitter comments within the telecasts and rebroadcasts. When we play the rebroadcast, we can plug into the real time conversation during the rebroadcast, when fans have had a chance to process this after the fact, when they are reliving the game. It's another unique opportunity to take the pulse of the fan base and what they're thinking, locally, nationally and globally … We're really trying to raise the bar for those BYU fans across the nation and across the globe that want to have more and better access to BYU sports."