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June 19, 2013

‘Cross'-marketing





The buzz surrounding the release of West Virginia's new uniforms had reached a fever-pitch inside the Mountaineer Athletic Club tent. Donors and media alike, waited, as three mannequins were situated at the front of the room hidden behind a massive sheet in order to keep the details of the new designs safely tucked away from view.

But before the curtain would drop to unveil the jerseys, on-lookers would first be greeted with their initial look through a video presentation.

Beginning with a five-second countdown opening to the trademark school logo, the frame then moves to a shot of a seated Andrew Buie sporting the new gold uniform, next a glance across the back of Will Clarke's blue variation before revealing a white helmet shielding the recognizable face of Karl Joseph.

All of this over a catchy beat, as the video would crescendo to action shots of the three players posing with their respective color designs inside of a smoke-filled room. Once the short presentation had drawn to a close, the curtain would fall and ceremoniously open a new era in West Virginia history to the applause of those in attendance.

The video served as one of the centerpieces of the ceremony, but if you polled those viewing it would be a safe bet to assume that little thought was ever given to the man behind the scenes and the hours spent making his vision a reality.

Doug Cross is a self-described night owl, often letting his creative juices flow well into the wee-hours of the morning as he crafts his ideas into a working art-form. Cross has been under contract with the West Virginia football team since August of last year, and during that time he has taken on multiple responsibilities as he continues to expand his duties.

During the day, Cross serves to assist with the development of ideas that will only further strengthen the West Virginia brand, either to recruits or those already in the program. That can range from the wording of the mailings sent to prospective recruits, efforts to further the reach of social media or helping to shape the message delivered to the players currently sporting gold and blue.

One of the most recent examples has been the program pride presentations, where Cross helped to organize the presentations that focus on helping the team to understand the significance of certain traditions, along with instilling how important the team is to the state of West Virginia.

"It's about what West Virginia represents and the brand that has developed over the past 100 plus years," he said.

It's a brand that Cross understands well as the Middletown, Ohio, native was indoctrinated to the Mountaineers at an early age. Both of his parents hail from the Mountain State and actually met at summer school at West Virginia University, while his grandparents on his mother's side have been season ticket holders for well over twenty years.

Cross recalls that the highlight of his family reunion every Labor Day weekend involved either traveling to Morgantown or huddling around the television to watch the Mountaineers.

"I had always grown up around that and once I got into high school it was just a passion that developed and it was fostered by the West Virginia message boards," he said.

It was around that time that Cross began to wonder how he could take his passion and use it constructively to help market and positively impact the university he had grown to love.

Around that time, Cross, who was then a senior in high school, watched a video that was made by a fan online showcasing the Mountaineers historic come from behind win over Louisville during the 2005 season. Recalling the experience, Cross said it brought him cold chills as he watched the highlights blend with an accompanying melody that seemingly gave life to the experience all over again.

In was in that one moment that the legend of now his well-known internet moniker would be born and Cross realized he had found his way to make an impact.

Downloading video editing software, Cross started small by teaching himself the disciplines of the trade and observing trends in music videos and other videos online. Much like a scientist, he would often spend long hours experimenting and figuring out ways to improve his overall product.

"Eventually you will learn how to do a lot of things," he said.

Cross would spend long hours in front of his computer tinkering with each video in order to suit his own self-imposed high standards. Eventually the production became the easy part; it was the preparation that would take up most of his time as he would dedicate countless hours scanning for new techniques and the perfect soundtrack to transform a package of highlights into a miniature motion picture.

As he would create more and more West Virginia themed videos during his undergrad years at Miami (Oh.), his following would continue to grow. Today, Cross laughs to himself thinking about the quality of some of his earlier work that at the time had captivated many Mountaineer fans.

"If people would watch those now, they would say that's not from the same guy," Cross said.

However, he is quick to point out that even in his earlier days it's his attention to detail that represents the one aspect that has carried over to his present efforts.

It was during his time at Miami, where Cross was approached by one of the West Virginia graduate assistants Todd Hartley who had been impressed with his work and asked Cross about potentially making videos for the football team. It was a decision that required no hesitation, as he would begin to produce the motivational videos that the team would watch prior to games during the fall of 2008 and 2009.

Once he graduated from Miami with degrees in marketing and supply chain management in May 2010, Cross elected to finish his studies as a graduate student at West Virginia pursuing an MBA and Masters in Sports Management.

"I wanted to say I was an alumnus of West Virginia University," he said.

Cross wouldn't create videos for the university during the 2010 season after Hartley left for The University of Georgia, but soon enough found himself in a similar position after one of his fellow students in his master's program spoke with him about his work. That person was Chad Allen, another graduate assistant and mentor to Bruce Irvin, and Cross would put his talents to work creating a highlight video in the spring of 2011 for the future Seattle Seahawks first round pick.

Allen was so pleased with the work, that he would eventually arrange a meeting between head coach Dana Holgorsen and Cross after a spring practice. That meeting would result in Cross coming back on to produce motivational videos for the team during the course of the 2011 season, along with the 2012 Discover Orange Bowl until he graduated that May.

The new graduate would embark on a job search, while staying in close contact with Director of Football Operations Alex Hammond to find a way to keep him involved with the program. Eventually, Cross would find a unique contracted role within the program where he would handle all of the football program's video production and editing outside of the team's entrance videos and what is shown on the video board during games which are handled by Chris Ostein, the director of university relations video.

Cross still spends a majority of his time researching other videos, music trailers and other trends looking for ways to bring a unique and cutting edge approach to his videos.

"Once I've heard a song used a certain amount of times or a concept I don't like to use that in my execution," he said.

An average production for Cross is quite the undertaking, as he constantly searches for the correct message that will resonate with the audience, as well as the overall tone of his finished product. Cross will spend an average of anywhere between 30 to 50 hours on each video from start to finish, familiarizing himself with a practice that is now commonplace around the Puskar Center.

"A lot of energy drinks and a lot of experimentation," he said. "You want to make sure you are real detail oriented. You should try to make sure you get everything exactly how you have it in your mind's eye."

Picking the correct song is the first step, which often can prove to be one of the most challenging parts, and then Cross has the task of building the footage and the concepts into one total package representative of what he wants to convey. Cross will watch one video between 100-300 times, in increments of only seconds ahead to get a feel for how each video flows and the quality of each frame.

The ultimate goal is to build a form of art that not only impresses, but resonates with the one that watches it so much that if they hear one of the songs outside of the video they will reflect back and think of the player or message portrayed in the clip.

"You have to make it correlate in a way that it has a feel of more than just the video by itself or the music by itself," he said.

A 24-hour work session for each production is something that has become the norm for Cross, as he often produces his best work during the long-hours of the night. One advantage he has now is the fact that he will sit in on the team meetings to hear the message straight from Holgorsen in order to help craft his motivational pieces for the Mountaineers.

Cross still creates a large number of his fan favorite player highlight videos, based on both request and fan demand. He is currently in the process of creating one for last season's leading tackler Karl Joseph. During that process he always attempts to collaborate with the player as much as possible integrating their ideas for music and preferred highlights into the finished product.

"I know I'm done when I can feel it. I know I have a good video when I don't watch it for a few days and when I watch it I kind of get cold chills even after I edited it and watch it after every clip," he said.

Cross of course has his favorites during his time editing such as the over 80 plus hours he put into developing the 2012 recruiting video, but each project has its own appeal and each one presents its own challenges.

This brings us full circle, back to the uniform unveiling at this past season's spring game. That was his first foray into being involved with the actual filming of the video and Cross aided in many of the concepts and shots that resulted from the two hour session. He even suggested the aforementioned smoke machine to add to the effect of the video and some of the poses that the players do during the video because he had previously observed them during watching cutups of film.

Cross sat down in front of the computer putting his method of madness to work and 25-hours later, the finished product was ready for release for the observers in that tent on that near-perfect April day.

"It was important to me because recruits would be seeing it and because I would develop the tone of the video that would help with branding West Virginia football," he said. "There is nothing more perfect for me to be involved with."

Well said.


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