We’ve seen plenty of colleges doing their own video series, but a couple of interesting recent projects there come from wide NCAA rightsholder Learfield. Learfield represents more than 200 NCAA schools and conferences, and they’re rolling out some projects on those schools through a newly-announced in-house Learfield Studios brand. One notable one is The Blueprint, an all-access series on Kansas Jayhawks’ football under second-year head coach Lance Leipold that put out a trailer Monday on KU’s athletics website. Another is Granted, a digital series hosted by Andrew Hawkins (known for work with Uninterrupted, ESPN, NFL Network and more) that’s focused on walk-ons. That series recently put out its first episode, on Hawkins’ alma mater, the University of Toledo, and on how former Rockets’ walk-on fullback AJ Harrison learned he was receiving a scholarship:
Here’s more on these projects from a Learfield release:
LEARFIELD Studios, the new name unveiled for the company’s veteran team driving original and branded content, as well as new content platforms, announced it will be launching a multitude of distinct, premium content for university partners.
Namely, two of those original productions launch today – THE BLUEPRINT (with University of Kansas) and GRANTED (debut episode with University of Toledo). Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and UConn also are working with LEARFIELD Studios on this elevated platform initiative centered on creating, distributing and monetizing premier content designed specifically for their fans. These LEARFIELD school partners are the early adopters of custom content plans which LEARFIELD will create in collaboration with all multimedia rights partners.
…The ways in which college fans engage with their universities and consume content around athletics is changing drastically, and we intend to help our school partners and student-athletes maximize their opportunities in this new landscape,” said LEARFIELD CEO Cole Gahagan. “Our experienced LEARFIELD Studios team is extremely creative with superb connections throughout media and entertainment. And when paired with our unrivaled fan data infrastructure, we’re beyond bullish on the prospect of bolstering fan engagement and creating meaningful revenue opportunities.”
“This next-generation partnership with LEARFIELD provides a unique opportunity to produce behind-the-scenes content that gives our constituents access to never-before-told stories,” said Kansas Director of Athletics Travis Goff. “I want to thank the LEARFIELD team for their professional guidance and support through this newly developed series. Launching THE BLUEPRINT series with Kansas Football was a unique opportunity to bring to life the building process underway with Lance Leipold. We look forward to introducing additional series for other programs in the days ahead.”
Both of these are interesting projects. For one, it’s notable that Kansas is again going for an all-access football project; they did that with ESPN in 2019 with an ESPN+ series on then-new head coach Les Miles. But it makes some sense for the Jayhawks to get involved with this; they’re a place that would like to drum up some more interest in their football program (which probably needs a little more help attracting interest right now than their national champion men’s basketball program).
And while The Blueprint is only set for Kansas athletics platforms (the full four-part series will be released there on Thursday, April 28), it’s got some notable names attached. It’s directed by Micah Brown, who’s done documentaries including “Jail Fighters; 5 Rounds to Freedom” for Showtime, the 30 for 30 installation chuck and tito for ESPN, and the John Cena-produced WWE Evil for Peacock, and who also played receiver for the Jayhawks. And it will be narrated by NFL on Fox and Holey Moley mainstay Rob Riggle, also a Kansas grad.
Granted is also a notable project. There’s a lot of potentially-interesting content that could come from a series focused on walk-ons and their experience of getting scholarships, and Hawkins seems like a great fit to host that. He started at Toledo as a walk-on, then wound up becoming an important piece for the Rockets; he played wide receiver and cornerback there (becoming the first Rockets’ player to play both ways in 48 years), and also returned kicks. But he went undrafted by the NFL, and only got to that league following time on Michael Strahan’s 4th and Long reality show and then two seasons in the CFL with the Montreal Alouettes. So he knows a fair bit about unconventional paths to football success. And Hawkins created this series himself, so it’s cool to see Learfield back an outside-starting initiative like that; they’re producing it alongside Hawkins’ production company Parks Tower Studios and Sony’s Embassy Row.
As that Learfield release notes, these series are just part of their increasing original content efforts. Last fall, they did a Girls In Leadership series with the Minnesota Golden Gophers, as well as multi-part documentaries with the Syracuse Orange and Oregon State Beavers’ men’s basketball programs, plus the Hello Heisman video podcast with Desmond Howard and Jimmy Roberts. And they note Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and UConn as schools they’re currently working with on other Learfield Studios content. So it will be interesting to see what they come up with there as well.