Before the coronavirus pandemic, life was already hectic for social media talent working in professional sports. Whether that entailed capturing the daily lives of athletes or keeping followers entertained across apps like Instagram, TikTok, or Twitter, sports social media workers were always on the go.
With MLS making its return to the pitch on July 8 at Disney World in Orlando, life in the bubble has presented a vastly different experience for its clubs and personnel. The league is housing and testing nearly 2,000 people in a single location. It has also seen teams like FC Dallas and Nashville SC withdraw from the MLS Is Back Tournament due to numerous players and staff testing positive for the coronavirus.
For Sam Benavidez however, his focus rests solely on the San Jose Earthquakes, where he serves as their creative manager of content. With the Earthquakes three matches into their return, Benavidez spoke with Front Office Sports about what his workday looks like in the MLS bubble, what capturing content looks like in a fan-less world, and what is resonating with the club’s at-home fans.
The questions and responses have been lightly edited for clarity.
Front Office Sports: What is the day-to-day like in the bubble thus far?
Sam Benavidez: It really depends on when our training ends up being scheduled. It’s either in the early morning or late evening because of the weather. Early on in the preseason… we were having morning practices, but lately we’ve been switching to evening because our game times are so late since we’re a west coast team. Training sessions have been at 7:00, 8:00, 9:00 in the evening down in Orlando.
We wake up, have a team breakfast and then I’m usually chasing guys around and trying to capture some content for back home. We produce a TV show that airs about once a week on NBC Sports California [called Earthquakes Exclusive] during this time, so I’ve been kind collecting content for that and collecting content in-between meals. Besides training during the day, I’m collecting interviews and trying to catch up with some guys in a day in the life-type video.
FOS: It sounds like there’s really not a lot of wiggle room for free time… how are you capturing content in the bubble during this time?
SB: For us, we’re really doubling down on content for our sponsors back home and for our TV show that we’re producing on social media, so we try and stay really busy with that.
As for capturing the content, it really just depends on the type of piece. We don’t have any access issues to our players because we’re all on the side, testing as frequently as them, so we all know that we’re negative because we all got tested on the same day.
For that reason – if I wanted to, let’s say for example, do a day in the life with Tommy Thompson, I have no issue going over to his room going in there and shooting an interview with him. Him getting a haircut with a teammate is something we did recently, so it’s just things like that where we’re pretty free reign as far as our access to the guys.
FOS: What is the digital/social strategy looking like right now for you guys?
SB: We definitely want to take fans inside the team. I think that’s the thing that everybody wants to do, but we have a pretty together group of guys. They really are one team… I know that a lot of teams say that, but I’ve been here about five years and this is the most together I’ve seen the Earthquakes team as far as one whole group. There’s not a lot of cliques, so we want to show that, and that’s our main strategy is we want to show it together.
There was one little clip of our Argentinian players where they were coming back from training and they have this giant speaker boom box that they carry around literally everywhere they go. They’re blasting this music down the hall of all the rooms and they just break out into dance – luckily I had my camera there, and that was one piece of content that was off the cuff and took zero effort on our part, but it was just one of the best moments of the trip.
I think a more produced piece that’s going to be interesting is the Tommy Thompson day in the life one. It’s coming out pretty soon and he keeps really busy even in his hotel room with these training classes with college kids and younger kids over video conferences. He gets a haircut from his teammate, he goes to training and I don’t know, he’s just an interesting guy.
FOS: Was there any difference in capturing content without fans vs. having them in person?
SB: It’s definitely not that fun because the fans are the life of the club and highlight of the game, for sure. But it’s actually a little bit easier to concentrate because there’s not all that noise around you and people yelling behind you, so you can get focused on what you’re shooting but it’s not quite as fun.
We’re used to that sort of situation though because [the Earthquakes] play preseason games, scrimmages and training without fans, so it’s definitely something we’re used to but it’s not quite as fun as a full stadium.
FOS: What does success from a digital/social standpoint look like for you in the bubble?
SB: I would say success would be that the fans really got an idea of how our team is feeling in the bubble. I think there’s a lot of rumors that go around that say we don’t feel safe or the food’s bad… but really in our camp, we’ve been kind of enjoying ourselves.
It’s kind of an extended trip for us similar to those Cancun trips where everybody bonds really well, gets along and has fun and plays the game that they love. I just want to get that across to people and make sure the fans understand that we’re working hard and having fun and that we’re trying to win it all. We’re not here to just be here because we have to – it’s because we want to go all the way.