Aaron Hepp was on the court at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville for the SEC Basketball Tournament when the news came.
Erinn Casey was in her office at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago preparing for Major League Baseball’s Opening Day when her phone rang.
Kaitlyn Young just returned from a video shoot for the Rays in Tampa when an emergency all-staff meeting was called.
The news — just two days after WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak to be a global pandemic — is now all too familiar.
No March Madness. No Opening Day in MLB. All sports stopped.
The trio of recent Sports Link alumni joined the program’s April 20 virtual class to discuss the impact of COVID19 at each of their respective employers.
“We didn’t know if we were still going to come in or if they were going to rotate employees,” said Casey, who begins her second season as a content producer with the Chicago White Sox. “It was just a day of uncertainty because everything quickly started to get cancelled. Right now, we are waiting to hear what will happen with the country and the following MLB decision.”
“The first couple of weeks we didn’t know,” said Young, now in her third year as a producer with the Tampa Bay Rays. “We were less than two weeks from Opening Day. We didn’t know what to post or produce. We didn’t want to post something that made the brand seem like we weren’t taking this seriously, but we didn’t want to leave fans hanging.”
“Everything for at least a week stopped from a content perspective because no one knew what to do,” said Hepp, now in his third year as a producer for the University of Alabama Athletics. “Since then, we hit the ground running with creative content because we are where the revenue comes from now. We are finding a lot of unique ways to put out social media content to keep our sponsors.”
Now over a month later, all three have found a new balance of working remotely, staying creative and still producing content for their respective teams.
“One thing I’ve tried to do through this is to go outside the sports realm for ideas,” Hepp said. “It’s easy to go to the White Sox page and see what Erinn’s done and use that idea. I saw a political ad with text animating in a cool way and I used that in a video. Go outside the world of sports to be creative and find inspiration.”
“At a certain point we had to resume a normal content schedule to give the fans what they want and to appease sponsors and corporate partners,” Casey said. “We waited until Opening Day to put out a statement from the organization and a video.
“Our new marketing campaign is ‘Change the Game’ and we’ve been doing a lot of more meaningful pieces. We are trying to show everyone that the players are in this with us, too.”
In Tampa, Young and her colleagues have also amped up social content in recent weeks.
“Right now we have picked up and are doing a large amount of content,” Young said. “We are doing five posts a day on Instagram alone. I just cut a slo-mo piece edited to the Shawshank Redemption opera scene. What are the fans going to like and what are they going to engage with during this time?
“It’s so rare for everybody to be in the exact same situation, at the exact same time, so it helps us relate to everyone better.”
Casey, Hepp and Young were each hired immediately into full-time jobs in professional sports after leaving their individual impact on the Sports Link program.
All were student producers of live events on ESPN platforms while at Ball State, and each crafted multiple memorable feature stories and digital content while in Muncie.
Hepp was first hired at Tampa Bay, before moving to Alabama. Casey and Young were both hired before graduating from Ball State by their respective MLB teams.
During the class, which also included a discussion of the storytelling structure of ESPN’s The Last Dance, all three answered a variety of questions and shared advice with students.
“Our department gave us this whole list of online classes and challenging us to take a class to learn something new,” Young said. “For me, I take time out of my day to take a walk outside. I think reaching out and checking on everybody is important, too.”
“Just be good to people and smile,” Hepp said. “Be the same person to everyone and don’t be the person who comes in 20 minutes late and yelling. Show up and be ready to go to work with a positive attitude. I love when things go wrong and love the adversity.”
“This is the time to make sure your resume and website are ready to go for when this is coming to an end, ” Casey said. “I encourage you to get connected to people in this industry as well. Creatives are super welcome to connecting on Twitter and open to having conversations. Build connections while you can right now.”