On Wednesday, March 11, the NBA put its season on hold after Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive with coronavirus. Two days later, Houston Rockets trainer Willie Cruz received word that one-on-one workouts would also be halted, so he prepared to head home unsure of what his job duties would entail.
Before leaving the Toyota Center, however, Rockets digital content coordinator Lindsey Scheinthal offered Cruz a suggestion: start an at-home workout tutorial to keep fans busy.
“At that point in time, I don’t think we saw other teams doing [at-home workout videos] – we just figured it’d be a good idea,” Cruz said. “As the weeks started rolling in, I think we really realized that we were going to be quarantining for longer than a week or two… and we realized that [the workout videos] was going to be a very good idea since everybody’s going to be at home and not being very active.”
Cruz set out to create a weekly at-home workout series that prioritized encouragement and inspiration. He also wanted to convey a sense of relatability; the exercises he would be teaching the general public are no different from the types that James Harden and Russell Westbrook perform during pregame warmups.
On March 25, Cruz and the Rockets rolled out their first at-home workout video to their nearly 22 million followers on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. The one-minute clip showcased three stretches that fans should try at home: iso lunges, knee tucks, and single leg squats.
Another video came out six days later, with Cruz teaching those at home how to do lateral lunges, towel leg curls, and single leg v-ups. Thus far, the two videos have generated more than 240,000 views, 800,000 impressions, and 60,000 engagements across the Rockets’ social media channels. Roughly three-quarters of those metrics are coming from Instagram alone, according to Paul Suarez, Houston’s senior director of digital marketing.
The success of the Rockets’ at-home workout videos should not be attributed to a high production cost, Terránce Daniels, the team’s senior producer of digital media, said. After initially discussing ways to maximize the video quality, the priority shifted to a less-is-more approach to the recording process.
“Since we’re all quarantining and practicing social distancing, we thought it would be a little bit bigger effect if Willie actually sent the videos in himself,” Daniels said. “It gave the impression that he’s actually taking time out of his day, filming it on his own and it’s organically produced. I think the way it’s filmed – just him sending in videos as he’s at home – I think everybody saw that and they just took it from there.”
While the Rockets’ workout videos are aimed towards adults, the Cleveland Cavaliers adopted a similar idea – but for their youth basketball fans.
The Cavaliers have been forced to cancel various youth camps and clinics that would either be happening now or over the summer, so the team has directed its outreach to help youth coaches and players.
After speaking with some of the Cavaliers’ youth personnel, vice president of digital Brandon Jirousek saw an opportunity for them to keep kids engaged and occupied while at home.
As those conversations began to take shape, Jirousek saw two areas for the Cavaliers to reach kids in: basketball and entertainment. Recent weeks have seen Cleveland staffers like head coach J.B. Bickerstaff and youth basketball operations manager Jess Davis teach their viewers the fundamentals of ball handling and shooting, respectively.
Other videos have focused on the lighter side of the Cavaliers’ operations. The Cavs PowerHouse Dance Team has been using Instagram Live to showcase routines from acts like the team’s drumline to team dancers. Cleveland has also worked with team chef Terry Bell and dietician Kylene Bodgen on healthy recipes that kids can make at home.
“We really felt like it was a great opportunity for us to fill that void for fans that are looking for the opportunity to tune in their game, but also stay fit during this time,” Jirousek said.
Focusing on content that emphasizes healthy living is also a priority for Kelsey Doherty, senior director of digital media for the Boston Red Sox. She and her team have worked with Red Sox trainers on a 10-minute workout video that fans can access through the Home Fun website. They have also collaborated with the team chef on recipes and plan to have that content out in the near future.
“I think people are just home and refreshing their phones and it’s something that’s not the news,” Doherty said. “It’s something a little bit more lighthearted and something familiar in a time of year where people normally are clamoring for baseball.”
Once Alex Stec, director of digital content for FC Cincinnati, received word that Ohio gyms were being forced to close due to the coronavirus pandemic, she herself was wondering how to workout at home.
She then reached out to Jerry Walker, who’s in charge of sports performance at FC Cincinnati about connecting with the players to see what workouts they themselves are doing during this time.
Stec then contacted FC Cincinnati players Allan Cruz and Andrew Gutman, who were the first two to appear as apart of the team’s #WorkoutWednesday social media series. While Cruz’s exercises were more core-oriented, Gutman prioritized running and endurance.
Through two videos, #WorkoutWednesday has already produced more than 10,000 video views across FC Cincinnati’s social media platforms, which include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and the team’s website. Cruz’s clip quickly became the second-most viewed video on Cincinnati’s website in March, with more than 4,000 impressions in addition to reaching more than 13,000 people on Facebook.
As the MLS pause continues on, Stec and her team will continue to have weekly content meetings every Monday morning about what the possibilities are from a content standpoint. The #WorkoutWednesday videos will feature more players in the coming weeks, and the team will also rely on forward Kakuna Matteh, a Gambian native who will be cooking traditional Gambian meals to release on social media.
While Stec admits that there are challenges when putting the onus on players to create content – mainly with editing and production – she commends them for being able to give fans an escape from the reality that they are living in.
“I think this time period right now has provided a really good time for people to reflect and look back and be proud of things rather than always just putting our heads down and figuring out what’s next,” she said.