Every year since 2002 (except 2003), I have attended the Ohio State-Michigan football game, either in Columbus or “that state up north.” In college, it was about the game. Ohio State had to win…if they didn’t, we were devastated. Now, it’s about friends and tradition. The same group of us has gone together every year, and it’s an annual pilgrimage I make Thanksgiving weekend.
Since I have been going, Joe and I have been grateful (and fortunate) to have been featured in a variety of media including a Getty Images-picture used in Bucknuts Magazine, Sports Illustrated online, and BBC online (all in 2006), the Detroit News (2007), Detroit Free Press (2007), and several times during the actual games on ABC, ESPN, and FOX (2009, 2010, 2011, 2015, 2017, and 2019).
A lot of people ask me how we do it, so I wanted to share the lessons I’ve learned throughout the years of getting on television (and the lessons I’ve learned when we tried but didn’t).
- Have something that distinguishes you – We’ve all seen the “super fans,” the ones dressed up with crazy face paint and elaborate costumes, but you don’t have to come up with that much. Joe and I have used two things to regular get on television, and that includes a small Michigan flag, which Joe holds upside down, and a sign that I make for each game.
- If you make a sign, it has to be clever, yet passable for television – Making a sign that says “Michigan players eat horse shit” obviously isn’t going to get you on TV, but a sign that says “Michigan sucks” is also not. The first is too vulgar, and the second, while a bit more appropriate, is too bland and cliche. It’s important to come up with something that is clever, that perhaps gives the announcers, upon seeing it on the broadcast, something to talk about. Signs I have made that have been on television include a sign that showed the several thousand days since Ohio State lost The Game, another that said the Ohio State senior class never lost to TTUN (that team up north), and another that said “8 in a row, is there a mercy rule?” I’ve made plenty of other signs that didn’t make it on television, but they were either too personal in nature or not clever enough. Oh yeah, you should also ensure the sign is on good posterboard so it is sturdy enough to withhold wind and maybe even some rain.
- If you make a sign, use large black letters – You should remember that your sign is for other people, not for you, so be sure to use large block letters, preferably in black, for your sign. Adding too many colors or making the letters too small will be difficult for people to read, as well as tough for the cameras to focus on.
- Get the sign in the stadium secretly – most stadiums have rules against signs and other banners, so you have to be smart about getting it into the stadium. One other sign holder we know puts his on red cloth (like a tablecloth or bedsheet) and wraps it around himself, so if he is patted down while entering the stadium, security doesn’t know it. I won’t share my secret, but be creative and I’m sure you can get a sign in the game.
- Put your sign up at the right time in the game – This is about quality over quantity. You obviously can’t put up your sign if the other team is winning, and no one is going to be happy with you if you put it up during the play. Luckily for us, recent games haven’t been close, so the announcers and the game have been pretty dull toward the end. We make sure to wait until the end of the game, within the last five minutes, to put our sign up and only do it when the play is over and the cameras are looking for things other than the field.
- You have to be close – Being too far away makes it more difficult for the cameras to find you, as most are generally focused on the field level. You don’t have to sit in the front row, though that certainly would help. Surrounding yourself with your fan base is also a good thing. It’s a great camera shot to see an upside down blue fag in a sea of fans wearing red.
- Forget about the game and focus on the cameras – At this point, you’re trying to get on television, and odds are the game isn’t that great. Look for the cameras, both in the media booth from the press box or any on field cameras (either from the boom operator or a shoulder-supported camera). If you can see a camera on you, or even if you think it’s on you, get your sign as high as you can.
- When the camera is on you, stay focused on the camera and let the sign do the talking – People love to see themselves on the Jumbotron and much of the time will see the camera on them but immediately look away toward the board to see themselves. That’s a big no-no. Whatever you do, keep looking at the camera and let the sign do the talking. Camera operators love when you focus on them as they’re focused on you. You don’t need to yell or scream or do anything crazy. The camera is on you because of the cleverness and style of your sign, not because you’re yelling like a madman. Stay calm, hold the sign high, and keep holding it until the camera is off of you.
Here are a few of the years the signs worked and we got on television or in major print media. (We got in a few other things that aren’t shown below.)
2007 – The Sign That Started It All
2009 – Our First Time on Television
2015 – After Six Years, We Were Back on TV
2019 – Center Stage
And some examples of signs that either didn’t get on television/big media or were only featured in small publications/blogs/message boards/etc.