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The Real-Time Visual Content Strategy Behind Austin FC’s Legendary First Season

From Austin FC’s debut match in April 2021 through to their last game in early November, Austin’s first-ever professional sports team performed...

From Austin FC’s debut match in April 2021 through to their last game in early November, Austin’s first-ever professional sports team performed match after match with superstar energy for opponents, fans, and the media.

Ten days after the last game of their premiere season, we sat down with Rankin White, Austin FC’s team photographer, and Hannah Fields, the club’s digital communications coordinator to hear how they collaboratively strategize throughout the season to create their team’s ‘Bright Verde’ winning visual content strategy.

Watch the full hour-long session now or dive into our takeaways first below.

Meet the Team

Rankin White joined the Austin FC team in February 2021 shortly before their debut season began. His journey toward joining is as fateful as it gets. Currently, he’s full-time finishing his last undergraduate semester at the University of Texas and part-time on the field, but back in February after just six months working as an intern for the Texas football team, he started to set his sights higher. He asked his boss at the time if he knew of any well-paying side gig leads, the boss replied with information about a photo internship with Austin FC—and the rest is history as they say.

Rankin remembers calling the creative director at the time, “I came and tried out and quickly realized that I was the only photographer as opposed to just a photo intern. So, eventually, before the season began that turned into a pretty good part-time role with the club as a team photographer.”

Hannah Fields is an Arkansas native with two degrees — one in English, one in marketing. Shortly after graduating from graduate school, she relocated to Wisconsin to work for the Green Bay Packers for two seasons, but after tolerating the frigid temperatures for too long, she set her professional sights back toward the South. While interning with the Packers, she took on another role with Atlanta United, which would be her introduction to the professional soccer industry. Shortly after, she joined Austin FC and she’s been leading all things digital content and social media since April 2021.

An MLS Photographer’s Match Day Play-by-Play

First things first, Rankin started the session by establishing he and the Austin FC media team’s gear preference: “First I thought it was necessary to say that I shoot primarily Sony, so all the photos that you’ll see, I shot on Sony cameras. About 75% of the photos we take as a team are all on Sony cameras — we have some other people that shoot Nikon, sometimes Fujifilm, sometimes Canon as well, but primarily Sony. In case you were wondering, so that’s what we shoot on.”

Then, he broke down his matchday shooting schedule shot by shot: 

Shot 1: Establishing Shots

Rankin arrives at the stadium three to four hours early to get the two primary shots that Hannah needs to post on social as soon as the players get there — the stadium scene-setters and the player arrival shots.

“These are both from the last game against Sporting Kansas City. We usually shoot these out in the parking lot where the players park because it’s sponsored by Lexus and they like having some of their Lexus cars in the shots, but this day in particular during our last game, it was threatening to rain…so I wanted to let players get into the warmth and maybe take off their jackets and show off the nice ‘fits that they usually like to show off…And honestly, I really like these. We talked about it after this game and said that we should start doing some more in this hallway…Usually, I go out and I take arrival shots of each player, bring those in, I’ll edit a couple of them, send Hannah about 11 to 12 of our starting 11 player shots — and then Hannah will post those,” Rankin explains.

The idea behind posting an empty-stadium shot is to encourage anticipation, as Hannah says, “This is kind of how we set the tone for match day. Especially before our first couple of home matches when people hadn’t seen the stadium yet for themselves, this was a really fun way to get fans excited about the game. It’s still some of our best performing content…and I usually post it when gates open, so it’s just one more thing that they’ll look at before they get into the stadium and the match starts.”

Shot 2: The Pre-Game

Locker room moments are key for showing the players’ personal rituals and the mental shift that takes place as they go from individuals to teammates.

Rankin says, “Alex Ring, our captain usually gives a short speech and those are some primary photos that we need for social. Usually, those don’t actually get posted until a later game because of just timing with a lot of the other photos that we have and we’d just be posting way too much if we were posting those photos live, but you can’t really tell one game to another because they’re in a locker room. It looks all the same, which is super cool because it helps us plan our photography.”

Shot 3: The Warm-Up

Though this isn’t Rankin’s favorite part of matchday because of its routine nature, two of his favorite photos all year might actually be from the warm-up before their third to last game — an away game in Dallas. He said, “The one on the right might be my favorite photo all year, but definitely my favorite pre-game photo for sure.”

Shot 4: The Pep Talk

Then, before the player’s line-up for the must-have official Starting 11 photo, the coach and captain give one last pep talk, the team puts their hands in for one last huddle and the cleats get laced up tight…

Shot 5: The Starting 11

After the National Anthem and the occasional firework display, the players line up for the fan-favorite photo of the Starting 11. This photo showcases the starting roster of players and lets fans know what to expect after the first ball is thrown! Rankin says, “We have to get that shot. We have to get it up to Hannah and her social team because the fans who aren’t able to be here need to show who’s playing that day.”

Shot 6: The Team Huddle

Rankin shares, “I think my favorite part of the game is the huddle shot. I run out with the players — Alex Ring you can see just to the right of the goalkeeper in pink, he’s our captain. He usually gives a really quick talk and it usually has something to do with this being our city and that we need to play for our city and I’ve really enjoyed sticking my camera between different players if I can, or sometimes above, and getting photos like this.”

Shot 7: The Action

Throughout the game, Rankin’s main goal is to document the movement of the game and the players, “like players fighting for the ball, players throwing the ball, passing it, defending guys that are on the ball, taking shots like you see Moussa here—he actually scored that shot,” he said.

Shot 8: The Fans

It doesn’t take much to dominate the MLS scene as an Austin FC fan! The bright, bold green color scheme highlights this proud crowd who aren’t afraid to turn it up when cameras are watching. 

Rankin tries to catch the most fanatical moments, but because his focus during the game is action photography, they hire a separate photographer named Nico to stand in the supporter section and capture the madness.

Shot 9: Celebrations!

Last, but certainly not least — the most important shots of all are the celebration shots!  

“You see on the left here one of my favorite celebration shots of the year — right after McKinze Gaines, our first Austin-born player, scored his first goal for Austin FC….We need those shots game after game, and up immediately, as fast as we can, on social,” Rankin says.

Ultimately, Rankin says they need all of these types of photos because they, “Show who our players are and what’s happening on the field and we show interesting behind-the-scenes, or close interactions, that I have or the players have with each other that you won’t see on TV and you won’t see necessarily in highlight videos that show the chemistry and the identity of the team.”

Austin FC’s Real-Time Workflow

The less than 3-minute workflow relay from Rankin to Hannah, to your social feed, goes a little something like this:

Step 1: Rankin takes photos with the Sony A-9 cameras which have a convenient port on the side for ethernet attachments.

Step 2: Rankin runs to the north or south end of the field to instantly connect his camera to the ethernet cable.

Step 3: Rankin selects photos (and sometimes edits in real-time on the camera!) and sends the selects to an FTP folder connected to their PhotoShelter account.

“This is why PhotoShelter is absolutely critical to the speed and the photo-sharing process during the game. I send those photos from my camera immediately up to our PhotoShelter box. Our photo editor grabs those out of the PhotoShelter box, puts them into Lightroom, edits the ones that she thinks are best and then puts them into a separate PhotoShelter folder that Hannah is then able to pull from and use on our Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, other social platforms.”

Rankin White

Step 4: Photo editor browses selects and chooses photos to edit for social and web distribution.

Step 5: The photo editor edits the assets and adds edited selects to a new folder that Hannah and the Austin FC social team can access.

Step 6: Hannah browses the edited images and uploads photos across social feeds in real-time.

Rankin shares their team’s mid-season workflow epiphany: “One thing we had talked about halfway through the season is we were getting great reactions to just how fast we were getting our photos especially right after goals—it was like within a couple of minutes—that’s how fast we were getting goal shots out. Just a testament to the process.”

To see how Austin FC organizes their PhotoShelter Library to help enable frictionless asset searching, watch the full session on-demand.

Punt the Visual Content Further with Fan Engagement on Social

To build a sports legend fans want to support, both Hannah and Rankin have had to build a friendly rapport with each of the players so they have access and permission to capture emotional and candid moments with ease.

As a soccer industry rookie, Hannah’s whole strategic approach to social is so well balanced it seems as though she’s been perfecting it for years; the synergy between what Rankin naturally focuses on and what Hannah notices performs so well on social it seems fated.

“If you’re ever watching a game and then looking at our social feed, we do get photos out pretty quickly, so that’s just another testament to PhotoShelter and our team who are able to do things quickly like that for us,” Hannah says.

For a team whose speed and real-time creativity depend on having a solid wi-fi connection and clear communication, we have nothing but the highest of growth hopes for this Bright Verde Team Machine!

Want to learn more about Rankin’s gear pack and Hannah’s advice for asset archive organization?

Watch the full session on-demand now to catch the 20-minute Q&A at the end. Grab a notepad—you’ll need it!

Ready to transform your team’s creative workflow?