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Why Packers players' training videos are exploding on social media

Jim Owczarski
Packers News
Packers defensive tackle Kenny Clark pulled a bus during his offseason training, which was part of a video highlight reel that went viral.

In early April, Kenny Clark went viral.

It wasn’t exactly his intention. The Green Bay Packers defensive tackle just wanted some pictures of himself working out, but his trainer Jordan Campbell helped pull together a video of Clark’s offseason workouts at Winners Circle Athletics in Corona, California by bringing in visual artist Augustine Cheng to document the training session.

The result was a 2-minute, 16-second video of his training regimen laid over a speech from former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and music from AWOL Nation that included Clark pulling a bus and pushing a jeep.

Naturally, moving a several-ton motor coach will capture the internet’s attention.

“We were just working out and then I don’t know, we were just trying to find out something cool to do,” Clark told PackersNews.com. “I was just in the weight room and running around and stuff like that and he’s like man, let’s just pull this bus. I know you can do it. That was my first time doing that. I was surprising myself honestly. So that was pretty cool.

“Just something where we’re bein’ creative. It wasn’t nothing special or anything. It’s just, let’s do this.”

Clark’s video on Instagram – viewed nearly 15,000 times – is an example of a growing trend among professional athletes to hire professional photographers and videographers to produce slick, straight-to-social-media videos.

“You need content for that,” said Cheng, a freelance visual artist in California. “That’s another lane of revenue they could have even after they retire. Just have someone record what you’re doing, you have a following, you build another lane of revenue and I mean if it’s professionally done that can just add so much value to their whole bottom line. It’s like, why not? You can just invest whatever amount to hire a photographer or videographer and you can possibly sign deals with other brands outside of Nike, Adidas. These smaller brands are looking for the athletes that have a following. I think in the last seven or eight years no one’s really capitalizing on that. You see a lot of people who started making these YouTube channels because they have a following and it pays out. All they have to do is just record what they’re doing that goes viral and there are so many lanes of revenue they can generate just from creating content.

“Athletes are the OG influencers, if you think about it.”

How these partnerships between athlete and artist happen, however, is a bit interesting.

Even though a player’s agency may have a public relations arm to help promote them, these videos tend to happen via word of mouth. Outside of the formal team construct, players pay out of pocket for their offseason training and often work out with fellow players from around the league. In this setting is where the visual artists come in.

Za'Darius Smith trained at Better Every Day gym in Orlando, Fla. this offseason and had a video story made of his workouts to hype the 2020 season.

Often, they have a pre-existing relationship with the trainer or facility, or the artist has worked with another player and the referral came that way. Sometimes it’s a combination of both.

That’s how Mike Arroyo hooked up with Packers running back Aaron Jones and safety Will Redmond and David Mark Merrill connected with Packers outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith in Florida.

“Everybody’s working out, everybody’s talking, we’re networking and next thing you know I’m workin.’ So it happens like that. It always happens like that,” Arroyo said. “You’re just in the right place at the right time and people talking or you might have somebody call your phone and ask you where you’re going to be at and I’m like, 'I’ll be here' and he’s like, 'I need to meet you' and it goes from there.”

The result for Merritt was a 1-minute, 44-second video of Smith featuring a sound clip of Christopher Walken from the movie “Poolhall Junkies” and a sound bed Merrill purchased. The videographer also stitched in game highlights off Packers.com. The video had been viewed more than 32,000 times.

“I’ve never seen a video with that kind of content, which was amazing,” said Tony Ponton, Smith’s trainer at the Better Every Day gym in Orlando, Florida.

“At the end of the day I just love telling stories,” said Merrill, who is a freelance filmmaker based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “With Za’Darius’ video I feel the theme of that, the story was he’s such a lion – his position is literally a lion attacking his prey. I thought that whole voice-over and theme fit so perfectly rather than just a regular training video of just look at him running fast and have a song in the background. I want to actually evolve this into some sort of narrative.”

Athletes posting clips of themselves training is not new, but the use of such production raises it to a different level for the athletes and trainers involved. It wasn’t too long ago that the trainer was the ones shooting basic video. Now, it’s a burgeoning cottage industry that serves several purposes. It connects the players to their fan base, but they also send raw footage to agents or NFL personnel. It creates clips for the visual artists, but it also gives trainers and facilities additional publicity.

“People take notice of that,” Ponton said. “It’s really funny. I’m training a free agent by the name of Toby Johnson right now and he’s being overlooked and he was like man, I need to get the camera guy out there to take some video of me working because it seems like the guys who are posting more workouts videos are the ones being sent on visits or getting signed lately.  It’s funny how all three can kind of help each other out at the same time.”

Shooting days aren’t much different for the players as they’re just training and socializing like usual. The visual artists are moving just as much to get a multitude of angles, and if the workout consists of several players they’re often getting footage of more than one. They then spend hours editing to create custom imaging for each athlete.

They’re given quite a bit of creative freedom, however, usually only needing a sign-off from the player before pushing it live to the public.

“It’s one of them things where they finally realized that having a camera man is important,” said Arroyo, who owns MikeWill Pictures and has produced content for San Francisco’s Demontre’ Moore and Denver’s Von Miller. “Documenting everything is important. It never happened if you weren’t there. It never happened if you weren’t doing it. I think it’s important for them. Me, if I was a football player I would want somebody to document everything I’m doing just to show hey, I’m still in shape and hey, I’m not on this couch just being lazy.”

These videos gained tens of thousands of views and were shared tens of thousands of times. It will lead to more work for the visual artists, and even though Clark shrugged off the bus-pulling feat, he recognized the potential broader benefits in putting it on film.

“I was just bored and wanted to do something,” Clark said. “Of course, it’ll help your brand and get people to see you a little bit more and stuff like that, see a different side of you.”

Contact Jim Owczarski at jowczarski@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @JimOwczarski or Facebook at facebook.com/JOwczarski.