ESPN stages 'Ackbar' rally

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Crews working for the cable sports networks of ESPN are in Oxford this week filming an ESPN promotion that recreates a student-generated spoof of the University of Mississippi’s mascot controversies.
The film will be aired as a 30-second spot on ESPN networks and possibly in a longer format for web play in a campaign called “It’s Not Crazy – It’s Sports!”
“It’s highlighting true things that demonstrate sports’ ability to always surprise, inspire, dramatize and make life a lot less mundane,” ESPN Brand Manager Kevin Kirksey said.
The spot at Ole Miss uses students to recreate a bit of last spring’s tongue-in-cheek campaign to make Admiral Ackbar, a fish-like commander from George Lucas’ “Star Wars” movies, the successor to Colonel Reb.
“We’re shooting with a number of people around campus to show that at the heart of all that was a passionate group of students who wanted to find a new mascot to lead their team on-field,” Kirksey said.
Producers arrived last Friday to start interviewing and scouting locations. Crews have shot scenes in many places around campus and downtown “to capture the unique identity” of Ole Miss and Oxford.
“This spot is just to get a kind of general sense of importance of Ole Miss – of always being a Rebel, but the importance also of finding a new mascot to represent them on the field,” Kirksey said.
Other existing or future spots from “It’s Not Crazy – It’s Sports!” include one from minor-league baseball on the art of baseball sign language, another that trumpets the rivalry between the truck drivers who haul NASCAR race cars and equipment between tracks, and another that celebrates the Apollo 14 astronauts’ playing golf on the surface of the moon.
Felicity Hodges, a junior from Tunica majoring in elementary education, was one of the students acting in the Ole Miss production.
“They were in the front of the Union asking for volunteers,” she said. Hodges was willing to perform the same scenes over and again in the sweltering heat, but not to make a political statement about the university’s old mascot or the process to choose its successor.
“It didn’t really matter to me,” she said. “I just wanted to be on national TV.”