How two students captured the world’s attention through viral video
UNC Asheville’s keeper, Lassi Hurskainen, has more saves than any other college soccer goalie so far this season. But that’s not why his name gets bandied about on ESPN and Good Morning America. It is his trio of trick-shot videos that have millions of people, including network correspondents and a small army of bloggers, charmed by his sense of humor and awed by his athletic skills.
Hurskainen, a 24-year-old senior who is set to graduate in December, hopes to turn pro as a goalie. But he notes that “pro coaches aren’t looking for a trick shot artist.” So, capitalizing on the skills and experience he’s gained from his internship with the media office of UNC Asheville’s Athletic Department, he is working on a new video for coaches, which highlights his skills as a keeper.
Hurskainen will use that video, as well as more traditional means, to gain invitations to post-graduation tryouts. In the meantime, he has already established a knack for video communication and marketing that will complement, and could even surpass, what he can do on the field.
It all began innocently enough for Hurskainen when he and classmate Kenny Paradiso ‘11 saw a football quarterback’s popular trick-shot video last year. As Hurskainen tells the story, “Kenny said, ‘you can do better tricks with your feet than he’s doing with his hands’—he believed in me more than I believed in myself.” So Paradiso and Hurskainen, both Mass Communication majors, and Biology major Jesse Tanas ‘11, decided to have a little fun with a camera and some soccer balls. Hurskainen’s first opus, a three-minute video, now has more than three million views. Combined, his three videos have surpassed six million hits.
Although Hurskainen had helped produce live sports broadcasts as part of his internship in the Athletics Department’s media office, his videos have a homemade feel that is part of their charm. “They weren’t for course credit,” said Hurskainen, “This was going out at two in the morning to make videos – it was purely to have fun.”
“Lassi borrowed our camera, and when the video was done, he uploaded it to YouTube himself at 3 a.m.,” said Matt Pellegrin, director of Media Communication for the Athletics Department. “By morning, there were 700 hits, and 5,000 more the first day. It just took off. It was the right idea at the right time.” Soon the blogs were full of debate over whether the tricks were real (they are).
Hurskainen’s second video garnered “only” 780,000 views, perhaps because the novelty had worn off. But for his third video, Hurskainen, a native of Finland, chose a Finnish product as a theme – Angry Birds, the world’s most popular cell phone game. Hurskainen stages a real-life Angry Birds game against freshman goalie Dan Jackson, with both kicking soccer balls at the game’s signature green plush pigs from every conceivable distance and angle. In the end, Jackson, as the loser, must don the yellow bird suit and face a firing line of teammates with soccer balls. With this video now surpassing two million views and attracting attention from non-sports fans, Hurskainen has succeeded in branding himself to a mass audience, at virtually no cost, in a way no high-priced consultant could have planned.
“I read a comment online from a guy saying ‘who wouldn’t hire this guy who can self-promote single-handedly with a couple of friends and get millions of views?’ I do try to show my video skills,” said Hurskainen, who hopes to work in sports broadcasting when not in front of the net.
As for branding himself, “it was definitely unintentional. The idea was to have a win-win situation for the school, for me, and for the soccer program from a recruiting standpoint. I hope a lot of people will come to know our school.” People who see the videos may associate UNC Asheville with good humor and fun. As the Storyful blog put it, “[UNC] Asheville is described as a ‘public liberal arts university’ but judging by the video, it’s a secretly hilarious goalkeeper training camp.”
Certainly the world is getting to know Hurskainen: “After the first video, I had three or four interviews a day around the world.” Producers from the German Galileo TV network came to campus to have Hurskainen re-create his tricks in front of their cameras. They produced an eight-minute feature about him that was broadcast during halftime of the Champion’s League final, a European rough equivalent of the Super Bowl.
It is Hurskainen’s dream to someday defend the net in the Champions League. His quickness, spring-like legs and pinpoint kicking should at least make coaches take a long, hard look at him. And whether by accident or keen marketing instincts, Hurskainen’s name is already known in the sports media where he also hopes to work. With his dual skill set, Hurskainen could be someone whose moment of fame lasts far longer than 15 minutes.
But for the next few weeks, he is still doing triple-duty—carrying 20 credits, working as a sports media intern, and defending UNC Asheville’s goal. If you arrive early for the few remaining home games, you’ll see him setting up the video equipment on the sideline. And then when the games begin, it will be everyone’s final chance to see Hurskainen making acrobatic saves and long downfield kicks wearing his UNC Asheville #1 jersey.
To see the soccer schedule, visit uncabulldogs.com.