Putting on an event like the Signing of the Stars extravaganza that took place at Hill Auditorium on Wednesday is no small operation.
Jim Harbaugh’s ceremony walked the line between award ceremony and draft day and, to the capacity crowd in attendance, it was a roaring success. Derek Jeter, Ric Flair and Tom Brady all had their moments, as did Harbaugh and his brother, John, and every recruit got some screen time.
The man in charge of pulling it off was Matthew Mills, executive producer of the Brooklyn-based production Spacestation. Mills and his company have worked with The Players’ Tribune as an outside contractor in the past, and when it came time for someone to oversee the production for the signing day event, they couldn’t say no to the opportunity.
“We jumped at the chance,” Mills said. “It’s Harbaugh. It’s Michigan football. What wouldn’t you do?”
When Mills finally got working, he found that the man in charge, Harbaugh, already had a vision. He wanted the show to be a combination of ESPN’s College GameDay, a draft day special and an award show. The fruition of that was a series of presenters introducing recruits, comedian Randy Sklar to emcee and a three-man panel of former coaches Mike Shanahan, Lou Holtz and ESPN analyst Todd McShay to analyze their game film live.
In the least surprising news of the day, Mills said Harbaugh was hands-on throughout the process.
“He just contributed a lot of energy and enthusiasm,” Mills said. “He just said, ‘Make this bold, make this different, make this something unique.’ And I think we gave him that (at) almost every turn.”
The Players’ Tribune organized the event, with Spacestation brought on to oversee the direction and production process. But when Mills and Harbaugh began working together, the producer saw that Harbaugh possessed the same knowledge that he believes most stars and creative people also share.
“There really aren’t that many actual rules — outside of compliance, of course,” Mills said. “He understands that we should all try to take risks and be adventurous. You can see it in everything he does, and we saw it in this event too.”
Working within the confines of the compliance rules, Harbaugh’s vision came through clearly. And given Harbaugh’s connections with former coaches and athletes, there was no shortage of star power for Mills to work with.
“Michigan did an amazing job getting all these celebrities,” he said. “And, you know, they had people coming out of the woodwork for them. They had people calling them. I mean, we didn’t have enough room for everybody we would have liked to put in the show.
“It’s just amazing, the cast of characters that assemble around Harbaugh. … We just wanted to make sure we had a platform to celebrate Michigan football, to celebrate these recruits, to celebrate these student-athletes and coach Harbaugh, of course.”
And on just about every front, their mission was accomplished.