STUDENTS PLAY KEY ROLE IN ESPN3 BROADCASTS
By Pete Rosenbery
It is four hours before the Saluki men’s basketball team faces Bradley in a mid-February Missouri Valley Conference game at the SIU Arena, and students Sam McGlone and Zachary White are in a 24-foot production trailer working to ensure everything runs smoothly for a nationwide audience later that night.
McGlone and White are among 30 students in the Mass Communication and Media Arts’ Radio, Television, and Digital Media program who gained valuable experience producing Saluki volleyball and men’s and women’s basketball broadcasts on ESPN3. The online service is free to all users.
“I love it,” said White, a junior from Pleasant Hill. “It’s a lot of fun to be able to not only work for games but also do it for ESPN3. As a kid, I always watched ESPN and now to be able to have this under my belt is pretty exciting.”
Under a 10-year agreement between the MVC and ESPN that began last fall, the in-house productions for home broadcasts of select sports at each of the member schools provide hands-on opportunities for students and another media platform for the conference. The production trailer used for Saluki games -- donated by Niles Media Group and 1987 SIU Carbondale radio-television alumnus John Sprugel -- features high definition, state-of-the-industry equipment.
Students’ roles included camera operators, technical director, assistant director, graphics, video and replay operators, and late in the basketball season, a sideline reporter. The students rotate on the various jobs to gain experience. Professional announcers provided play-by-play and color commentary.
R. Dennis Galloway, an assistant instructor in radio-television, oversaw each of the 38 broadcasts. He worked professionally in television production for more than 30 years, including directing major league baseball broadcasts and other team sports for 25 years.
“This is a tremendous opportunity in that in class we talk about theory and ethics, and here they get practical experience doing what they want to do for the profession,” Galloway said. “One great thing that happens with students is when it is time for them to leave and they apply for jobs or internships, they can say they have worked for ESPN3 productions. It’s a great benefit.”
White said classroom discussions include camera setups and angles, and reacting to different situations.
“The best way I have found to learn is to come to the game and work as many games as possible and get that real-world experience. I see what it takes now,” said White, who wants to pursue a job in freelance sports production.
McGlone is a graduate assistant pursuing a master’s degree in professional media and media management with a specialization in digital documentary production. He earned his bachelor’s degree in radio-television in December 2014. He estimates that by the time he leaves graduate school he will likely have worked 100 ESPN-affiliated shows. He also wants to pursue freelance jobs, with the ultimate goal of working for a network or the Golf Channel on golf broadcasts.
McGlone recalls the first broadcast without mentors from Niles Media Group assisting them. To prepare graphics for that night’s volleyball match, he would show up at 8 a.m. for a 7 p.m. first serve. For the game this particular evening, he arrived at about 2:30 p.m. and was comfortable in the preparation.
“Now, most likely, nothing is going to pop up that is going to ruin everything,” McGlone said.
Shane Gibbons, coordinator of video service for Intercollegiate Athletics, and Tom Hexamer, MCMA’s multimedia supervisor, oversee the broadcasts’ technical operations. Hexamer said the interest in students’ producing live events is nothing new, noting that in the late 1990s, students shot football games on tape for re-broadcast on the campus cable system. This, however, is much different.
“This is hands-on; it’s problem solving and it’s live. It’s not like tape where they can go back and correct their mistakes,” Hexamer said. “This teaches them how to react. The only enemy they have is the clock. It just keeps ticking and doesn’t wait for anybody.”
Gibbons, who graduated from SIU Carbondale in 2014 in radio-television, said broadcasts are improving with each one. ESPN and Niles Media Group personnel watch the broadcasts and ask about the students’ progress and potential, he said.
“Our broadcasts have gotten better and better,” Gibbons said. “The stress level on the days of our broadcasts has definitely gone down. We have gotten a lot more comfortable with the trailer. In the beginning, it was all new to us and we were learning on the fly. Now that we have it down a bit it has been a lot of fun.”
The number of logins for men’s and women’s basketball games isn’t available from ESPN, but women’s volleyball averaged 2,500 logins per match, with a high of more than 9,000 for the Oct. 3 match against Missouri State.
“The ESPN3 agreement has been a fantastic educational opportunity for the institution and a national showcase for our student-athletes,” Athletics Director Tommy Bell said. “Academically, it provides a world-class, ‘laboratory-type’ experience for students interested in video and sports production. The equipment used to produce the broadcasts is the equivalent of what you’d find in a typical ESPN production facility. Students work alongside top-notch faculty and staff, allowing them to receive training they could not find elsewhere.
“The extensive reach of ESPN helps SIU Carbondale remain connected with its many alumni around the world. We are often told that our productions are the best in the Missouri Valley Conference, and that is a testament to our faculty and students who make the broadcast happen each and every event. This is a great success story of how to integrate the theoretical and the practical sides of the educational experience at SIU,” Bell said.
The students’ involvement with ESPN3 in a live sports television production environment gives them a “distinct advantage” when marketing their skills, Sprugel said.
“It is critical for students learning the sports television production business to receive hands-on, practical, real-life experience,” Sprugel said. “I am filled with pride that SIU is one of the few places in the country where students can learn this business on state-of-the-art industry equipment … and in a real-world application. It’s a win, win, win situation for the student, the university and the sports television production industry.”
Galloway said he emphasizes to students to watch other conference broadcasts to see what is out there.
“We are not comparing our shows to the Valley shows,” Galloway said. “We are comparing our shows to professional shows. We are setting the bar high.”