Syracuse-ESPN partnership provides students with the ultimate sports broadcasting experience

Fans of ACC sports were excited to learn of ESPN’s plan to launch the ACC Network in 2019. For students at the Newhouse School, the excitement began much earlier, with the launch of the network’s digital platform, ACC Network Extra, available on WatchESPN. A resulting partnership between Syracuse University and ESPN has given Newhouse students unprecedented experience in high-tech professional sports production and sports journalism, and allowed them to bring their work to a national audience.

Since last fall, Newhouse students have been involved with every broadcast for ACC Network Extra—over 90 in total—both in front of and behind the camera. Sports have included men’s and women’s soccer, women’s volleyball, men’s and women’s basketball, softball, women’s tennis, women’s hockey and men’s and women’s lacrosse.

Olivia Stomski coaches students in the studio.
Olivia Stomski coaches students in the studio.

Syracuse is the only school to provide live pregame and halftime shows for the ACC Network, with students serving as hosts, analysts, producers, directors, associate directors and production assistants under the direction of Olivia Stomski ’01, director of the Newhouse Sports Media Center. “The addition of the studio shows is a great opportunity for our students to get hands on experience,” she says “They have taken ownership of producing and directing these shows, creating content and telling stories of our teams and student athletes.”

Students also work on the production side, filling roles including instant replay, time out coordinator, associate producer or associate director, among others. “This has opened up new opportunities for students in sports production and sports journalism,” says Neal Coffey, Newhouse’s studio manager. “And it’s a great real-world laboratory for our students to learn in and our faculty members to teach in.”

Student Dominique Patrick uses the touch screen at the Newhouse studio to analyze a play in a women's basketball game.
Student Dominique Patrick uses the touch screen at the Newhouse studio to analyze a play in a women’s basketball game.

“Voice of the Orange” and Newhouse adjunct Matt Park ’97 is the main instructor and coach of all students on-air. “Syracuse is basically the only institution at the intersection of having a top communications school and having this arrangement with ESPN,” he says. “We have the school, which attracts top students and faculty, the facilities and the major sports program in a conference that is attempting school productions. There has also been more of a commitment to involving and developing students than has been made anywhere else.”

Laying the groundwork

Last summer, the Newhouse School and the Syracuse University Department of Athletics worked to install fiber optic lines connecting five Olympic sport venues to the school, and connecting the school to the Carrier Dome. Part of the $18 million renovation of Newhouse 2, which greatly enhanced Newhouse’s broadcast infrastructure, this connection allows the Athletics Department to significantly upgrade from the schedule of one-camera web streams it had been producing. The school’s production control rooms can send and receive signals to produce a complete event, including multiple cameras switched with replay, graphics and commentary. This allows the school to keep pace with technological changes in sports production, which better prepares students for careers in the industry. Coffey says he expects the technology to grow and evolve as sports production needs expand. Students will begin feeding linear content on cable and satellite providers via ESPN in the fall of 2019.

ESPN veteran Scott Hecht, who had previously served as manager of university productions for the ESPN/SEC Network in Charlotte, North Carolina, joined the Athletic Department last summer to oversee the day-to-day operations of the ACC Network on campus, and he works closely with the students on the production side. “We want them to do everything,” he says. “Anything that they want to do, we find a spot for them. They’re getting the opportunity to touch a lot of different areas of television production.”

Hecht says ESPN executives have been pleased with the students’ work. “They love it,” he says. “It’s as good as professional work.”

Students Erin Fish and Sean Cameron at the Syracuse University soccer stadium, where they worked as announcers at a men's game earlier this year.
Students Erin Fish and Sean Cameron at the Syracuse University soccer stadium, where they worked as announcers at a men’s game earlier this year.

The students benefit not just from the practical experience, but also from the immersion into the ins and outs of live production, according to Hecht. “We are realistic with them,” he says. “We want them to have fun, but we also push them and show them what the expectations are.” The students are enthusiastic about the experience. “This is what they came here for, this is what their goal was, and to get this opportunity—especially the freshmen, who will have four years of this—it’s huge for them. It’s really geared toward what they want to do for the rest of their lives.

“I tell the students, with a degree that says Syracuse and a resume that says you worked on 100 ESPN telecasts, people will say, ‘Wow! When can you start?’”

Broadcast and digital journalism (BDJ) master’s student Dominique Patrick G’18 began by “shadowing” broadcast games and eventually had the opportunity to produce a women’s volleyball game. She then went on to serve as a studio analyst. She says learning to juggle these duties with her schoolwork and other commitments was the most challenging aspect of the experience, but it was also the best preparation for her career. “I want to produce and be an-on air talent, so learning to balance so many things at once is just real world in my field of choice,” she says. Patrick also points to the practical skills she developed through the process. “[I learned] about graphics and being a business woman and speaking professionally in order to be the ‘boss producer.’”

Student Julian Whigham in the studio.
Student Julian Whigham in the studio.

Zach Staton G’18, also a BDJ master’s student, took on the roles of studio analyst, studio host and play-by-play announcer. “The most challenging part was just getting used to all of the production aspects,” he says. “I now have a much better and more trained eye for what I’m looking for to prepare for a broadcast. That’s a tribute to working with so many people who have experience in the industry.” He says Park and Stomski were instrumental in helping him and his fellow students hone their skills.

At a school already known as the best place for aspiring sports broadcasters, the ACC Network ups the ante. “All of the famous Syracuse alumni, both in front of and behind the camera, got their education and professional foundation without the benefit of many, if any, full-scale live television broadcasts,” says Park. “Now there are countless opportunities for whoever wants them and is qualified for them.”