The work of two WAER staff members was recently honored in the 55th Annual Awards for Excellence in Broadcasting competition, sponsored by the New York State Broadcasters Association (NYSBA). The NYSBA represents the interests of over 300 television and radio…
Students Gain Professional Sports Broadcasting, Production Opportunities with ACC Network Extra on Campus
Mackenzie Pearce ’21 has helped produce 50 live Syracuse Athletics half-time and post-game shows, and manages a 15-member student team, as executive producer. Isis Young ’18, G’19 worked behind the scenes on sports features and as an on-air analyst for men’s and women’s soccer and men’s basketball. Kent Paisley G’18 was an associate producer for basketball and softball games, as well as an on-air talent for women’s soccer and softball.
They are just three of the growing number of University students who have built substantial professional résumés and reels in sports production and journalism through a real-world opportunity from a partnership between Syracuse University and ESPN.
In the control room at the Newhouse School studios, in front of the cameras and at the University’s Olympic venues, students have been involved in the producing, directing and operations, and the on-air hosting and analysis of more than 200 athletic events broadcast for the ACC Network Extra (ACCNX), a digital platform on WatchESPN.
“This opportunity means the world to me and is something I am so proud to be a part of,” says Pearce, a dual major in broadcast and digital journalism in the Newhouse School and communication sciences and disorders in the College of Arts and Sciences. “I am one of a handful of students that can say they have produced studio shows for ESPN at 19 years old.”
Pearce, who was awarded the Beth Mowins ’90 Award in Broadcast Journalism at Newhouse in April, is in charge of coordinating with on-air talent, game production crew and studio staff to develop storylines, graphics and show formats.
“Before each show, we conduct pre-production meetings with the crew and on-air talent and provide feedback and critique to both production crew and on-air talent,” Pearce says.
Guided by faculty and staff
Students work under the guidance of professors and professional staff, who ultimately oversee the programming supplied to the ACCNX, to help deliver the programming to the digital platform. It is an opportunity unique to Syracuse University—the only school to provide live pregame, halftime and post-game shows for the network.
“Students are getting the opportunity to experience real live broadcast—the speed, the expectations, the pace of it,” says Olivia Stomski ’01, director of the Newhouse Sports Media Center and professor of practice of television, radio and film and of broadcast and digital journalism, who oversees the students’ work for the studio shows. “Our students are leaving here with 10, 15, 20 ESPN games on their reel. This isn’t college work; this is professional ESPN with a national audience.”
The students’ work also highlights Syracuse University’s student-athletes. “We have an opportunity to talk about our student-athletes and the work they are doing in the community or who they are as people, and we didn’t have that platform before,” Stomski says.
Students began working on the programming in fall 2017, after the launch of the ACCNX in 2016. With the installation of fiber optic lines from the University’s Olympic sport venues and the Dome to the Newhouse School, and with other renovations to Newhouse 2, the Department of Athletics was able to bolster its technological capabilities to meet the demands of an ESPN sports production—and put students among the latest equipment used in the industry.
“It’s an incredible learning laboratory,” says Neal Coffey, manager of operations and engineering at Newhouse. “We’re one of a few schools in the nation that has a communications program and a big athletic program, so it’s a great opportunity for students to see how a show is professionally produced and the end result on the air.”
With the launch today of the ACC Network, a 24/7 “linear” television channel, ESPN will staff the Newhouse studios with its professional staff to produce the television broadcast shows, during which small groups of students will be able to watch and learn from the production.
Newhouse faculty and the Athletics Department staff who produce the sports programming supplied to the ACC Network Extra realized from the beginning that the partnership with ESPN would be a tremendous opportunity for students to learn and showcase their abilities.
“Experiential learning provides our students with hands-on experience producing live sporting events and studio shows, which prepares them to better compete when they enter the job market,” says John Wildhack ’80, director of athletics.
The results of the students’ hard work are being recognized.
“The quality of their work is very impressive. That reflects very well on them as individuals and on Syracuse University,” Wildhack says. “Many of the students who have worked on ACC Network productions in the first two years of its existence are now working for national networks, regional networks and other media outlets. The ACC Network provides great exposure for our student-athletes and gives students involved in the productions hands-on professional experience.”
High level of expectation
Students from Newhouse and across the University, both graduates and undergraduates, can participate, first as observers asking questions of the process. Students work as producers, directors, associate directors and on-air talent, or on the technical side, working with replay, audio or graphics. During the shows, faculty and staff guide students and give them advice. Newhouse adjunct Matt Park ’97 coaches all on-air students.
The high level of expectation for students also drives the professionals.
“It’s pushing us to make sure our students are prepared,” says Stomski, who has an extensive background in sports production with ESPN and FOX Sports. “We have to make sure our students are at that professional level before we put them on that platform—and they are.”
Daniel Kole, managing producer for the ACC Network and ESPN, says the students’ work has greatly enhanced the ACCNX productions.
“The ability for Syracuse to rely on their student population to help produce live games has been essential to the success of the ACC Network Extra,” Kole says. “With over 1,000 live events occurring in the academic year across the digital platform, having a self-sufficient University production team allows for enhanced programming opportunities and events.”
The ACC Network recognizes the importance of providing such opportunities to students.
“Producing over 100 live ACCNE events last academic year, the Syracuse team provides tangible and pertinent experiences for those students who wish to explore a career in television production,” Kole says. “Combining the experiences of the full-time Syracuse production team members with ESPN personnel who work with their team for linear [television broadcast] games gives the Newhouse students one-on-one interaction with those that produce some of the biggest events in sports television.”
How it’s done at ESPN
As senior producer in the athletics production department, Scott Hecht leads the unit in its work, including all ACC Network productions. The work was very familiar to Hecht, who came to the University in 2017 after having managed university productions for the ESPN/SEC Network in Charlotte, North Carolina. He had earlier developed the process for teaching students production for ESPN3, a digital network, and later incorporated that into the SEC Network.
While producing for the ACC Network, Hecht is in the control room directing, while Kristin Hennessey, also with Syracuse Athletics (and who formerly worked with ESPN and continues to freelance for the network), produces the show. They use the same terminology and processes as professional broadcast operations so students will feel comfortable once they land a job in sports broadcasting.
“We do conference calls with coaches. We hold production meetings with our talent,” Hecht says. “We teach students how we did it at ESPN. That puts our students so much further ahead of students elsewhere, and that’s why our students are getting the jobs.”
“In the last two years, we have placed about 20 to 25 students in television stations or at other universities, where they are calling games or producing games or working at ESPN, where they are production assistants,” Hecht says. “They are getting some great hands-on training, but they got there because of what we taught them at Syracuse.”
Learn and grow
Paisley, who earned a graduate degree at Newhouse in television, radio and film, with a sports communications emphasis, is a digital content producer with the LPGA. He credits Hecht and Hennessey with giving him the opportunity to learn and grow.
“Scott gave me a certain degree of responsibility and leeway in terms of making decisions,” Paisley says, such as finding a statistic for the on-air talent that would add to their conversation and enhance the viewer’s experience.
The lessons have followed him in his professional life. “The rush of live television and having to think on the spot has been very helpful in terms of interviewing athletes,” Paisley says. “The ACC Network Extra experience was a great developing experience to learn what is and what isn’t important on sports television, and what’s important to the audience.”
Jack Patel ’18, who produced pregame and halftime shows for soccer, basketball, field hockey and lacrosse for the ACC Network Extra, continues to use the skills he learned at Syracuse in his current position as a production assistant in the ESPN Next program. The Next program offers entry-level opportunities to experience many different aspects of the network. Patel focuses on the ESPN FC (soccer) program, which airs on the ESPN+ streaming service, cutting highlights and b-roll footage to go with news stories.
“The ACC Network Extra really helped launch my professional career because it gave me all the tools to succeed, especially now that I am at ESPN,” Patel says. “Not many students can say they have produced pregame shows that air on ESPN before they even graduate, and I am incredibly fortunate and grateful for that opportunity.”
Patel also recognized the faculty and staff who coached him through the process.
“I learned nearly all the ins and outs of the sports broadcasting industry from some of the best professionals in the business,” says Patel, who also noted how they helped connect him with other industry professionals. “As a result of that networking, I was able to put myself on the radar and stand out for such a big company like ESPN.”
Telling the stories
Young first started working with the ACCNX productions during the fall semester of her senior year, after speaking with Stomski. “I ended up doing a feature story on the men’s and women’s basketball strength conditioning coach, which appeared on the network during one of the men’s basketball games,” says Young, who received a bachelor’s degree in communication and rhetorical studies from the College of Visual and Performing Arts and a master’s degree in broadcast and digital journalism, with a sports emphasis, from the Newhouse School.
“That experience allowed me to see both sides—creating content, being behind the scenes and putting together a feature package that interests people and tells stories,” Young says. “But also being in front of the camera, telling viewers why they should want to see this, that was electrifying. After that, I knew I wanted to be a broadcaster.”
During her graduate studies, Young, who played women’s basketball, continued to work calling games, developing content and following the players to watch for. One hectic experience had her playing with her team for their first game at 3 p.m. (which they won 85-49 over North Dakota) and then changing into a dress to do studio analysis for the men’s basketball game during the 6 p.m. pregame show—a 15-minute mad dash between the game at the Dome and the Newhouse studios.
“That experience encompassed everything that I’ve done at Newhouse—to take what I do as a basketball player and be on the other side as a sports broadcaster,” Young says.
As she finished her program this summer, Young interned with the Kraft Group, which owns the New England Patriots and the New England Revolution. Working with the ACCNX gave Young a professional experience that she has already started to leverage in interviews. “As a student, I did what broadcasters do in real life,” Young says. “All the work I’ve done looks professional because it is professional.”