ESPNU’s Campus Connection Brings Students Into The Broadcast

By Carolyn Braff

In the ever-competitive market of college sports broadcasting, ESPNU is looking to find an edge through its newest group of broadcasters – college students. ESPNU’s Campus Connection program invites students at partner universities to create their own segments to air on ESPN’s platforms, learn the ins and outs of ESPN production and even work on an ESPN network broadcast.

“It’s one thing to show games, and that’s a big portion of what we do,” explains Dan Margulis, director of programming and acquisitions for ESPNU. “But this is the perfect testing ground for trying new things. Students that are on campus bring a whole different perspective, and in many cases they are the future of what we do.”

Campus Connection works with students, professors and athletic departments at its 11 partner schools to incorporate student content into ESPN’s various platforms. The first group of partner schools already had journalism and communication programs in place, but Margulis expects the next set of partners to include a wide mix of schools diverse in their geography, size and student body.

Involved students have the opportunity to work as announcers for ESPNU, contribute feature segments to ESPN360.com and write articles for ESPN the Magazine. One of the program’s most successful collaborations took place on Jan. 9, when 16 students at the University of North Carolina joined ESPNU’s production team to produce the Tar Heels’ basketball game against UNC-Asheville.

“That case was sort of Campus Connection on steroids,” Margulis explains. “We basically integrated 16 students into the telecast in various roles. It was our equipment and the kids did some producing. We had three student announcers, one doing tape production, a bunch working stats and pulling cable. We showed them, ‘this is what happens in a broadcast.’”

The students met with the ESPNU production prior to the game, toured the truck and the facilities, and then went to work producing the event. While ESPNU had the chance to scout some future talent in the truck, the students brought a unique perspective to their features and sideline reporting, so it was a win-win for everyone.

ESPNU has plans to put together a similar partner broadcast at a Texas Southern softball game in April, but ESPNU’s small staff and limited funds keep the program from growing to schools that do not already own production equipment.

“One reason why we’ve gone to schools that have communications programs is that without providing equipment, we can ask them to produce a piece,” Margulis explains. “Then we come back and lay on our own graphic look and can air it on Sports Center U or ESPNU.com. Right now we’re not providing equipment. That may be something in the future that we look at, but that’s an expensive proposition.”

Although television may be the most popular way to get students involved, Margulis expects ESPN’s other platforms to gain more traction as Campus Connection moves forward. In June, one partner school will have the chance to program the network for several days, and ESPNU is already in discussions with the students to determine where the future lies for the program.

“In talking to them in their class, we asked if your school had a channel subset of ESPNU, how would you program it and how would you deliver it?,” Margulis explains. “Is Facebook the right thing? There’s always something new, so you tell us. We get very locked into a traditional mode sometimes, so this challenges us to stay young and stay different.”

Margulis explained that merely by living on a college campus, students are often more in tune with changing technology than ESPN’s tech experts, so leaving the creative end up to the students is essential.

“The future is extending it beyond doing just doing the standard TV, into all the different areas of technology,” Margulis says. “It’s really utilizing our website where we can take short-form programming and air it without having to do too much editing to it. Hopefully in the next couple of years, it will become part of the standard lexicon across all platforms. That will define the success of the program.”