It’s game day and the air is electric. The players warm up. The cheer team practices its routine. The crowd is settling in. And eight Spartan students, with high-def cameras and multiscreen consoles, are ready to stream all the action across the nation.
The count begins: 30 seconds to air. 15. 10. 5, 4, 3, 2, and … roll!
Will Black, phone in hand, moves from one console area to another, where students review angles and plan shots. As broadcast manager for UNCG Athletics, he manages UNCG’s Spartan Sports Link ESPN3 streaming truck, part of a unique partnership between several Southern Conference universities and ESPN. The collaboration provides UNC Greensboro a truck filled with state-of-the-art equipment to livestream games on ESPN3, ESPN+, and the SoCon Digital Network, giving added exposure for the University and its athletics programs.
The educational mission is even better. Each broadcast provides an invaluable opportunity for students to learn the behind-the-scenes nuts and bolts of sports broadcasting.
“Working on the truck opened my eyes to know how the live broadcasting process works,” says freshman and camera operator Sevoni Pledger.
The truck is typically crewed by six or seven students, though if it’s especially busy they may have as many as nine. The students engage in all aspects of the broadcast, from operating cameras to monitoring audio to editing replays to managing graphics and overlays. The volunteers come from diverse majors. If you have a strong work ethic and are ready to roll up your sleeves, you’re welcome to apply. And while they learn the technical skills required to operate broadcasting equipment, equally important to Black are the larger, conceptual skills they take away from the experience.
“No matter what you’re doing,” he says, “whether you’re a theater major or a dancer, media studies or journalism, at the end of the day you can take something from this.”
Students learn the value of punctuality, timing, and communication during their work on the truck. By learning how sports broadcasters recognize and construct stories in the moment, they learn to think critically, process information on the fly, and make snap decisions.
For media studies senior Connor Lang, who can be seen working graphics, replays, or the camera board depending on the night, the work has been hugely influential.
“Before I started working, I wasn’t 100 percent sure what I wanted to do with my major,” he says. Now, he’s certain: He wants to work on a professional hockey team’s broadcast crew.
“I now know exactly what I want to do with my life,” he explains. Having the experience of working with real broadcasting equipment so early in his career, he notes, will be a great help in achieving this goal.
It’s not easy work, and by the end of each game the whole crew is exhausted. Sometimes, things go wrong. But, Black says, that’s a great professional lesson – that when you make a mistake you have to keep going.
“We may mess it up in the first five minutes, but that can’t distract us from the next 90 minutes of the game.”
That persistence is rewarded. The broadcasts speak for themselves. To Black, there is no greater validation for the work than someone outside of UNCG reaching out to commend them on the quality of the program. This praise is for the whole team, where every member – student or staff – is integral.
“Working in the truck has given me experience that most people in college do not have,” says director and media studies senior Evin Tillery.
To him, and the rest of the students on the broadcast, it’s an ESPN highlight every time.
Story by Avery Campbell, University Communications
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications