The University of Toledo Department of Communication, in cooperation with the UT Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, will mark its 100th ESPN3 production Saturday, April 29. The landmark broadcast will be the Rocket softball team’s game vs. Western Michigan.
UT first began producing games for ESPN in October 2015 as part of an agreement between the Mid-American Conference and the worldwide leader in sports. Unlike many of the other MAC schools, however, UT was able to build upon the longstanding relationship between its Athletic Department and the media production component of the Department of Communication to create an academic-driven means of producing game broadcasts. This initiative was led by the late Don Reiber, UT director of media services and faculty member in the Department of Communication. Reiber developed a Live Web Streaming course that would provide the students needed to serve as the eight- to 12-person technical crew for each ESPN3 production, as well as the numerous football and basketball games that were already being produced for the Glass Bowl and Savage Arena’s live video board audiences.Over summer 2015, the Department of Communication and the Athletic Department pooled resources, investing in new equipment to outfit an existing television production truck owned by the Communication Department that had been unused for several years. Seeing both the academic potential and the opportunity to reach a much larger audience, UT’s administration authorized the creation of two new staff positions to support the endeavor. UT hired John Eidemiller, who previously had been a media producer in the Department of Communication, into a new role as executive producer for ESPN and athletic video productions, as well as UT alumnus and former WTVG 13 ABC executive director Jonathan Mondelli, into the role of technical director.
Unfortunately, in September 2015, just weeks before the first scheduled UT-produced ESPN3 broadcast, Reiber passed away unexpectedly. Determined to still meet the broadcast schedule that they had set weeks before, Eidemiller and Mondelli pressed on, completely rebuilding and rewiring the production truck in less than two weeks with the help of Meagan Dietz, who was then a junior majoring in communication, and getting all of the newly received equipment configured in time for the first scheduled production, a UT volleyball game vs. Western Michigan.Over fall semester 2015, Eidemiller and Mondelli continued to update the production truck, and the UT crew eventually racked up a total of 53 game productions for ESPN3 in the inaugural year. This year, an additional 51 total broadcasts will be completed by the end of the spring sports season.
The class has changed somewhat. Eidemiller has taught the Live Sports Production for each of the four semesters since taking it over following Reiber’s death, and has refined it each time to address the goals of the students, but he said that at the core, the principle remains the same.
“There’s a big push right now in higher education for hands-on experiential learning that gets students out of the traditional classroom,” Eidemiller explained. “That is exactly what this is all about. The biggest difference between Toledo and what a lot of other schools are also doing in terms of delivering content to ESPN is in our approach. With the exception of me, Jonathan, the on-air talent, and one or two paid undergraduate students in mentoring roles on the crews, our productions at UT are entirely staffed by students earning class credit. That lets us produce far more than the minimum 35 games per year required by the MAC, while at the same time giving our students a chance to graduate with hands-on experience that they simply cannot get at most other universities.”Mondelli added, “We do our best to rotate students through each crew position so they learn a variety of technical skills they can apply later in their careers, such as camera operator, graphics operator, audio and replay. Those students who show an interest in a particular skill can continue to fine-tune their abilities by doing an independent study. Our students get to learn remote production hands-on with some of the latest broadcast-level equipment available, making the learning curve for our students much easier when they transition to an industry crew. All of this makes our students extremely versatile in the ever-changing job marketplace.”
“You learn through the different positions on the crew how everyone works together and that you really do need everyone,” said Dietz, who will graduate in May with a double major in communication and film after working on nearly all of UT’s first 100 ESPN3 productions. “We work together and get to put out something that can be seen by anyone in the world. I like that I get to put my name on a quality production and that I have leg up on people who don’t get that experience in school.”
In addition to the complement of women’s soccer and women’s volleyball games in the fall, men’s and women’s basketball in the winter, and baseball and softball in the spring, Eidemiller and Mondelli are planning to increase coverage to include women’s swimming and diving in the 2017-18 academic year, and are exploring the possible addition of tennis down the road.
All UT-produced ESPN3 games are available online at watchESPN.com or on mobile devices through the ESPN app. For a full schedule of games, including a listing of available TV viewing options, visit UTRockets.com and search by sport.
Students interested in becoming part of the production crew are encouraged to contact Eidemiller at email@example.com or Lisa Bollman, academic adviser in the Department of Communication, at firstname.lastname@example.org.