To Bypass NYC Media Traffic, St. John’s Turns to Streaming

By Carolyn Braff

College athletic departments in major media markets constantly face a double-edged sword: big-time broadcasters are just steps from campus, but airtime competition is far fiercer than in areas where college sports lead the nightly news. St. John’s University in Queens, NY, faces this situation daily. Despite being a member of the Big East Conference, Red Storm sports are often swallowed in the New York City media circus, so Mark Fratto, associate athletics director for communications, decided to take his content to another platform.

The most popular sport at St. John’s is basketball, and the team’s biggest games are played in Madison Square Garden. For those played at home in Carnesecca Arena, Fratto instituted a streaming initiative that effectively creates a mini-TV studio inside the 6,000-seat arena.

“Using our NewTek TriCaster TC350 system, 18- to 22-year-old students are becoming broadcasting experts,” Fratto explains. “The TriCaster allows us to tap into a talented, plentiful economic labor force.”

Using the TriCaster Studio system with three Canon GL2 cameras, he spends about two weeks teaching a group of students how to operate the equipment before they start working as their own team. Setting up the cameras and switcher requires about 45 minutes and four students — one to work each of the three cameras and one to serve as producer — and the students rotate positions, getting creative in the process.

“They use the TriCaster to stream the live broadcast, but they also use it for pregame shows, coaches’ interviews, and postgame highlights,” Fratto explains. “Because the system packs up into a carrying case, they’re able to pick up the entire system and move it elsewhere with relatively little effort.”

When St. John’s men’s soccer team made it to the NCAA tournament, Fratto’s student team took the TriCaster to the site of the press conference where the bracket announcement was made and got on-the-spot reaction interviews. They then sent their highlight footage to New York’s local ABC station (in NTSC 4:3).

“The Internet has given us a chance to reach out to fans that the major media outlets haven’t reached out to in the past,” says Athletics Director Chris Monasch.

For game coverage, a separate radio crew works off a Soundcraft audio board to deliver the live game call to the stream, and all video content is available on the St. John’s Athletic Department Website, hosted by CBS College Sports. Most of it is tied into a subscription service, but some content is also available for free.

“We’re hoping to get some nice, fluid-head tripods as our next purchase,” Fratto says. “That will help take these productions to the next level.”

Also moving to the next level is Carnesecca Arena itself, which is in the midst of a $30 million upgrade that will, thanks to a fresh emphasis on video, include the installation of a center-hung video scoreboard.

“We’re in the middle of a multi-year renovation on the building, and the center-hung scoreboard and new public-address system will certainly be a big part of it,” Monasch explains. “Video now is such a huge part of the in-game experience and so many things that we do that we want to really be on the cutting edge of what’s going on in the league and around the country. It will make the experience better for fans.”

Rather than build out a separate control room to operate that new board, Fratto plans to rout his video team’s streaming feeds directly into the board to provide video coverage, saving the university a considerable amount of construction cost and headache.

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