Campus Connection Week Hits 81 Schools in 16 Conferences
In 2009, ESPNU expanded its Campus Connection program to a week of dedicated programming, incorporating students into college sports productions that aired on ESPN and ESPN2, as well as ESPNU. For the second-annual Campus Connection Week, held Jan. 25-31, students from 81 schools representing 16 conferences are getting into the game, serving as everything from production assistants to play-by-play announcers.
“It’s a big ESPNU initiative to get the student voice and perspective by tapping into the students,” says Dan Margulis, senior director of programming and acquisitions for ESPNU. “Over the last couple of years, we’ve learned a little bit more about what works and what doesn’t. Now we have such deep relationships with these schools that we have a much better sense of not only what works but which schools can best provide what elements of content.”
During this year’s Campus Connection Week, 49 men’s and women’s basketball games on ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU will feature at least one Campus Connection element and one profile of a student-athlete. Students have produced vignettes that will be shown during the games and will serve in editorial and behind-the-scenes roles that include producer, play-by-play announcer, stage manager, camera operator, statistician, and audio assistant.
Getting in the Game
ESPNU is also placing several students as embedded reporters in vocal student sections, which Margulis points to as some of the most successful elements of the week.
“Some of the content that was most effective from last year was the way we used some student fans embedded in the crowd to give that perspective,” Margulis says. “Student reporters are hit or miss, so we tend to back off of that a little bit, depending on the school.”
Two games this week are especially student-heavy. Both Monday night’s Alabama State at Southern game and Thursday night’s Mississippi at Auburn matchups use 14-16 students in various roles, which Margulis refers to as a full campus production.
“I liked the Southern game because it was different for us,” he says. “It’s a different college experience at an HBCU school so I thought we got a different perspective than we normally get.”
Overall, this week has been far smoother than last year’s debut.
“A big part was educating the producers that aren’t always touching [Campus Connection] on how we want it integrated so that it doesn’t seem forced,” Margulis explains. “We want it to seem authentic, and I think we’ve done a better job of that this year.”
It also helps that several Campus Connection alumni are now ESPN employees and can communicate to the network how to create a better production environment when they arrive on campus.
The Dating Game
ESPN was also able to push the event back one week this year, waiting for a week when more students have returned to campus after their winter break.
“We do this in mid to late January, and most schools have a significant period of time off,” Margulis explains. “You try to wrangle the students before they go away and then round them back up in January. That’s always the challenge with students: as good as they are, they’ve got their own lives going on, and it’s a different kind of deadline working with them and putting all of that together.”
Building a Legacy
The successful legacy of the Campus Connection program has also made life easier on the ESPN team.
“Through the relationships we built out, we are starting to get a handoff,” Margulis explains. “Now it’s not the first time we’ve been anywhere. We know what we need from the schools, and they have a better sense of what we’re going to ask from them.”
ESPNU has the freedom to experiment more than ESPN or ESPN2, and new ways to get students involved are always coming down the pipeline at the network.
“This is a great way for us to service the fan in a different way, by showing the voices and campus life through the students’ eyes,” Margulis says. “Even with the challenges, it’s one of the more fun things we get to work on.”