St. John’s Partners With ESPN3 on Live Broadcasts
With its conference future reshaping significantly over the next few years, the St. John’s athletic department secured a groundbreaking deal for the university this week. The St. John’s Television Network (STJ-TV) and ESPN announced a one-year partnership that will place as many as 60 Red Storm sports events on the network’s online platform, ESPN3.
According to Mark Fratto, St. John’s senior associate director of athletic communications, the deal is a win for the university on three fronts: increased national exposure, an added revenue stream, and educational opportunities for students.
“We really like this initiative because it benefits the entire university,” says Fratto. “With regard to exposure alone, our men’s basketball games are extensively covered on television, but this also provides the men’s basketball team the opportunity to have even more SportsCenter highlights, more Top Plays early in the season from Midnight Madness to exhibitions to non-conference matchups. For our Olympics sports and our women’s sports, the ability to have every home game on a national platform is unrivaled by any other university that we compete against.”
Since selecting the NewTek Tricaster as the centerpiece of its production in 2008, STJ-TV has produced four- and five-camera HD telecasts with full graphics, replay, announcers, and sponsored features. Over the past few years, STJ-TV has enhanced its style and boosted production capabilities to a point where it could strike a deal of this nature with a major distributor like ESPN.
Teaching as Well as Broadcasting
A typical STJ-TV broadcast is crewed by a approximately a 15-person team made up of a combination of local television professionals and St. John’s undergraduate and graduate students who are enrolled in a three-credit video production course; a unique opportunity for students to regularly work hand-in-hand with pros. [The course is taken through the College of Professional Studies.]
According to Fratto, STJ-TV works from a pool of about 15 students enrolled in the course per semester, plus additional student interns. St John’s athletic department’s director of multimedia Sean McCluskey, teaches the video production course and also coordinates and produces many of STV-TV’s projects. Ralph Bednarczyk, a broadcaster for STJ-TV has come to affectionately nickname McCluskey “Superman.”
“I think one of the most critical things that I identified early on was, I had to be as much a teacher as I was a broadcaster because the only way this was going to work and the only way this will continue to work is that we have to be teachers more than we are producers, camera people, coordinators, and broadcasters,” says Bednarczyk, who has called women’s basketball, volleyball, and more on STJ-TV for more than half of a decade. “That’s the only way that this sustains itself, because you’re always going to have students working on it that are learning and picking something up for the very first time.”
For the St. John’s athletic department, the ESPN3 deal is a milestone after more than five years of planning, building, and executing its own third-party digital network.
“We are excited about STJ-TV, our collaboration with ESPN3, and what this endeavor provides St. John’s University in terms of exposure and a hands-on educational experience for students,” says St. John’s Director of Athletics Chris Monasch. “This agreement was the culmination of emerging technology, hard work by our staff, and an outstanding relationship with ESPN. The 2012-13 broadcast schedule only begins to scratch the surface of what we hope STJ-TV can become.”
For ESPN, the Red Storm is another partner added to its list, which already includes ACC schools Clemson, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, and Florida State.
“ESPN3 continues to adopt innovative production and distribution practices in an effort to achieve our commitment to provide unmatched quality and availability of thousands of live college events from across the country,” says John Lasker, VP, digital media programming and acquisitions, ESPN. “St. John’s shares our innovative spirit and is on the cutting edge with their production capabilities, and we’re looking forward to working with them in this unique collaboration.”
A Common Graphics Engine
One of the major pieces of the collaboration of these ESPN3 collegiate partnerships lies in the graphics engine. With all its partners running off the same Ross Video XPression, ESPN3 can add a layer of professionalism and uniformity to all of its Webcasts. In addition, St. John’s uses the new Chyron IP graphics generator to complement the XPression. For the schools, having ESPN graphics on their productions brings a level of credibility.
“It takes it to another world,” says Bednarczyk. “I think instantly it attracts eyeballs and keeps eyeballs.”
ESPN3 is accessible online at WatchESPN.com, through smartphones and tablets with the WatchESPN app, and through ESPN on Xbox. By way of providers like Time Warner Cable, Cablevision, and Verizon, all of New York City and much of the metropolitan area now has access to ESPN3 programming.