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College of Information and Communications

This is Sports Center? Ranta spends summer vacation at ESPN

Posted: July 23, 2014
by Jeff Ranta, instructor and doctoral student in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications

The new studio was enormous. Twenty-five foot ceilings, hydraulically-operated LED vertical displays, 247 miles of copper cable, 1,100 miles of fiber optic cable, more than 110 monitors and unprecedented capabilities were all brought together to support production of one of the highest rated cable programs in the country — ESPN Sports Center. 

Called DC 2, the new, 194,000 square foot studio building would not only house Sports Center but eventually become home to ESPN’s NFL sports desk and other productions. It was great to be there for the grand opening and see the wildly advanced Sports Center set first hand, but DC2 was only one of many projects I worked on during my two-week tenure at ESPN headquarters.

For me, the last two weeks of June were full of opportunities to “get my hands dirty” as an ESPN staffer, consultant and researcher in ESPN’s Communications Department.  I interviewed anchors and ESPN personalities, paved the way for launch of the ESPN SEC channel, met the head coach for the Indianapolis Colts, offered strategic public relations guidance on several PR issues, prepared scripts/copy and offered suggestions from the world of education for the benefit of ESPN’s communications team.

I was selected for this ESPN opportunity as part of the class of 2014 Plank Center Educator Fellowships. The Plank Educator Fellowship is a program sending educators into the “real world” to learn and teach. Betsy Plank, the program’s namesake, was a pioneer for women in PR. Ten educators per year are picked for this experience. 

In many respects, I benefitted as much from this opportunity as ESPN did. Here are some of the things I will be talking about this fall:

1.     Communications is proactive and reactive. Senior leadership regularly interacted with ESPN’s C-suite and passed that information on so no one was blindsided or unable to respond.

2.     Teamwork is not just for the sports teams ESPN covered. A team environment was encouraged and practiced across the department and the ESPN campus.

3.     Everyone is a publisher.  The ideal communications employee constantly seeks opportunities to maximize use and exposure across the media landscape — print, broadcast, web, social media, whatever. This implies competence in all those areas as well.

4.     Even with the tech, solid writing remains vital. When asked: “How do you advise an aspiring sportscaster?” one Sports Center anchor answered: “Well, first you have to learn how to write, then you gotta learn how to write and then you gotta learn how to write.”

5.     All work and no play makes for an inefficient work force.  The team that worked together played together and we shared lots of fun during the two USA FIFA World Cup matches as well as several other occasions.

ESPN was an exciting opportunity. It was an honor to be selected. I look forward to sharing my experiences and refreshed knowledge with our students when they return.

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