Broadcasting from Rotch Field to beyond

by Libby Sweeney / Beacon Correspondent • March 29, 2017

Emerson Channel Sports' studio above the Bobbi Brown and Steven Plofker Gym.
Emerson Channel Sports' studio above the Bobbi Brown and Steven Plofker Gym.

When he was in high school, Bailey Kennedy didn’t know there were differences in the rules of women’s and men’s lacrosse. He played the sport zealously himself, but his all-boys institution left him unexposed to how the game worked in the women’s league.

When he was a junior at St. John’s Preparatory School in Danvers, Massachusetts, Kennedy and a friend began commentating their school’s sporting events. They decided to give it a go at the football games, and found that they really enjoyed it. Kennedy’s hobby influenced his college choice a year later. He decided to study journalism at Emerson, and immediately joined Emerson Channel Sports as a freshman to pursue his passion for commentary. 

“It was a really big factor,” Kennedy said. “Getting that experience made me want to do something like [it], and ECS is just continuing what I did in then.”

For Kennedy, ECS was the perfect place to go—it provides an opportunity for students that love sports to try their hand in a professional environment that broadcasts sporting events.

Now, Kennedy can tell you all the differences in male and female lacrosse, and he argues that the latter is more difficult, given the lack of physicality, and yet still the need for speed and skill in the game. Eager to be an ECS announcer when he was a freshman, his producers told him he needed to brush up on the women’s lacrosse rulebook, as well as other women’s sports—he was going to commentate some of their games.

“Everyone that’s in charge does a great job of giving you feedback,” Kennedy said. “They slowly try and get you to do every game possible, so you can find your best sport to do.”

Collaborative Effort for Top Notch Streaming

When Athletic Director Patricia Nicol was hired less than three years ago, she was told that streaming a game from Rotch Playground and Field—the South End home of the soccer, softball, and lacrosse teams—could never happen.  

After just two years, Nicol, along with ECS and Director of Media Relations and Game Operations Matt Ulrich, is successfully streaming every Emerson home game except tennis and cross country, due to those teams’ lack of a home field.

Nicol said this was one of her main goals for the athletic department since she was hired in May 2014.

“Matt [Ulrich] and I both felt that with the capability of Emerson, and the technology that Emerson is known for, that we would find a way to do it,” Nicol said. “It’s been one of our objectives to broaden our scope so we can put Emerson athletics out there in a broader spectrum than it had been in the past.”

Nicol and Ulrich began to work with ECS, a pre-existing organization, to cover games across the board, consciously appealing to one type of critic in the process—the parents and families of athletes.

Emerson often recruits from out of state, especially from California and Florida. For CJ Rogers, executive producer of ECS and an outfielder for the baseball team, this is what makes the organization so important.

“Our goal is to get every game streamed and viewable for all the Emerson parents and people at home that can’t travel to the games and still want to view,” Rogers said.

Now, sports coverage at Emerson is expected to grow exponentially with the introduction of the sports communication program, which has expanded to a major this year.

Adding an academic side to athletics, Nicol said, will give the department a more serious and purposeful reputation at and outside of Emerson—which has been a major goal all along.

“We really want to professionalize this,” Nicol said. “This will give real-life, practical experience for those students in the class.” 

Through this academic collaboration and experience, Nicol said, the department can help provide internships and career connections in the future, and be taken seriously in the field.

Eyeing the future, Ulrich and Nicol have an ultimate goal in mind—operate sports broadcasting outside of Emerson, such as covering a local high school championship game or even a NEWMAC game for a small price in return for the coverage.

“[We could] make a little bit of money for the students, but not to turn it into a moneymaker,” Ulrich said. “Just to grow the program more and bring money into places that students never thought they’d be able to.”

The Technology to Transmit 

Of course, the program wouldn’t be able to go anywhere without new technologies. While the advancements themselves have been small due to low budgets, Ulrich said, the few pieces of equipment accrued over the years have proven to be key components in growing the streaming program.

For example, there’s the 31-foot tripod, dubbed the ‘high pod,’ that Ulrich keeps at Rotch Playground and Field to shoot the best angle possible of the field. GoPro cameras cover fields and courts, tucked away in dynamic spots such as beneath the basketball hoops in the gymnasium.

Even the mats ECS recently purchased for their camera people to sit on have come a long way, making the operators more comfortable during cramped, extended periods of time. 

The tech is expanding in the ECS control room too. The graphics and replay systems are now more refined, and a major upgrade several years ago provided the group with an up-to-date switchboard.

Chris Black, executive technical director of ECS, said that all of these enhancements were received as donations. He also said the modern technology they have now provides professional preparation for the real deal.

“Whenever someone isn’t here, I can just jump into the position and fill it in,” Black, a visual and media arts major, said. “[That way] I get more experience in that position, but also when I’m watching others figure what they’re doing right or what we should improve and figuring out what to improve upon.”

A driving force in this technological expansion is Ulrich himself. 

Operating behind the scenes, Ulrich began to update all the streaming technology. He brought knowledge of post-production from the time he studied at Emerson, and the time he worked in information technology for the college, into athletics.

With no wireless internet at Rotch Playground and Field, Ulrich upgraded the DSL internet there to hotspot-like antennas with the help of the IT department, creating 4G streaming capability. He also switched all the streams to an Emerson athletics YouTube account, making streaming quicker and more accessible to a general audience than when the private streaming website, Median, was used before.

Ulrich has even received requests for input from the NEWMAC, whether they are looking to buy new equipment, have a technical issue, or simply want suggestions .

“We’re always happy to help because the better the NEWMAC looks, then [there’s] a little more pressure for us to stay ahead of the game,” Ulrich said. “We want our conference to look the best out there—we want students to know the NEWMAC.” 

Ulrich says that he has a crew of about three to five students who work in athletics and are involved with the game broadcasts, while ECS has a team of approximately 20 students that rotates each game.

While Emerson’s sports areas are eager to develop serious programs in and outside of the college, the first order of business has always been getting the sports out to the public—from there, Ulrich says, they will grow.

“In the end, we want to put out a really high quality product—as we do in most cases—but at the very least, I want to get the game out there so people can watch it,” Ulrich said.