CSMA Master Class: Saint Cloud State’s Husky Productions More Than a Student Operation
Since its inception, the College Sports Media Awards have recognized the best in the college-sports-production arena. As technology and production techniques improve, the ability to create high-quality video on any budget has proliferated significantly. At the College Sports Video Summit, six universities and two professional networks were honored for their work in sports video. Each Thursday this summer, SVG is proud to offer an in-depth look at these personalities and programs that have raised the bar for what college sports video is capable of.
“FSN or better.”
It was a simple mantra that the 2011 class of Saint Cloud State’s Husky Productions operated by.
Citing the local Fox Sports North affiliate’s coverage of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild, Gregory Martin, professor of Television Production at the university issued the challenge to his student-run live hockey broadcast team to appear anything but student-run.
“[Professor Martin] consistently said to us every weekend that we had a game that our competition in the area was FSN,” says Josh Akkerman, a former producer, “and that if we wanted viewers and wanted to be looked at as a legitimate broadcast we had to rival FSN.”
A professional culture was the driving force behind Husky Productions’ victory at the College Sports Media Awards in June, where a broadcast of St. Cloud State Men’s Hockey vs. Colorado College won in the category of College Academics – Live Event.
Husky Productions covers the entire 19-game home WCHA schedule live for the Saint Cloud State men’s hockey team. The Colorado College game is just a sample size of the major operation that St. Cloud students run each academic year, but it’s a peak at how strong a student production can be when clicking on all cylinders.
For Martin, though, a solid production is less about broadcasting a perfect game and more about delivering a high-quality product on a consistent basis.
“Production quality is going to vary no matter whether you’re pro or student,” says Martin, “and sometimes everybody is going to hit and sometimes somebody will drop the ball, but we are also very, very good at adapting to change. In that particular case with the Colorado College game, it all came together very well. There were good packages and interesting features; the students deserve all of the credit.”
Akkerman fits the classic mold of the small town kid with big time dreams. He grew up in Rose Creek, MN; a town with a population of only 396 located just seven miles north of the Iowa border and a solid two-hour drive south of Minneapolis.
Working in live television is his passion and at Husky Productions, he got the best boot camp he could have asked for.
“It’s the best experience you can get at St. Cloud State,” says Akkerman, who accepted the CSMA at the College Sports Video Summit after graduating from Saint Cloud State in May. “For many years it’s been called our ‘cream of the crop’ show. Only the best UTVS-ers from the station and the mass communications program get picked to be on the crew. It’s one of the only schools, especially in the Midwest, that does an entire live three-hour production from top to bottom that is all student-run.”
UTVS is a student organization at St. Cloud State University and is one of three student media organizations on campus, along with KVSC (campus radio station) and The Chronicle (campus newspaper). Locally, UTVS is carried by Charter Communications on channel 21, and streamed live online.
A men’s hockey broadcast is a a 12-camera production (a collection of Sonys, Panasonics, and JVCs) that typically features a staff of just under 30 students. In addition, several student teams will produce pre-packaged segments for period breaks. It’s a full, professional experience that aspiring sports broadcasters can get at few other universities. It helped Akkerman land a position as a news director and editor at Northland’s News Center, stationed in Duluth, MN.
“My employer did say to me that he was impressed with the work that I did with Husky Productions,” says Akkerman. “He said he hadn’t seen many other kids coming out of college that had the type of experience that I did.”
Martin joined the Saint Cloud State faculty and inherited Husky Productions 11 years ago. When he arrived, only four to five hockey games were sent to air and the university was paying a hefty sum to a local cable outfit to broadcast the games.
“There was something wrong with this picture,” says Martin. “We are providing them with premier content in the state of Minnesota because it’s a big hockey state, and our top-quality production got better as time went by.”
Under Martin’s direction, Husky Productions drew up and put out a “Request for Proposal” putting the two major local cable companies head-to-head in a battle to purchase the rights from Saint Cloud State. Both offered deals with Charter Communications coming out on top. Martin had not only added a revenue stream to the university for the next decade, he opened the door for much need renovations and technological improvements to the physical plant of Husky Productions.
“There was a good foundation laid, they just lacked some of the professional organizational approaches and strategies you need in a regular production,” says Martin.
As Husky Productions looks forward to a new school year, a new wave of students have their eyes set on taking the operation to a new level.
According to Martin, three new HD cameras and a NewTek TriCaster field switcher have been added to boost the prime hockey productions, but students are also turning to the Web to add additional live streaming coverage of other Saint Cloud State athletic teams including football, basketball, women’s hockey, volleyball, and baseball.
After airing live online, those games also appear available “On Demand” through Charter cable services.
“[The students] do all the work,” says Martin. “They come up with outstanding ideas and if we have the capabilities we let them experiement. I’m just running around the backside making sure we are funded each year and that we have the production resources that we need.”
“The students deserve all the credit.”