Wingate University Makes Division II History Live-Streaming All Sports to ESPN3
Ryan Brown doesn’t want to hear it:
“They’re going to produce ALL of their sports?”
“The resources are too limited to put on a REAL production.”
“It’s JUST Division II.”
As director of broadcasting and video productions at Wingate University, a North Carolina-based member of the South Atlantic Conference, Brown isn’t looking for excuses or naysayers. He’s looking to take Bulldog sports to the next level with the most professional live productions possible for the largest audience he can find.
This academic year, Wingate has taken a massive step in realizing that vision. In August, the university officially announced that it had signed an agreement with ESPN3, making it the first Division II program in the country to reach an exclusive national streaming-rights deal with the highly coveted platform.
The Wingate Sports Network has pledged a program-wide commitment, live-streaming as many of the Bulldogs’ home events as the schedule allows. That’s including football, women’s volleyball, and men’s and women’s soccer in the fall; a hefty commitment to men’s and women’s basketball and men’s and women’s swimming in the winter; and baseball, softball, lacrosse, tennis, golf, and track come the spring.
“A lot of people said we were crazy for trying to [produce] every one of our home events, and they were right,” laughs Brown, “because it is crazy. But it’s working out. We believe we have established ourselves as one of the top on-campus broadcasts in the country.”
It’s a significant feat for a university that enrolls only about 3,000 students across three campuses in Wingate, Charlotte, and Hendersonville, NC. The relationship opens Wingate’s live-streamed events to ESPN3’s massive audience of roughly 99 million homes and to all the digital platforms it’s featured on: Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Xbox One, and most mobile devices.
“This move supports our commitment to provide our student-athletes with maximum national exposure,” says VP/Director of Athletics Steve Poston. “To be the first NCAA Division II institution to enter into an agreement with ESPN3 to deliver our regular-season home athletic events is a strong endorsement of the outstanding work [by] our sports-information staff in providing top-quality produced events to our fans. We look forward to a long and mutually beneficial relationship with ESPN.”
A History of High-Quality Work
The secret is, the Wingate Sports Network has been producing ESPN-caliber productions for years. It produced multicamera live productions for the school’s athletics Website and held a reputation as a leader in the region (the Bluegrass Mountain Conference annually entrusts Wingate Sports Network to produce the league’s swimming championships).
Five years ago, the outside-owned radio station that the university used to broadcast its games closed down, and the Bulldogs athletics program was looking for a new method to broadcast games live to alumni, current students, and the surrounding community. That’s when it made the leap into video production, investing in three-camera SD shows switched from an entry-level NewTek TriCaster. Gradually, the productions evolved, adding replay and graphics and expanding the programming schedule.
Recently, the organization was motivated to make the jump from SD to HD when a new videoboard was installed at Irwin Belk Stadium (football). Wingate Sports Network streamed five- and six-camera shows everywhere possible and began wondering, “What’s next?”
“The school really just wanted to reach more people,” says Brown. “That was the main reason we went with ESPN. We’re already behind the ball a bit as a Division II school, but it’s been great exposure for us.”
To meet the demands of an ESPN3 production, Wingate invested in a Ross Video Carbonite production switcher, the Ross Video Xpression graphics engine, and a NewTek 3Play 425 replay server. The gear is regularly housed in a small control room inside the Charles Cannon Complex, where it will be used to produce all volleyball and basketball productions. However, the gear is packed up and loaded into a 6- x 12-ft. trailer pulled by Brown’s SUV to cover events outside of that arena: soccer and, eventually, baseball, softball, and even more challenging events like tennis and golf.
The program’s plans are clearly very ambitious, but Brown isn’t oblivious to the challenges. He understands that the deck is stacked against him in a much different way as a Division II institution, be it the resources at his disposal or the overall audience for the product.
“The first thing we do is try not to do too much,” he says. “We have to realize that we still have three or four people running the whole show. Look, some people are going to watch and say, ‘Wow, I can’t believe they pulled that off.’ Some will say, ‘I knew they couldn’t pull off what Division I is doing.’
“We want to watch as many Division I broadcasts as we can and do the best job we can to do what they are doing,” he continues. “I don’t want anyone to look at us any different. We’re just not going to be able to do as much. We’re going to do the best we can with what we’ve got.”
Brown leads the production crew (and fills on-air duties) along with Graduate Assistant for Broadcasting Jake Levy, who handles play-by-play. All the other production roles — technical director, replay technician, graphics operator, and camera operators — are filled by Wingate students.
“Sure, there are some mistakes here and there, but it’s surprising how quickly they’ve picked everything up,” Brown notes. “The equipment is not the issue. It’s the understanding of when to switch, what to switch to, and what they need to get. It’s the multitasking of planning shots, listening to the announcer, and things like that.”
The students proved their worth even before the ESPN3 deal. A recent graduate is already working at the SEC Network in Charlotte. Now Wingate Sports Network is overflowing with students looking to put their talents to work on a nationally distributed, ESPN-sanctioned sports production.
It’s a huge opportunity for all involved, from the students on the field to the students behind the camera, and, with a packed winter sports season on the horizon, the stakes are only going to get higher.
And that’s just the way Brown likes it: “Our goal is to have people who don’t know any better wonder, ‘Wow! What’s ESPN doing at Wingate?’”