Fox Sports, Big East Celebrate National Girls & Women in Sports Day With All-Female Crew

Prior to the Villanova-Marquette basketball game, festivities will include a women’s breakfast, leadership panel

Today is National Girls & Women in Sports Day, and Fox Sports and the Big East Conference are teaming up on a special initiative: front-of-camera and back-of-house crews for tonight’s women’s basketball game between nationally ranked Villanova and Marquette on FS2 will be staffed entirely by women. The occasion will highlight not only the two programs on the hardwood but also the abundant opportunities for women in sports-video production.

“It’s a chance for us to show the next generation that, if you want to be involved in sports, it doesn’t have to be just as the athlete or the coach on the sideline,” says Kristin Hennessey, producer, Syracuse University Athletics, who will be at the front bench for tonight’s broadcast. “It’s also an opportunity for those who have been established in this business to let others know that their efforts are appreciated.”

The matchup between Villanova and Marquette will feature an all-women production and operations team at Villanova’s Finneran Pavilion.

Continuing Concept: Building on a 2020 All-Female Broadcast

Although Wednesday night’s broadcast will be national, it isn’t the first one involving Hennessey and Big East Senior Associate Commissioner, Broadcasting, Scott Hecht. Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, ACC Network Extra presented a women’s basketball game between Georgia Tech and Syracuse University, where Hecht was executive producer/director, production department. The endeavor was orchestrated by an all-female broadcast crew, and, though not as extensive as tonight’s all-female production and operations crew, it set the foundation for the bigger effort three years later. And Hecht and Hennessey’s rapport and chemistry have proved useful this time around.

“[Fox Sports] asked me for recommendations on who to produce this show,” Hecht says. “There was only one person I could think of. Kristin is the perfect person to produce this show for a multitude of reasons, but the one thing that I’ll be able to do on this show that I didn’t in the last one is provide Kristin with some more elements to utilize within the broadcast.”

The talent and front-bench team sitting courtside. (From Left): Meghan Caffrey, Kim Adams, Kristin Hennessey, Bonnie Reilly, and Sloane Martin

Hennessey sees the logistics and scheduling as optimal in making the 2020 production a noteworthy moment. Tonight, the occasions surrounding the game have allowed her to bring together an experienced team of women who know how to do their jobs at a high level.

“The schedule [three years ago] worked out to where our entire front bench was going to be female, and we took it from there,” she says. “This is totally different because it’s centered on National Girls & Women in Sports Day and the fact that the Big East is celebrating Title IX this year. Those tie-ins give us the ability to make this bigger than just a broadcast and pointing out women that are working in it.”

Amplifying the Message: Bringing Female Empowerment to Center Stage

With the network and conference on board, the next step was expanding the publicity about the game’s importance. Leveraging the influence of both Villanova and Marquette as institutions as well as their athletic programs, the Big East came together with both schools to create the programming surrounding the production.

“Both programs have been wonderful to work with,” says Nicole Early, senior associate commissioner, marketing and external affairs, Big East Conference. “There’s the broadcast, and then there’s the event around it. Whether you’re watching on TV, following on social, or sitting in a seat [in the venue], you’re going to be able to see that everything is pointed towards supporting women in the industry.”

The Women Leaders in Sports panel in the Fitzgerald Club at Finneran Pavilion.

With support from Villanova Senior Associate Athletic Director/Chief Athletics Administrative Officer/Senior Women Administrator Lynn Tighe and Associate Athletic Director, Marketing, Janine Shao, the day began at Villanova’s Anne Welsh McNulty Institute for Women’s Leadership with a breakfast featuring all 13 women’s athletics programs. At 4 p.m. ET in the Fitzgerald Club at Finneran Pavilion, executives from around the industry will participate in a Women’s Leadership panel. Moderated by Fox Sports Analyst Kim Adams, the panel will feature NBC Sports Chief Financial Officer Christine Dorfler, Playfly Sports Properties President Christy Hedgpeth, Women’s National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Terri Jackson, and Philadelphia 76ers COO Lara Price.

Sidelines Storyteller: Reporter Meghan Caffrey’s Journey to Tonight’s Assignment

Another integral player in the production will be Sideline Reporter Meghan Caffrey. A graduate of Penn State University, she has served in various positions throughout her career: student sideline reporter for Big Ten Network and anchor and executive producer at WPSU during her college years, reporting on local sports in the Lehigh Valley for nearly two years after graduation, a producer runner for Fox Sports’ MLB and NFL properties. The journey has given her perspective, but the passion that has brought her to the role of sideline reporter and host of various conference shows, including Big East Fastbreak, was forged in childhood.

“I was a dancer, mostly in ballet, but I always wanted to get into sports and storytelling,” she says. “Growing up, I loved watching games, especially my siblings’ sporting events, with my dad. Fast forward to where I am now, it has been really special to work with the Big East Conference as a female in sports with Commissioner Val Ackerman.”

As with many individuals in the industry, getting to this point early in her career hasn’t been easy. A lot of late nights and early mornings have provided the necessary skills, and, when she received the call to play this significant role, it was an assignment that she couldn’t say no to.

Fans are encouraged to wear pink to honor Play4Kay, an annual tradition celebrating the life of late Head Coach Kay Yow’s battle with breast cancer.

“When Scott called me, I said yes before he finished his question,” she admits. “When I do sideline reporting, it’s usually for [our] digital [outlets], but to be able to have this platform on national television to tell stories in a creative way and do it alongside some incredible women is a huge deal.”

Caffrey has worked with Big East Coordinator, Creative Services, Ben Piascik, to develop content with a nod to National Girls & Women in Sports Day. Vignettes include conversations with Marquette head coach Megan Duffy and Villanova head coach Denise Dillon, a behind-the-scenes look at their preparations, and other player profiles. On game day, Caffrey will handle pre/postgame and halftime interviews. Although the game requires the broadcasting duties of any other game, the overall significance of the moment means a lot more.

Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman kicks off the Women Leaders in Sports panel.

“There will be so many eyes on this game,” notes Caffrey. “You always attack these games [with the utmost preparation], but this will feel like our very own Super Bowl.”

Joining Caffrey in front of the camera will be Play-by-Play Commentator Sloan Martin and Adams. The operations team, assembled with the help of Program Productions and Crew Coordinator Edward Caperna, will comprise a reliable and hardworking team: Lead Game Director Bonnie Reilly, Technical Director Adrianna Shotyk, Senior Video Engineer Melissa Popp, Senior Audio Engineer Marissa Forcina, Audio Assists Erin Crain and Judie Burnham, Vizrt Graphics Operator Shannon Dicorcia, Font Coordinator Elizabeth Ely, Hard Camera Operators Eileen Eidelberg and Elaine Rom, Handheld Camera Operators Danielle Bell and Sheila Smith, Slash camera operator Christiana D’Alessandro, DreamCatcher Lead Operator Stephanie Woodson, DreamCatcher Replay Operator Erin Rogers, Utilities Bridgitte Prince and Treasure Doberson, Scorebox Operator Chelsea Ryan, Talent Stats Operator Ora Kornbluth, and Official Stats Operator Kimberly Ann Zivkovich.

Passing the Torch: Broadcast To Provide a Platform for Future Female Professionals

With an entire day filled with on-campus activations and weeks’ worth of marketing and promotions, the final part of the effort is executing the production with precision. Although the goal is to resonate with viewers at home, Big East administrators are expecting the game to have a long-lasting, ripple effect on future seasons.

“I hope that we have schools that come to us and say, ‘Hey, can we do that next year?’” says Hecht. “This game is one of the things that Kristin and I have always liked working on and have always done to pay it forward. We have a great sense of pride in doing that.”

On the production and operations side, being involved in this production is something that each crew member doesn’t take lightly. It’s something of a personal achievement, but the production can also be seen as a symbol of the changing sports-video–production landscape.

“If you had told me at age 21 that I’d become a producer and work a game on Fox Sports,” adds Hennessey, “I would’ve never believed it because, when I used to look inside a production truck, there wasn’t a single woman on that crew. From where [the industry] started to where it is now, the door isn’t just cracked open; it’s being kicked open. We want to break the stereotype of what a woman’s role should be.”

Although the game is a career highlight for staffers on the production side, the crew that will be working inside the arena are hoping to have an impact on the females watching at home.

“There may be a little girl who’s watching and says, ‘I want to be her,’” says Caffrey. “It’s a cool experience being the woman on the other side of the television.”

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