KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Students in Western Michigan University's new Sports Media course are gaining hands-on experience in live broadcasting under the tutelage of instructor Wade Cutler.
Working with Bronco Productions in WMU's Division of Intercollegiate Athletics, Cutler and the students have been streaming men's basketball games this semester on ESPN3, ESPN's signature broadband sports network and the online home for live sports.
The School of Communication began the course in fall 2016, taking advantage of an agreement between ESPN and the Mid-American Conference. The agreement calls for various athletic events to be covered on ESPN's family of networks for 13 years, with broadcasts over the ESPN3 platform overseen by the MAC's 12 individual universities.
As part of the pact, students get the chance to develop athletic events for live streaming if the schools provide the infrastructure to produce broadcasts of ESPN quality. WMU has invested in the necessary infrastructure, and now Bronco fans worldwide as well as Sports Media students are reaping the benefits.
Learning by doing at WMU
Cutler's students are learning the ins and outs of live-sports production by working alongside the Bronco Productions team. That team broadcast more than 30 men's and women's basketball games and other select events this academic year for ESPN3, in addition to producing the game broadcasts that air on WMU's in-house video screens during home athletic contests in a variety of sports.
"The benefit to our students is the experience of working with the latest broadcast equipment and the ability to include ESPN3 work experience on their resumes," Cutler says. "Our students are gaining so much 'real world' experience from this course that I'm confident they'll have no problems getting a job in this industry."
WMU's Sports Media students get to operate cameras, video switchers, audio consoles and other high-tech equipment provided by the School of Communication and Bronco Productions. They learn about story creation and development, preproduction elements, anchoring, live-show production, control room techniques and master control operation, as well as marketing, advertising and how web streaming works with live broadcasts.
Cutler says 99 percent of his course is hands on, with students able to take on ESPN3 production roles with the Bronco Productions team as they gain more experience.
"One area that I focus on during live broadcasts is the little and big problems that occur, from simple misspellings on graphics to equipment malfunctions," he adds. "The 'show must go on' is so true in live broadcast, so we teach our students how to resolve issues while still producing a network-quality show."
Premier equipment, training
The infrastructure upgrades WMU needed to make to comply with the ESPN-MAC deal were finished in 2015 and partially covered by the MAC. Among the University's key investments has been purchasing a state-of the-art production trailer and other pieces of equipment mimicking those owned and operated by ESPN.
A part-time WMU communication instructor, Cutler is well versed in all of that equipment. He is CEO of Trade Communication, a film and video marketing company based in Grand Rapids, and has done live sports production work with outlets such as ESPN and ABC, CBS and NBC sports.
Cutler says he not only teaches the fundamental skills needed to be successful in the growing field of live-sports production, but also lets his students know what the networks expect from those they hire and uses his connections to help students find work.
"It's my goal to make ESPN look at WMU as the premier MAC school for this type of educational training," Cutler says, "and the national television exposure for our athletes is exciting, as well."
For more WMU news, arts and events, visit wmich.edu/news.