Just one week before the start of the Women’s Softball World Championship in Chiba, Japan, award-winning digital sports provider Eleven Sports asked the School of Communication and Media for help in producing the tournament’s global English-language broadcast.
The School responded quickly by partnering with Eleven Sports to deliver play-by-play calls of 72 games from August 2 to 12. “They came here and set up three different live feeds from Chiba to here,” explains School of Communication and Media Clinical Specialist Mark Effron. “Our announcers sat in three different rooms and called the games as they were coming in. Basically, we were an international production facility for the Women’s Softball World Championship games.”
This, as Effron is quick to note, is a pretty big deal, as the tournament winner – the USA team – automatically moves on to the 2020 Olympics.
“This event allowed us to do what we truly aspire to accomplish, which is partner with cutting-edge media properties to give our students and recent graduates hands-on, professional experiences that place them at the forefront of the industry,” says School of Communication and Media Director Keith Strudler, who set the pace by calling the first game. “We were able to move so quickly because the first instinct of our hard-working students, faculty, staff and alumni is to see possibilities where others might see roadblocks.”
Stepping Up to the Plate
To get things moving, 2018 graduate Keanan Carter was hired as project manager. To assemble a team, he contacted Annabella Poland, general manager of campus radio station WMSC-FM, for names of students and recent graduates with broadcast experience in calling sports events who would be interested in being hired for the project.
“We assembled a team of six current students, five recent Montclair State alumni, as well as a few recent graduates from Seton Hall and Hofstra,” Carter recalls. While the team of announcers worked 12-hour shifts for the duration of the championship, the 12-hour time difference between Japan and New Jersey meant all announcing happened overnight. “Sometimes three different simultaneous feeds were happening between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m.,” he says. “We were guinea pigs – one of the first to do this for Eleven Sports.”
“We scrambled,” says Effron. “Keanan got broadcasters together overnight. And we all worked together to help the Eleven Sports team set up. It was a milestone for the School that we were able to come together so quickly and so well.”
Senior Engineer for Television and Digital Media Adam Goldberg worked with Eleven Sports – which uses a variety of platforms to reach sports fans, from traditional cable to over-the-top and social media – to make it all flow seamlessly between continents.
Once the championship games began, the Montclair State announcers watched the video feed from Japan and added play-by-play and commentary, which was then transmitted back to Eleven Sports, which distributed it internationally to English-speaking fans. Viewers could follow the action through Eleven Sports’ streams that were broadcast globally via YouTube. Additionally, all games in the U.S. and Canada were streamed by FloSports, another emerging sports network.
Making Broadcast History
“We knew we were making history,” says Effron. “We were doing something never done before at Montclair State, which was calling an international sporting event from here that was broadcast to different platforms around the world.”
Sean Martin ’18, who had announced football, basketball and baseball games as a student for WMSC, called three games. “This was my first time calling softball and I wanted to take part just to feel what it’s like to be back on the air,” he says. “I enjoyed calling a new sport and seeing these national teams represent their countries.”
“I wanted to take part in this because it represented a chance to get more real world experience,” says 2018 graduate Nick Flaherty, who called 13 games. “I enjoyed being back on the mic the most. I really missed this work and wanted to get back at it – and this was a great chance to do that.”
Both agree with Carter that while the hours were long and tiring, that was part of the challenge – and the fun. All three would definitely repeat the performance if the opportunity presented itself in the future.
With more than 17 million paying customers, Eleven Sports’ varied, fan-focused delivery system is carving a niche for itself as a viable alternative to traditional TV sports coverage. “They were thrilled,” says Effron. “Who knows what we’ll be doing next. We’re at ground zero of this new world.”