One of the great things about working on a college campus is it's not just about the end result. It's about showing how to get to the end result. —Mike Lageschulte, special projects coordinator for the Utah athletics department
SALT LAKE CITY — Lexie Petrovic is quite busy. Besides being a member of the University of Utah tennis team, the senior balances her academic studies with opportunities to make her dream of becoming a sports broadcaster a reality.
Petrovic has been actively involved with a student-friendly livestreaming program on campus. It’s allowed her to learn multiple aspects of the business, including color commentary on broadcasts of sports like women’s soccer and softball.
“What Lexie is doing is incredible. There’s so many time demands on student-athletes that a lot of them don’t have any time to get any real-life work experience other than the things they learn as being part of the team,” said Liz Abel, Utah’s senior associate athletics director for communications. “She is out there getting a ton of experience. She’s done all kinds of things from doing livestream, to being the color commentator, to doing postgame highlights, to doing podcasts.”
Abel added that managing all that, along with the demands of being a student-athlete, is almost unheard of.
Kade Sybrowsky and Ryan Malavolta prepare for a livestream broadcast of a Ute soccer game in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Skip Whitman, director of video and broadcast for the U. athletics department, oversees a program that allows students to call the action, work cameras, and do things behind the scenes at games.
It’s picked up steam since the university purchased a "NewTek Tricaster” machine last year. Whitman describes it as a mobile control room. The rolling cart eliminates the need for expensive trucks and other high costs associated with traditional broadcasts.
The device gives Whitman and his crew the ability to put on a TV-quality production over the web. The Tricaster has full graphics capabilities and the ability to load things like prerecorded interviews and feature stories. It also has a complete audio mixer and a replay system.
Whitman noted that the Utah program has come a long way since the early days of using a single camera to cover the action. Current broadcasts use three or four and include a strong support staff with several students. The setup mirrors a Pac-12 pilot program that began with Colorado and Oregon. Whitman said Utah hopes to be the next school added to the list.
“For me, it’s really about giving students these opportunities, so that when they leave the university they have real-world experience on a webcast, on a livestream, on a television-quality broadcast — and these students also get opportunities working with the Pac-12 Network,” he added, noting that between four and six students are hired to work behind the scenes when the latter comes to town for broadcasts.
Abel credits Whitman for basically establishing Utah’s livestreaming program from scratch.
“I think it’s a little bit spread by word of mouth from the students themselves, from the experience they’ve had. His passion for our athletic department and for having the latest and greatest in what we can do within a limited budget is pretty incredible,” Abel said. “He’s taken some really innovative approaches to help us keep up with what’s going on out there in the world of video, which has obviously exploded, and also in broadcasting.”
Utah does a number of livestream broadcasts, Abel explained, and Whitman utilizes multiple cameras, pregame, halftime and postgame shows and replays for the games.
“All of this stuff was Skip’s doing and him just being passionate about his job and finding people that can get it done — a little bit on a shoestring budget,” Abel said. “His enthusiasm is just off the charts and his work ethic.”
Interest in the program has grown. Whitman said students are basically “knocking down his door.”
Petrovic sought things out early. She approached Whitman and shared her hopes of learning to become a sports broadcaster. Whitman noted that Petrovic has done post-meet interviews for gymnastics, Facebook Live productions, sideline and color commentary. Her experience also includes an internship with the Big Ten Network and other media outlets close to home in the Chicago area.
“She’s incredibly ambitious and motivated,” Whitman said. “When those students come to you, I try so hard to give them as many opportunities as possible.”
When Petrovic began her studies at Utah, though, there weren’t a lot of options.
“I’ve really had to go out of my way to find something when I first got here,” she said. “But it’s more than benefitted me since I got here.”
Petrovic is pleased that the system is in place to assist others going forward, while acknowledging that it hasn’t been easy juggling athletics, school and broadcasting.
There’s a lot of time involved.
Mike Lageschulte, special projects coordinator for the Utah athletics department, is serving as a mentor of sorts for students like Petrovic. The veteran broadcaster provides play-by-play for the livestreams.
“One of the great things about working on a college campus is it’s not just about the end result. It’s about showing how to get to the end result,” Lageschulte said. “We really feel that’s what we’re here for, to help them be prepared to get that job when they leave here,” he explained.
Utah's livestreaming efforts have gone to a new level with the use of a TriCaster. | Courtesy University of Utah Athletics
Lageschulte’s aim is to show students the ropes of broadcasting and how to approach it, adding that it’s great to provide an educational experience.
Since Lageschulte was brought aboard to assist students with his professionalism and preparation, Whitman said things have worked out well,
There are a lot of moving parts that all have to work in sync to make it happen, said Lageschulte, who noted that things have evolved under Whitman’s leadership.
“One of his major pushes was to get us to the point where we could do a high-quality broadcast web stream on our own with the TriCast unit,” Lageschulte said.
Senior Caleb Shreeve is gaining valuable experience behind the camera. He’s part of the video team for the football team and has operated a camera for the livestreaming broadcasts of women’s soccer and baseball.
“It’s awesome. It’s a lot of good experience,” said Shreeve, who has also been able to do stuff with the Pac-12 Networks, ESPN and Fox. “This has definitely set up a real good base to kind of go out there and learn some more.”
Shreeve is confident that it will help him find a job in the profession.
“Absolutely,” he said. “There are a lot of guys here that know what they’re doing and are really good at teaching you.”
Besides Whitman and Lageschulte, video production specialists Kade Sybrowsky and Ryan Malavolta also assist the students and make the broadcasts possible.
“It’s incredible. It’s such valuable experience,” said communications major Payton Saltmarsh. “You’re getting hands-on experience with players and professionals,” “You just have a real look into your future.”
Whitman, who has worked in the industry for several years, noted that the future of television broadcasting is livestreaming. Especially, he continued, when it comes to Olympic sports at a time when a lot of viewers are cutting the cord with their cable companies.
The younger generation (ages 18-25), Whitman added, is watching more sports through apps on devices like iPads, phones, computers and smart TVs.
“Everything is moving toward the livestreaming platform,” he said. “It’s a way for us to be able to reach more people.”
It’s international, Whitman explained. If you have access to the web, you can watch a livestream. He said that’s why efforts to increase the production value of such broadcasts have been ramped up in recent years — much to the benefit of students seeking such experience.
“The bottom line is it is giving incredible opportunities to these students. When they leave, they have real-world experience and should be able to get a job on any live sports broadcast anywhere in the country,” Whitman said. “It’s also giving our Olympic sports a lot more exposure. We have international students.”
The Pac-12 Networks have been supportive, adding to the reach of Utah’s efforts.
“As we started to look at our livestreaming setup and the production elements offered with the Tricaster unit, we felt we had great opportunity to significantly enhance the exposure of our programs while offering a great work experience opportunity for our students on campus,” Lageschulte said. “It just seemed like a win-win for everyone. We feel like we’ve gotten off to a good start with our soccer livestreams this fall, but we will be continuing to grow this program in the coming months and years.”
Lageschulte added that especially now, with Utah being in the Pac-12, that the department is always looking for more ways to move forward and become more attractive to the next generation of Utes
“To be able to tell some of them that your friends and family can watch a broadcast-quality livestream of our home events, that’s a nice element to be able to offer,” he said.