ESPN+ team gets ready for a show

Sam Wojtalewicz, right, helps Zach Noah prepare for a basketball game. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Work Experience

by | Mar 30, 2023 | Sports, Spring/Summer 2023, Technology

For his first assignment covering a sporting event for ESPN+, Elijah Alfaro sat on his stool, sliding from side to side on the basketball court with a handheld camera, his shoulder taking some pain for a pleasing camera shot.

“I remember feeling very giddy; it was a surreal moment,” he said.

Alfaro, a senior communication major at UC Davis, is part of a program with ESPN+ that charges students with all the important roles of streaming a game — from producing and directing to camera work.

His most valued experience has been producing, and he said that he’s been able to see what effective communication looks like among a crew and additional parties, as well as the creativity necessary to produce a show. Alfaro has also directed streaming of volleyball and basketball games. His responsibilities include making well-timed cuts during a live show, setting up shots and directing his camera operators. He added that he has dreamed of working for ESPN, and this opportunity has helped him get closer to his goals.

Thanks to a 2021 deal that the Big West Conference (an athletic conference whose member institutions participate in the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division I) has with ESPN+, UC Davis is able to stream the shows on the network. This academic year, UC Davis plans to stream 100+ shows, double the amount produced last year. The program at UC Davis is directed by Sam Wojtalewicz, a former Big Ten Network administrator, and Isidro Cabrera, a previous UC Davis broadcasting director and current Sacramento Kings audio visual technician.

ESPN+ team gets ready for a show

Wojtalewicz works with Laura Ehrlich, left, and Rosalind Steele to assemble a camera. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Staffed by 40-plus student workers this year, and outside affiliates, the broadcast is responsible for not only filming but also editing and running a full live production from the broadcast truck. On a typical day, student workers show up three hours before a game to run cable reels of 500 to 1,000 feet, assemble four to six cameras and communication systems, as well as set up announcers, and have camera meetings prior to showtimes. Students are responsible for setting up equipment, troubleshooting equipment, operating replays and building graphics for the show. The building of the graphics is done through a program called Xpression studio. The graphics team researches player statistics, building out score bugs, player standings, and provides 3D graphics that make the show more enjoyable. Replays are done through a machine called a Ross MIRA, which requires an operator to scan up to six cameras on a monitor and find any significant plays to rewind and slow down.

Zach Noah is one of the most recent hires for the program and has been working games since the soccer season started in August. He agreed that the best part of the job is being part of a team. He has recently taken on the role of Xpression operator and producer and has been devoted to learning the ins and outs of it.

“We must have a unique level of trust in each other; there is no better feeling than celebrating a successful show with everyone who made it happen,” Noah said.

Yomira Guitierrez, a junior majoring in Spanish, plans to pursue a career in broadcasting or in the entertainment industry. She said one of her favorite aspects of the job is the friendships that she has been able to build with her co-workers and the skills that she has gained. “I’ve learned how to run a camera, how to run Xpression, and I’ve learned that it takes a team to run a show. When I tell people that I work for ESPN+ people tend to not believe me at first, but once I explain what I do, they are surprised and proud,” she said.

One of Wojtalewicz’s main goals is to spread awareness of the program on campus. He emphasized the importance of training and learning that goes on behind the scenes for students.

“I want people to see our broadcast truck and be interested in the work that we’re doing and see our content on ESPN+ and have the product speak for itself. We put on five football shows this season, and our latest show was such a success. I could just sit there and push buttons and give them orders, but it’s their creativity and their work that makes the shows so satisfying to watch. It’s truly a reward working with them and being able to mentor them through this process,” said Wojtalewicz.

UC Davis sports such as football, field hockey, softball, baseball, volleyball and beach volleyball, men’s and women’s soccer, basketball, and men’s and women’s water polo can be streamed on the ESPN+ app.