RIT SportsZone teaches students the value of storytelling

Mark Fragale
Mark Fragale (third from left) with RIT SportsZone participants.

Participation in RIT SportZone provides hands-on technical and experiential knowledge that equips students with a broad array of skills, creative integrity and diverse ways of storytelling that is transforming television broadcasting.

When we started the RIT SportsZone program 14 years ago, we felt certain that offering students an authentic, hands-on experience in broadcast television would be one of the paramount ideals of the program. Students who participate in the program are given the latitude to reach new creative heights, and they are also paid. We believe that compensating them for their work provides additional incentive for them to perform at a truly professional level.

An example of this: our RIT hockey game broadcasts, produced in conjunction with Rochester Time Warner Sports Channel, where any given broadcast can reach more than one million potential viewers across New York state. I tell my students that their work is being seen by a large audience—not to make them anxious, but the opposite: to make them understand the high level of viewer expectations so they strive for their highest potential. This motivates them to dig deep as undergraduates, and the long-term effects of the program are evident in the continued work ethic I see in our graduate students.

My own experiences have shaped the definition and structure of the SportZone program. I started as an underclassman studying film and photography at Rutgers University, and then worked as a freelance camera assistant in New York City. I then moved to Los Angeles to work in film and television production as a camera operator. Even in the infancy of changing technological times during the 1990s, I began to learn and understand the necessity of storytelling and the importance that it is to any large-viewership broadcasted production, including movies, television and sports.

A lot of what I’ve learned over the years has been distilled into SportZone, and this has given all the past and present students the opportunity to gain from the wide experience brought to them by the department staff, local freelancers and myself. Ultimately, of course, it is up to the students to take that real-world experience and apply it to their work environments.

A great example of the effectiveness of the program is Katie Lindendoll, who has succeeded in a broadcast television career. Katie was one of SportZone’s original on-air student talents. She honed her skills as an underclassman at RIT and has creatively blended her talents for television production and computer sciences into a successful career. Katie can be seen on such programs as The Today Show, CNN and others as a technology correspondent who provides viewers with upbeat and insightful analysis of the latest technological gadgets. Moreover it’s her on-air presence and enthusiasm that differentiates her from other broadcasters doing similar demos.

Another remarkable student is Joey McIntosh, who after graduating from RIT and the SportZone program, worked in graphic design at ESPN. His work was seen by millions of viewers every night on ESPN’s SportsCenter. He now works in Austin, Texas for the Longhorn Network and has recently won an Emmy Award for his work there.

We try to make SportZone more than just acquiring technical and creative skills. When we watch television or go to the movies, technology is but one part of why we watch. At the heart of each production is the storytelling aspect — something that can get lost in all the incredible graphics, movie-making process and television productions. This is certainly true and evident in sports television as well. Many people watch the Super Bowl, one of the largest viewership rated programs, but how many are watching only for the game itself? It’s the pathos and story of the game, the commercials, and the announcer’s ability to tell you a story, which, at its heart, is a battle of more than just two teams. This is what keeps the viewer engaged. It is this concept that has been engrained into the SportsZone program — and judged by the creative talent it has nurtured and the awards that it has won, I would say it has been a great success.