Editor’s note: Each summer, ESPN’s Longhorn Network is home to “Learn Week”: five days dedicated to personal and professional development for the staff, from production to programming. Team-building exercises, human resources seminars and job sharing are part of the program. The inaugural Longhorn Network Kickball Classic helped educate LHN staffers on what it takes to produce a live event for telecast. Coordinating Producer for Event Production Pat Lowry gives Front Row a look at the process.
AUSTIN, Texas — “Welcome to Austin, Texas. It’s a bright, sunny day and everybody is ready to play some kickball.”
The title card flies across a wide shot of UFCU Disch-Falk Field at the University of Texas as a booming baritone narrates the scene-set. To those unfamiliar with the day’s carefully crafted activity, the telecast’s open appears to be somewhat seamless.
It’s a solid minute into the first inning before the camera makes a whip pan to the mound, the audio dips out entirely and the screen goes black — an impressive feat considering LHN anchor Lowell Galindo is operating the handheld camera, researcher Andrea Williams is manning the soundboard and the Longhorn Network’s Vice President of Programming Dave Brown is occupying the director’s chair.
Pulling off a job swap with this kind of panache? It’s the grand finale of Longhorn Network’s “Learn Week.”
How do we strike the right balance of being educational and entertaining?
That particular question launched a brainstorming session in the months leading up to “Learn Week.” What began as an unusual challenge quickly became the inaugural LHN Kickball Classic.
The marquee matchup, featuring the University Park Gnats versus the Bristol Ex-Conns [note: several LHN employees relocated from ESPN’s Bristol, Conn. campus to Austin] would be produced like a real telecast.
If you weren’t one of the 22 employees participating in the game, you’d be assigned to a position on the production crew — and vice versa: A morning and an afternoon session guaranteed the opportunity to both play and produce.
Surveys were sent in advance, allowing the staff to rank jobs in order of appeal.
“[A] lifelong dream come true,” said Marketing Coordinator Alex Gold, who got a chance to step into the role of play-by-play announcer.
The University Park Gnats took both games of the doubleheader, though not without controversy. After a sixth-inning stalemate, the second game of the afternoon came down to a winner-takes-all kickoff.
With a screaming liner down the left field line, Associate Producer Zach Paul edged Producer Ken Menard for the winner’s allotment of ice cream sandwiches and a year’s worth of bragging rights.
“It was great to play kickball, and even better to play TV,” said John Stadnick, production systems administrator who was the clock and score operator during one of the telecasts.
Some even experienced the telecast from behind the camera for the first time.
“We all let loose and had fun, but also learned a lot about how tough all our jobs are,” said Kevin Dunn, Longhorn Network studio host and play-by-play anouncer, who took the reins as Kickball Classic producer.