While fans of UConn Athletics fill stadiums to watch tackles, dunks, and dangles, they may not realize part of creating a fevered experience relies on those sidelined with a camera in hand to post instantly on social media and record sensational moments.
It’s a job several dozen Digital Media & Design students have enjoyed over the last 18 months through a partnership with Athletics that aims to give students real-world experience in the sports entertainment industry.
“Being able to have an internship like this is so important, especially as a DMD major, because we’re presented with so much knowledge and training on how to be creative. This is just one way to use those skills,” says Jared Beltz ’23 (SFA). “In my classes, I’ve learned about social media analytics for my concentration, as well as graphic design and motion animation through other classes, and in this job, I’ve been able to implement everything I learned.”
The partnership started in fall 2021 when a DMD Agency class took on Athletics as a client to create the motion graphics for the Wall of Champions in the Werth Family UConn Basketball Champions Center and revive the UConn Students social media channel that had gone quiet during the pandemic, says Heather Elliott-Famularo, head of DMD.
Then, in spring 2022, DMD offered a special topics course to develop projects like motion graphics for the video boards in the athletics facilities, she says. This fall, students created a new design for the UConn Traditions webpage and a fight song video, as Athletics employed more DMD students.
“There are more sports-related jobs out there than you can imagine,” Elliott-Famularo says of the professional industry. “Connecticut is the sports entertainment capital of the world, with WWE, ESPN, and NBC Sports all in the state. We have alumni running the cameras for replays, creating live graphics, and putting together sponsorship packages. Some of them work for individual sports teams and some even develop stadium halftime shows.
“Motion graphics and video content have become a ubiquitous part of the stadium experience,” she adds. “You might not realize it, but if it were missing, you’d notice.”
Experiential Learning Opportunities
About 18 months ago as UConn Vice President for Communications Tysen Kendig started formulating plans for UConn+, a University-centric yet athletics-heavy streaming service set to launch early next year, a recurring question kept coming up: how to create content.
Kendig says he connected with DMD through UConn Provost Anne D’Alleva, who at the time was dean of the School of Fine Arts, and thought there would be much to gain for both Athletics and students, who’d have the experience of documentary film production and motion graphic design.
“Whenever you get a chance to provide education and experiential learning opportunities for students you need to seize that,” he says. “Having faculty expertise to guide them as part of their curriculum is invaluable for us. We can talk with DMD about what our needs are, outline a project scope, and the work comes back in a turn-key fashion. That’s exactly what Athletics needed.”
Beltz, who’s been working in Athletics since before the formalized partnership, says he’s particularly proud of his 2022 men’s and women’s basketball media day photos, starting with the design and fashioning of a paper backdrop against which he placed players to take their picture. It’s a gallery used on social media to portray UConn’s grit, spirit, and dominance.
“One of the most important things I’ve learned is how to take this kind of content and make a story out of it,” he says. “In DMD, we learn how to tell a story through our work. That’s an important part of what we learn in DMD. Using that skill in a job like this is great because it’s using it for real-world applications.”
While UConn+ has been in development, Kendig says DMD students like Beltz have geared their work mostly toward social media, graphics, photography, and some video. Once the streaming service goes live, though, their projects will include more film production.
Jason Reider ’15 (CLAS), Athletics director of creative content, has worked with many of the DMD students over the last three semesters, pairing them with projects that accentuate their strengths or gain them experience in areas of interest.
“Jared came in as a freshman working on graphic design, and one day he was talking to me about some ideas he had for social media and we realized he’s interested in more than just graphic design,” Reider says of Beltz. “He blossomed into more of a social media and content intern for us. So now, he’s doing graphic design, he’s doing photography, he’s running our student social media account, and he helps on game day on some of our team accounts as well. He’s a true testament to the benefits of DMD and Athletics working together.”
For the last decade, Reider says, social media has grown more important, especially for individual teams who use the digital world as a recruiting tool. Having interns to manage those accounts means they can get the same attention as basketball, football, and hockey.
“It’s great to have students learn their way around Athletics because getting a job in this industry is all about connections and getting experience. Being able to say they helped run some of our Athletics social media accounts on game day is going to give them a leg up when they graduate and look for a full-time job in the sports industry or even outside that field,” he says.
‘Big responsibility moment’
The students’ ability to tell players’ stories on and off the field gives Athletics something it was missing before the partnership, Reider notes.
“The talent level of the freshmen is amazing,” he says. “One of our new interns, Emerson Ricciardone, is an extremely talented videographer, photographer, and he also knows graphic design. Even just a few years ago finding students who had these talents was a difficult task and now they come to UConn with portfolios already built up. They’re just tremendously talented.”
Elliott-Famularo says that’s in part because the DMD/Athletics creative partnership has now become a recruiting tool.
Ricciardone ’26 (SFA) says he always wanted to attend UConn and when he learned about the opportunity to work in Athletics, his decision was cinched. In his first 15 weeks, he’s done video, social media, and graphic design work. He’s created content for the jumbotron at men’s hockey games and has contributed content to their accounts during games.
“One of the things we focus on in DMD is how to make your designs effective in solving a problem or presenting a solution through your creative skills. Being able to apply that concept to the sports world is something I’ve always dreamed of doing and now I’m finally learning how to take a professional approach to something I love doing,” he says.
One of the projects he’s most proud of – and was a “big responsibility moment,” he says – was when he was charged with covering the men’s hockey game against Providence. He alone was videoing the game and shouldered the weight of collecting footage of the shootout after the game went into overtime.
“I’m happy I was able to capture the team’s reaction to winning that game and record the actual live game moments, along with getting the fan experience as well. That was a test for me to see how well I could handle a high-stress environment and be trusted to do good work,” he says, adding, “It all goes back to storytelling. You want to make sure, especially when you’re documenting certain events, that you capture all the emotional moments.”
The effort benefits UConn, but there’s an eye to the long term.
“While we already have an incredible number of alumni in the industry, as word gets out that we are intentionally building a sports entertainment path within UConn Digital Media & Design, it will be exciting to see the positive impact the program will have both on the student experience and the industry as a whole,” Elliott-Famularo says. “By providing an experienced talent pipeline, we will support the business demand and Connecticut’s economy.”