FGCU Athletics received an early holiday gift this year to help elevate its programs, boost recruiting and keep fans across the country engaged: new camera equipment and a new production trailer.
The equipment is used to stream not just basketball, but softball, baseball, indoor volleyball and even some swimming and tennis on ESPN+.
“It’s a huge upgrade in exposure to fans and recruits,” says Matt Botsford, FGCU’s director of volleyball. According to Botsford, the ability of potential recruits to watch the current team in action and the promise that out-of-state families will be able to see them on ESPN+ if they play at FGCU are a draw.
On this season’s indoor volleyball team alone, the roster of 15 players includes nine from out of state. The streamed games can introduce FGCU to recruits from across the nation.
“We want to be sure they can see the quality of play, the fans and the culture of FGCU athletics,” he says.
While student-athletes watch game footage that’s captured separately from the ESPN+ broadcast, Botsford says the ability to watch games from this new angle can also be helpful.
FGCU is no stranger to streaming — men’s and women’s basketball games started being broadcast to ESPN3 in 2013 when the Atlantic Sun Conference struck a streaming contract with ESPN for each of its schools. That’s when Jim Goin, then a senior producer at WGCU Public Media, was brought in by FGCU Athletics to help get a broadcast program off the ground.
By this summer, most of the original camera equipment was at least 15 years old.
“We were always kind of scraping by,” Goin says. “By the end of last year, half of the equipment was broken. Last fall was a struggle just to get us on air.”
In early 2023, the production team streamed FGCU baseball on ESPN+. Softball was streamed on FGCU’s “Eagle Vision” website.
This spring, FGCU’s athletics marketing team and university marketing team merged, and the athletics marketing team got the funding it needed to upgrade equipment — just in time for the 2023 soccer season.
Goin is excited about the improved quality of the broadcast and the ability to pay the roughly 20 students working on the broadcast team. He says students run about 95% of the process, but in previous seasons, they operated as volunteers instead of paid staff.
“This is a wonderful training ground for them,” Goin says. “We’ve had a dozen students over the years go on to work at local stations based on their work with us, and I’ve referred several to the Minnesota Twins and the Boston Red Sox spring training programs.”
That training ground has been fine-tuned over the years by Goin and the team. Before each game, they are hard at work preparing graphics, setting up each camera, discussing strategy, checking with ESPN to make sure the broadcast signal is strong, coordinating where commercial breaks can fall and recording opening commentary.
About nine students work each arena game — basketball and volleyball — and three to four students work each of the outdoor games. For high-stakes games, Goin says ESPN sometimes brings its own broadcast team. But the majority of the approximately 130 games that will stream this school year will be produced by students and three professional staff members.
Outside of basketball, volleyball, baseball, softball and soccer, Eagles fans can also stream the Atlantic Sun Conference tennis tournament being held at FGCU in spring 2024 and a few swimming and diving meets in January and February.
“Every year we try to build on the quality of our broadcast to make it more interesting and watchable,” Goin says.
“A lot of what we’ve learned from the past about how to put a show together remains, but just having the equipment to do it to the best of our ability makes a world of difference. If we put something on that looks professional and highlights the players and the students well, we can highlight that we’re a premier school for sports.”
Does the addition of this high-quality streaming make the student-athletes nervous? Not according to Botsford.
“While the matches are going on, they’re not even thinking about it,” he says.