On Saturday, the Mercer Bears from Macon, Georgia, will play their first Southern Conference football game against Furman. Fans can watch it on the ESPN3 Web stream, even though the Bears football program is only one year old. Mercer decided to take advantage of an ESPN3 initiative that allows schools to join the network.
“We're one of the first in football to pick that up and run with it and self-produce an event for ESPN,” said Mercer Athletic director Jim Cole.
It took an investment of $150,000 to upgrade the university's TV production studio, get some high-grade cameras and pull fiber cable throughout campus. But, Cole says, joining the ESPN network is money well spent — even if it's only their Web stream.
“I'm looking for name ID for Mercer,” Cole said, to showcase Mercer to potential students around the country. “Kids understand what ESPN means, so we view this as a recruiting advantage as well,” he said.
ESPN3 has been the place for niche events like cricket, tennis or volleyball, but it's making headway into college sports, including football. Colleges and universities are eager for exposure on any of the sports media giant's network, and the school production initiative is part of ESPN3's business strategy.
“There is the ability for us to leverage our position in the marketplace to deliver a Mercer college-football game in the same APP as Monday Night Football,” said Jason Bernstein, ESPN's senior director of programming and acquisitions.
ESPN3 has different deals with each school, but the production quality has to fit their broadcast standards, Bernstein said.
Mercer University has a professional producer and director on staff, but the rest of its production crew are students who work for free.
“Being paid, to me, is not really important,” said sophmore Emanuela Rendini. She is a journalism major and works as a grip during football games. She's in it for the experience, and the ability to leverage the ESPN brand name.
“Having ESPN on your resume when you graduate is really big to me,” she said.
Her volunteer efforts help her school add to the more than 7 ,000 exclusive live productions on ESPN3 this year, which can be seen by 95 million ESPN subscribers, 21 million college students and soldiers who get internet access through their school or military base.
ESPN3 will stream the Mercer vs. Furman game Saturday at 6 p.m.