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Eastern's Student-Run ETV Sports Has Become Breeding Ground for Aspiring Broadcasting Professionals

The foundation for ETV Sports was built by former student broadcasting directors Nick Aconfora '15 (center and inset) -- the program founder -- as well as by Damon Gray '16 (far left) and Brian Dostaler '17 (far right).  All three transitioned from ETV Sports to ESPN, where they are all currently employed by the Bristol-based sports broadcasting giant. ETV has set the standard for broadcasting in the Little East Conference.
The foundation for ETV Sports was built by former student broadcasting directors Nick Aconfora '15 (center and inset) -- the program founder -- as well as by Damon Gray '16 (far left) and Brian Dostaler '17 (far right). All three transitioned from ETV Sports to ESPN, where they are all currently employed by the Bristol-based sports broadcasting giant. ETV has set the standard for broadcasting in the Little East Conference.

By Jack Petrucci ’20 / Director of Broadcasting, ETV Sports

(Editor's Note: This is the first of a two-part series chronicling the development of ETV Sports, the Eastern athletic department's student-run broadcasting group which, in less than a half-dozen years, has become a breeding ground for communication and SLM majors looking to pursue careers in the sports broadcasting industry.)

WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – It’s not often that one gets to watch an athletic event streamed live at the Division III level by a department run completely by students. Most universities would be fortunate to have a one-camera standard definition broadcast for the year. It’s not an important demand throughout the Little East Conference, or for that matter, at the Division III level.

However, this is not the case at Eastern Connecticut State University. Eastern has been extremely fortunate to have developed one of the more reputable small-college sports broadcasting departments throughout the New England region. And while ETV Sports relies heavily upon the University’s communication and sport & leisure management majors for its productions, it has developed a name for itself without the benefit of a sports broadcasting major, minor or concentration.

With the capability of having a NewTek Tricaster, instant replay system (3Play), and three high definition cameras for a regular broadcast, ETV Sports has gone above and beyond to put on one of the most impressive broadcasts in the region.

ETV Sports had its genesis in 2013, when a student hire by the name of Nick Aconfora of Newington was approached by sports information director Bob Molta, asking if he was interested in calling the upcoming men's basketball tip-off tournament -- an no-frills operation utilizing only a laptop computer, SONY Handycam and tripod.

“I put the headset on, and after that I didn’t want to take it off,” remembers Aconfora. Although excited by the opportunity, Aconfora, however, wasn't content. “I wanted to build something," recalls Aconfora, "and over time I was able to convince Paul Melmer (former technical engineer,) Bob (Molta) and others with the university to get our first NewTek Tricaster," which is a portable production studio which incorporates multiple cameras and graphics and a replay system into its presentation (the department now has three such tricasters which allows for broadcasting mulitiple games at different locations at the same time).

 Since then, the university has made a major investment in the student-run sports broadcasting group by commiting over $100,000 in sophisticated, state-of-the-art equipment.

This past August, Aconfora celebrated four years at ESPN, where he has been a production assistant, content associate, and, currently, program coordinator of ESPN Next, the company’s leadership development program for young professionals based in production. Among his original responsibilities prior to his promotion to ESPN Next included collaboration with Outside The Lines, Enterprise Unit, and E:60 by pitching stories and producing creative content for segments and long form features.

“The ‘E’ in ETV Sports obviously stands for ‘Eastern’,” says Molta, “but it could just as easily stand for ‘employability.’ There are few other programs on campus that I know of that teach skills that translate so seamlessly into those needed in the workforce.”

In his former role as ETV Sports’ director of broadcasting, Aconfora helped mentor colleagues who eventually rose to the position of director of broadcasting  with ETV Sports, among them Damon Gray, Brian Dostaler, and Alex Gabriele, and most recently current directors Jack Petrucci, Dom Conte and Emily St. Lawrence. The majority of these individuals  landed int ernship positions at ESPN while undergraduates before eventually being named to fulltime positions.

Two of Aconfora’s signature projects were the creation of a half-hour news and interview program entitled Eastern Athletics Weekly dedicated solely to campus sports and  the production of a brilliant half-hour documentary in collaboration with Gray, entitled The Story of John DeCasanova: A True Warrior. It was the in-depth story of the former Eastern soccer player who miraculously beat cancer.

At left: Nick Aconfora created and hosted Eastern Athletics Weekly soon after being asked to head up the Eastern athletic department's fledgling sports broadcasting initiative.

“I can say without a doubt that my experience with ETV Sports is the reason why I have a job at ESPN,” admits Dostaler, currently a content associate. “The editing and communication skills that I learned while I was in the program were extremely transparent to how things are run at ESPN. As a proud Eastern alumni, I will forever be grateful for my time with ETV Sports”.

ETV Sports streams most every Eastern home event, from field hockey and volleyball in the fall, to basketball and swimming in the winter to lacrosse and baseball in the spring. The crew – which is comprised of a mix of paid staff, interns and volunteers -- also cuts highlights for most all of the games which it streams and also periodically produces short documentaries dubbed “Warrior Profiles” that are uploaded on Eastern athletics’ YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook pages (@ecsuathletics).

ETV Sports has been one of the most reputable broadcasts in the New England region since its inception, and the 2018-2019 year may have been ETV’s best.

After losing 80 percent of the staff from the 2016-17 academic year, the staff was confident and experienced. Not only was there a broadcast for every game, but ETV Sports Director Alex Gabriele took a new approach to the production.

As part of his independent study, Gabriele created Inside Eastern Athletics, a novel show that produced comedic segments with Eastern’s athletes and coaches. The  series began with a pick-up game between two men’s basketball players. Since then, it expanded to segments like talk shows, Athletes vs. Non-Athletes and This Week Tonight. 

The entire ETV Sports staff volunteered its time to assist Gabriele in producing the show. This was while balancing the responsibilities of the regular ETV Sports broadcasts. In only just months of the independent study, Gabriele produced 25 segments while having 92 posts to his social media handle. The show became very popular, reaching over 3,000 views on his segments throughout the semester.

The contribution of ETV Sports to the athletic department’s visibility at the conference, regional and national level – as well as the hands-on experience it has provided Eastern’s students -- has not been lost on Eastern director of athletics Lori Runksmeier.

“Having ETV Sports broadcast our games is priceless in terms of the service it helps us supply to our student-athletes, parents, and fans,” she says. “The crew does first-class work, and that enables Eastern athletics to provide a first-class experience. Fans simply can’t attend every game, but this gives them an opportunity to watch nearly every home game. And, obviously, the success of E-TV broadcasters in finding employment is noteworthy.”

 Coming Soon: Part 2