After decades of producing leaders in the sports communication world, Emerson created an academic program tailored to just that, and on Saturday night, the College celebrated its newest major at the home of the Boston Red Sox.
Launched this semester, the Sports Communication major offers classes in public relations, communication, and management, as well as the burgeoning field of esports. It was designed by Assistant Professor Spencer Kimball and Communication Studies Chair Gregory Payne, in close collaboration with alumni working in the field and students who are interested in studying the business, promotion, and coverage of sports.
“We are very proud of this program,” said School of Communication Dean Raul Reis. “It’s the first year of the program, but it took a long time for the program to get to this point.”
Attendees at the event, held at the nation’s oldest and most storied Major League ballpark, included prospective and current students, faculty, and notable alumni working in sports communication, including Boston 25 Morning News anchor and longtime sports broadcaster Gene Lavanchy ’86 and Red Sox Radio Network play-by-play announcer Tim Neverett ’88.
Dr. Charles Steinberg, president of the Pawtucket Red Sox, a longtime Boston Red Sox executive, and director of Emerson’s Sports Communication program, said that we’re in the middle of a “revolution and evolution,” in terms of how sports are viewed, reported and marketed.
“What you’re seeing in [the Sports Communication] students who have been so inspiring to me is here are our storytellers and maybe story makers who are going to be the ones who lead this effort to make ‘good content eternal,’” Steinberg said, referring to a sentiment he read years ago at the Paley Center in Los Angeles. “I really believe what we are doing is so important, not only on the lives of students, but on society.”
Ethan Michaud, a third-year senior who sat on a panel of department faculty and alumni working in sports communication, was one of the students who helped bring the program into existence. He spoke directly to prospective students in the audience.
“To be a Sports Communication student at Emerson College is really to open all the doors you could imagine in sports up to you. There isn’t anything you’re limited to when you’re coming in,” Michaud said.
One of the main focuses of the evening was Emerson’s groundbreaking program in esports – competitive video gaming watched by spectators, either in arenas or online. Emerson will be one of the first and only schools in the country to offer courses in the business of esports, which is projected to grow by 40 percent in 2018 according to Forbes.
Kevin Mitchell, a National Amusements executive and an affiliated faculty member teaching esports, said when his boss first asked him to investigate esports as a revenue stream he was skeptical. Then he learned that Amazon paid a billion dollars for a video game platform, the Boston Bruins and Bob Kraft were investing in the industry, and colleges around the country were forming competitive esports teams.
“Esports is the future,” Mitchell said. “This generation does not consume sports like the [older] generations because of paywalls and premium content, but this next generation is embracing esports by the boatload. Emerson is the best place in America to begin to understand how to become an executive in this space.”
Beyond preparing students for careers in a rapidly changing media landscape, it’s also helping the Emerson Athletic Department recruit players for its Division 3 sports teams, according to Athletic Director Pat Nicol, who sat on the panel.
This academic year, 60 student athletes applied for early action; of those, half indicated they wanted to study Sports Communication or Communication Studies, she said.
“Bringing in student athletes will really bring our program to the next level,” Nicol said.
Carley Crain, a high school junior from Manchester, New Hampshire, was at the Fenway event with her mother, Karren. Carley, whose older brother works for the PawSox, said she would like to one day be a broadcaster for the NFL, and was interested in learning more about Emerson’s Sports Communication major.
“I knew it was a really good journalism school, and it’s a competitive school,” Carley said.
In addition to the BS major, Sports Communication is also being offered as concentration within the MA in Public Relations program. Students can get both degrees in five years, said Payne, who emceed the event.