Emerson students went behind the scenes of the sports industry’s highly-acclaimed Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly (ESPY) Award show during Emerson’s inaugural ESPYs Workshop in Los Angeles this summer.
Guiding students through the inner workings of the 26th ESPY Awards, including formal meetings with the sports media professionals orchestrating the heavily-televised event, was Emerson alumnus and former longtime ESPN executive Rob Tobias ‘81, who launched the ESPYs nearly three decades ago.
Tobias, who retired in 2015 from ESPN as vice president of communications after 32 years with the global TV sports channel, spoke to how the he helped start the widely-known sports awards show 27 years ago.
“I thought [the ESPYs workshop] would be a natural connection to see if we can put together an experience where I can bring students to the show and show them how it’s done – how everything happens,” said Tobias, who studied Mass Communications at Emerson.
“I wanted students to leave that 10-day experience with the real working knowledge of how this show is put together, so I put together a lineup of presenters who work in all facets of the show — from producers, to operations people to public relations to marketing to writers on the show. They basically told [Emerson students] step-by-step what’s involved with putting on a show of this magnitude.”
There are four tracks within the Sports Communication major students can pursue: diplomacy, public relations, management, and production.
Ethan Michaud, who graduated this year with a degree in Sports Communication and a minor in Marketing Communication, said the new Emerson ESPYs workshop is an invaluable experience now more than ever, because sports plays a pivotal role in society by uniting individuals and cultures, and channeling communication in a way other mediums cannot.
“Having a Sports Communication program at Emerson diversifies opportunities for students by opening doors for them in fields they may not have previously considered, or areas they may not have realized in which sports is such a large entity,” said Michaud.
During the workshop, Tobias led students to Microsoft Theater, where this year’s ESPY Award show was held. There, a diverse group of presenters sat down with students to discuss their role in the show and answers questions.
“We [at Emerson] think sports is a real feature, not just for entertainment, but for diplomacy — bringing people together, uniting communities, uniting countries,” said Assistant Professor Spencer Kimball, who helped create the Sports Communication program. “There’s a much bigger use of sports outside of the game itself: an opportunity to use it as a bridge. That’s the vision we have. It’s great because at Emerson, we have role models.”
Inspiring the creation of the workshop was the Al Jaffe Speaker Series, sponsored by Communication Studies, which drew in career insight from sports media professionals, including Tobias. Tobias also touched on ESPN’s annual extreme sports event, the X Games, and its value within the sports industry.
“To me, [the ESPYS and X Games] are what’s innovative about ESPN, in that they’re always looking at what’s coming next so they can stay innovative – otherwise the industry will pass them by,” said Kimball, who encourages other Emerson alumni to becoming involved with the College however they can. “So you see a lot of eSports now on their website because they see what’s coming down.
“[ESPN’s innovative approach] shows our students that if you have a vision of something, you could move it forward and it could take 20 years, but now it’s become an icon in sports – like the ESPYs,” he said.
This year, students in the ESPYs workshop were brought to the taping of ESPN shows, the taping of The Jimmy Kimmel Show, spent time in ESPN’s “green room,” attended a Las Angeles Dodgers baseball game, and met with Dodgers sports announcer Charley Steiner.
“I’m thrilled,” Tobias said. “Sports Communication seems like an obvious path for a lot of kids going to Emerson that want to be in television and love sports – and being close to New York City, being close to Connecticut where NBC Sports is for ESPN – Why wouldn’t they?”
These days, Tobias runs his own public relations business.
“It was a great group of kids. They were engaged. They showed a great deal of curiosity, and they asked a lot of questions,” he said. “If this helped in a certain way to lead them in a certain direction, then this was all worth it because you just never know what’s going to click with somebody. I just tried to give Emerson students a well-rounded experience.”