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School’s in Session at Fox Sports

Thanks to the rise of companies such as Google, Facebook and Amazon, the fight to attract and retain top tech talent has never been as fierce.

While TV, which has rapidly transitioned to multiscreen streaming distribution, remains a decent draw for young adults coming out of college, it also doesn’t hurts to take that extra step and go direct to the source.

Recruiting from that talent pool has been one of the benefits of Fox Sports University, a partnership program that’s now in its 10th year and works with more than 40 major colleges and universities and, so far, with more than 5,000 graduate and undergraduate students.

Fox Sports estimates that more than 100 of those students have been hired as interns or in a full-time capacity. The program has also led to several new tech initiatives involving virtual reality, 360-degree video and augmented reality.

“The whole goal of the Fox Sports University program is to bring the real world into the classroom,” Molly Stires, manager of marketing and strategic partnerships at Fox Sports, said.

Those classroom projects, which are run in conjunction with the Fox Sports leadership team and tied to priorities and challenges faced by that division, “can touch different parts of our business,” she added, pointing to areas that have spanned production, marketing, social media and digital distribution.

As for the program, Fox Sports engages with those students at the start of the semester, and during that period, stays in communication with them, providing feedback and course corrections. At the end of the semester, students present their ideas, and Fox Sports analyzes them and then picks the winners, identifies the deliverables and works with the students on the execution stage.

“We want to bring the idea to life,” Stires said. “We’ll host a number of preproduction calls and walk them through [the process].”

Some relatively recent tech-oriented projects include one at St. John’s University in New York, where students built a strategy for Fox Sports VR content around the Big East men’s basketball tournament. The winning team joined and aided the Fox Sports production team on-site.

At USC, students are now creating tech integration concepts for future Fox Sports NASCAR broadcasts, including how data can be collected to track and represent the action, experimentation with new camera angles, and the use of overlays that can help the viewer better decipher and understand what’s occurring on the racetrack. Those ideas are being evaluated in advance of the 2018 NASCAR season.

Kimberly Borza, who has the same title as Stires at Fox Sports, estimates that the university program has about 16 projects underway now, and expects 20 to 22 of them to be active by next spring.

A 360-Degree Focus
Experimenting with 360-degree video and VR has been a big tech focus at Fox Sports. Getting students involved gives us “a fresh set of eyes” and some new ideas, while also giving them some real-world experience, Zac Fields, senior vice president of graphic tech and integration at Fox Sports, said.

Related: VR Evolution Continues at Fox Sports

Though some of the early work around VR has been around coverage of full sporting events, some ideas stemming from the students included a focus on shorter videos that can give viewers a quick new look and experience of an event, he said.

Student involvement and feedback also gives Fox Sports a sense of whether it is on the right path with new tech-oriented concepts for event coverage, he said.

Stires also stressed that talent recruitment is a significant part of the program.

“We can connect [the students] with recruiters and hiring managers and different people on different teams and [pass along] opportunities that are coming down the pike,” she said. “It also helps to put your resume at the top of the pile.”