Five alumni took the stage in Waterman Theatre Wednesday to talk about their experiences and topics in the sports field.
Titled, “Get in the Game,” the 2013 Dr. Lewis B. O’Donnell Media Summit featured moderator and founder of the event, Lou Borrelli ‘77, Jay Beberman ‘89, Donna Goldsmith ‘82, John Kucko ‘87 and Steve Levy ‘87. The sports communications experts discussed popular topics in sports and talked a bit about their own personal experiences.
The summit was created in 2005 by Borrelli with a leadership gift and was renamed in 2007 after Al Roker ‘76 matched the donation to remember the professor’s legacy at Oswego State. Professor David Moody of the communications department helps organize the annual event with the assistance of student volunteers.
Oswego State President Deborah Stanley made opening remarks for the summit.
“It’s a particularly notable year because all of these expert panelists here that you see on our stage are alumni of our communications studies program of SUNY Oswego,” Stanley said.
Dean of the School of Communications Media and the Arts Fritz Messere then appeared on screen for a taped message. Messere could not attend because he was on his way to China to build a relationship between Oswego State and Beijing for students there to learn about American media.
Beberman is currently the sports managing editor for Bloomberg News. He has led the company’s coverage in sports throughout the U.S., Europe and Asia. Beginning his work at Bloomberg in 1992, he ran the sports team for North America. After leaving Oswego State with a bachelor’s degree in communication studies, Beberman worked for ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Goldsmith was named second-most powerful woman by Forbes magazine in 2009. She is known for her negotiating skills, her knowledge of brand-building and her leadership. She has worked with both the National Basketball Association and World Wrestling Entertainment, where she was chief operating officer. Goldsmith also worked as the general manager of operations for the NY/NJ 2014 Super Bowl host company. She helped implement plans for projects leading up to the 2014 Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium.
Kucko is currently a sports anchor at WROC-TV in Rochester. He started at the station in 1991 and remained there. He has covered sports for the same market since 1989 and covered four Buffalo Bills Super Bowl teams, 1989 U.S. Open, the 1995 Ryder Cup and the 85th PGA Championship at Oak Hill.
Levy is currently a SportsCenter anchor at ESPN, which he joined in 1993. He did play-by-play for the NHL on ESPN from 1995 until 2005 as well as for college football from 1999 to 2002. In 1998 and 1999 Levy did play-by-play for the NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey semifinals and finals. He was also the studio host for The NFL on ESPN Radio and covered football games on Sundays during the season. Prior to joining ESPN, Levy was an anchor and reporter for WCBS-TV from 1992 to 1993 and hosted Sports Desk on the Madison Square Garden Network in 1989.
Borrelli opened the discussion by asking Goldsmith what it was like working for two notably powerful men in sports, Vince McMahon of the WWE and David Stern of the NBA.
“They are very, very powerful, very loquacious and very, very intelligent men, both of them, and I feel blessed to say that I worked for both of them. They were very different,” Goldsmith said. “Both men had very high expectations. They expected you to work really hard, to dig really deep and get everything out of every employee. But, if you are the kind of person who is passionate about your work, by the way I said it in the classes I met this morning, I was not a sports fan, I was not a wrestling fan, I was not a sports fan. So it was a little bit harder for me. It was true work, but the expectations for me were the same as the expectations for the guy that’s reading the sports pages and feels… comfortable, and that’s not work to him every day. For me that was a little more of a challenge, but my expectations were that I was going to kick butt just like the next guy.”
Goldsmith talked about how she worked with both the WWE and NBA to move them to more international brands. Borrelli took that international aspect and transferred that to Beberman and how he uses the international financial stage to report on sports.
“The main thing is all of our clients, on Wall Street and around the world, whether you are working in the CEO suite or you’re in the mailroom, everyone is interested in sports, generally,” Beberman said.
Beberman said that while his sports team does not have a depth of writers, they still cover just as interesting stories.
“We pick and choose our spots,” Beberman said. “We look to do stories about the business of sports, things that you’re not going to get in other areas, because that’s what our clients are interested in.”
Beberman said that the industry is changing and has changed a lot since he joined it.
“When I started 22 years ago, pre-Internet, pre-everything like that, sports, the dollar sign, was big, but now everything is multimillion dollars,” Beberman said.
Kucko added to the changing landscape for reporters and how they are expected to adapt and survive. He said that being able to stay interesting is important.
“I think the key to survivability for anyone who’s doing local sports from a TV standpoint is to generate content outside the traditional news topics,” Kucko said. “Let’s face it, out of everyone here, based on show of hands, who watches a six o’clock newscast? Hardly anybody, very few people. I don’t and I’m on the thing.”
The crowd laughed at Kucko’s honesty, but he pointed out why he has been able to survive in the industry since 1989.
“What I do is I generate content to air at other day parts, I cover the Super Bowl every year, not just for Rochester but for 85 stations, all different affiliates in our Nexstar Broadcasting Group and I generate revenue with vignettes, I put together 10, 25 second vignettes with room for a 5 second billboard they air in 85 different markets….To me that’s the key to survivability to anyone in a local sports market,” Kucko said. “You’ve got to make yourself relevant.”
While Kucko covers the local sports for those who live for the team in their neighborhood, Levy said that ESPN tries its best to please the audience.
“We simply can’t be everywhere. We have a mission statement every year, as most major companies do, and among the key points on our mission statement was to serve the sports viewer, the sports fan, in every way possible,” Levy said. “So that’s what we strive to do and we try to balance. It’s really one of the first rules of broadcasting, to entertain and inform, so that’s what we try to do on a nightly basis, but our universe has exploded. SportsCenter is now live I think 18 hours a day. In the old days, I think it was live 4 hours a day and the rest were re-airs.”
Levy said the responsibilities that ESPN has, as “The World Wide Leader in Sports,” is a “tremendous undertaking.”
“It’s a tremendous responsibility,” Levy said. “Sports is supposed to be fun. We grow up going to games, but it’s serious business where I am, and we take that responsibility very seriously because we realize also that there’s more competition than ever.”
Borrelli tossed the topic of college athletes being paid for Kucko and Levy to attempt to answer, since the topic has gained a lot of coverage in recent months.
“You know what, they should get paid,” Levy said. “It’s not that easy, it’s just not that easy, if it worked it’d be terrific…I find this to be very difficult. The value of a college education right now at a top-notch university, this is big time money that people who can’t play those sports whether it’s football or whatever, revenue-producing sports, they would never be able to go to that college economically.”
Levy also mentioned that the players bring in a lot of money with television deals and broadcasting the games. He also told the story of when Jay Bilas exposed the NCAA for marketing player jerseys with player names. In the end, he said that the issue is a difficult one to decide.
The panelists discussed programming and the licensing behind broadcasting national sporting events. Levy mentioned how ESPN is “in bed with baseball” and how the age-range for those who like the sport is “skewed upward.” Levy added that it costs millions of dollars to license a sporting event to broadcast. Borrelli noted that the X Games, which were created by ESPN in 1995, have gained money for ESPN since they do not pay licensing fees to anyone. Levy said that this has been huge for the company.
Several students were able to ask the panelists questions; however, one asked to Levy about racial diversity in sports broadcasting stood out.
“I think ESPN is among the leaders in that,” Levy said. “I mentioned we have this mission statement to serve all sports fans at every level. That too is on our mission statement. We are briefed quarterly about the Latino population in the United States, how it is exploding… I don’t know if it’s 25 years from now from becoming a majority and how they love their sports, and ESPN has taken a strong role at trying to be ahead of that. There’s ESPN Deportes, it’s a very popular station, we’ve mixed in a lot of Hispanic broadcasters on the domestic side as well. But ESPN is very much aware and I think you see a balance, if you put on ESPN in terms of gender/race ethnicity, ESPN is front and center, I feel like we do a much better job than a lot of other outlets as well, but it’s on the top of our priority list, absolutely.”
Students applauded the panelists for coming to share their thoughts with them in the packed Waterman Theater. Borrelli ended the event by reminding the audience that Oswego State communication studies students are “professionals with a GPA.”
The general consensus among panelists was that they were more than glad to return to Oswego State for the discussion.
“It feels great to be back, to come back to your alma mater to give back in some way to impact the young people. That’s what Steve and I especially are all about. We were co-sports editors of The Oswegonian for a couple of years,” Kucko said. “We have fond memories of all media platforms on this campus, especially the paper though.”
“It’s great being back, I’ve enjoyed the time all day meeting with all the classes, meeting with the students and you guys are asking intelligent questions all day long,” Beberman said. “I didn’t know how this was going to go but from 8 o’clock in the morning until 4:30 this afternoon you guys have pleasantly [surprised me], not that I should say surprised, but [you’ve asked] intelligent questions, you guys are professionals, I mean it’s great, you made me feel terrific.”