The Dragons TV crew meets in the production room during a pre-production meeting before a men's basketball game televised from the Daskalakis Athletic Center.
It’s nearly two hours before the Drexel University Men’s Basketball game on Feb. 28, but Dragons TV camera operators are already setting up courtside cameras, shouting at each other as the team’s shooting guards start to warm up.
It takes three students to screw on a pesky tripod mount, and four students — two above, two below on the court holding a white piece of paper— to white balance camera one from the perch of the Daskalakis Athletic Center, which casts the full-court view of the game which will air on regional NBC Sports channels later that night. For some of tonight’s camera operators, it’s their first day on the job.
Once everything is set up, the team for tonight’s broadcast moves into the production room for the pre-production meeting. There’s still an hour to go before tip off. Tonight’s crew and its leader, Athletics Department Video Coordinator Eric Weber, run through the particulars of the game — specific coaches and players to highlight, scenarios on how the game could play out and incorporating media timeouts, which is an important factor for the NBC partnership.
“So we’ll be on our toes, like always,” Weber said to the group.
For the students who produce Dragons TV, the concepts of “being on your toes” and “thinking on your feet” are understatements. This diverse group of students from a variety of majors and backgrounds cover Drexel’s 18 varsity sports with live broadcasts and packaged video recaps — a job that in comparable university athletic departments is handled by professionals.
“When I talk to a lot of people in my position at other schools, they hire out contracts to freelancers — professionals in the market who have been doing it for years — or they just don’t have the high quality [broadcast],” Weber said. “So I think the fact that we can produce a very solid product with a student-based group, that is the unique part of Dragons TV.”
The stakes grew even higher when NBC Sports signed on to air 10 Drexel sporting events earlier this year, and that pressure is palpable tonight in the production room. As the clock to tip off time continues to tick down — 15 minutes, 10 minutes, five minutes — a host of problems arise that require quick action: a camera goes down, the technical director’s computer malfunctions and there’s a communication issue with the NBC master control.
“Just a day in the life of Dragons TV,” said Trey Lewis, a fourth-year sport management student who has been involved with Dragons TV since his freshman year.
“No one has it down,” Weber adds.
Weber would know. He took the video coordinator position in 2017 after working as a media specialist for Rutgers University Athletics during his own undergraduate years and landing both a production internship and then assistantship with NFL Films as well as continuing to freelance in the live sector.
When he started in his position at Drexel, one of the first things he did was increase the student staff of four rotating co-op positions to roughly 30 positions for work-study students, co-ops and volunteers.
“When I came and saw the quality for how many people they had, I was impressed with where they were at,” Weber said of the state of Dragons TV when he first started. “But the quality could have increased significantly in every area. I thought the main reason was because, well, you have four people, sometimes less, doing the job of 10 [people] minimum.”
Now, for today’s game, an “A-team” comprised of five production room staff, four camera operators and others in miscellaneous Dragons TV roles are now poised for tip off. Despite the upfront issues, jokes and good spirits are shared instead of stress. During the whole broadcast in the production room, almost every action gets a countdown — with Weber and the students in various roles speaking audibly in unison, keeping the heartbeat of the production in rhythm.
“I think it’s really important for that room to never be silent, because if it’s silent that means we’re falling asleep at the wheel or we’re getting too relaxed,” Lewis said.
Out in the perch, second-year health sciences student Caroline Londa is operating camera two — a role she credits with helping her find her own voice.
“At first, I wasn’t that vocal. I was really shy and I also didn’t have any knowledge, so what I said didn’t make any sense,” she said with a laugh, mentioning that the camera two operator has to keep a close eye on the game and notify the producer when they have a good shot. “But then, I got comfortable with everyone. So I think eventually, even if you don’t think that you could be a part of something like this, you could eventually learn.”
This is the case with Dragons TV overall. Most students come in with little to no prior knowledge, and are encouraged to eventually learn each of the roles at play for a broadcast. Gurleen Singh, a freshman currently in the first-year exploratory studies program, had some camera and live broadcast experience before he started with Dragons TV, but said the fact that everyone comes in with different skill sets makes each broadcast even more rewarding.
“Everybody has something to teach each other. I think that’s how we all thrive and do really well,” Singh said. “It creates this really fun environment where we’re all helping each other out. I never feel that it’s a competitive environment. It’s very collaborative. We all have a lot of fun at the end of the day.”
Weber said he finds great fulfillment in watching the students grow in their technical abilities, as well as witnessing their “human growth” through working as a team, learning how to communicate effectively under pressure and harnessing other social and interpersonal skills.
“If you look at my staff, I swear… talk about a diverse group of students from every aspect of it,” he said. “It’s incredible, and I think they all learn so much from each other.”
Although tension runs high in the production room throughout the game, it’s smiles all around when they have a “slam dunk.” That is, in a scenario where all the moving parts work together flawlessly, like when shooting guard Trevor John broke the University’s existing single-season three-point record. It was something the Dragons TV crew anticipated back in their preproduction meeting, and everyone came together to provide a great mix of camera angles, crowd shots, graphics and replay.
“We’ll celebrate small victories,” Weber said. “We all recognize when something went smoothly and I’ll turn around and say, ‘Good job, keep it up.’ In a professional production room, it’s pretty sterile. I think that’s something that students are going to learn. They’re having a lot of fun, and they’re going to look back and realize how much fun it was.”
Some Dragons TV students hope to make their way into those professional production rooms someday or someday soon. Chris Stoddard, who just graduated from the sport management program at the end of the winter term, was so talented at graphics that Weber negotiated a small budget to be able to keep him in the role throughout his time at Drexel. Now, Stoddard is hoping his experience with Dragons TV will help him land a post-grad role on the production side of sports.
“Every game is another evening’s story to tell, and we have a unique opportunity to shape how the viewer gets more involved,” Stoddard said of being involved in broadcasting live sports.
Weber said the whole reason Dragons TV exists is to be able to show friends, family and fans of the University the athletic games, whether they’re near or far, and give them a great experience while they’re at it. He credits support from the Athletics Department as well as all of the amazing student athletes that Dragons TV work with for enabling his team’s growth and opportunity to take on the NBC deal.
“Generally speaking, the feedback has been very positive from alumni and people who have only see it grow in a positive way,” Weber said. “I think they see what we’re doing is only exponential growth, and people are happy and our immediate fan base I think is satisfied.”
“When we hear positive feedback from people who watch it later, it’s like the best feeling in the world,” echoed Singh. “It’s a thing that we made. We all came together and made this happen, so it’s just a great feeling.”
Head to DrexelDragons.TV to keep with the latest Dragons TV broadcasts. To find out how to get involved, contact Weber at firstname.lastname@example.org.