In an effort designed to bring fans “closer to the on-campus experience” as well as to save a few bucks, ESPNU yesterday announced an initiative to include student-generated content across a number of ESPN platforms. This is a very smart move

Students enrolled at schools with some of the premier athletic programs in the country will take part in everything from live play by play to sideline reporting to producing video and writing articles for ESPN.com (see an example here.)  The initial slate of schools consists of FSU, UNC, OSU, UGA, Georgetown, Missouri, Pepperdine, Syracuse, Tennessee, University of Texas (Austin) and Texas Southern University. ESPN plans to bring on at least 20 schools this year. 

While ESPN didn’t go into the specifics of compensation, they should have no trouble finding students to take part. An ESPN credit on your resume  carries some cache regardless of context. If successful, the network will likely expand the program to other campuses. ###

The logistics of managing and integrating content from so many inexperienced producers sound daunting, so this may prove to be an ambitious undertaking. It’s also an educated gamble. While ESPN is a national network, covering college sports is a very local business, and a market from which ESPN could certainly benefit. 

Similar to how High School Playbook taps local high schoolers for production because of their knowledge of local sports, ESPN will attract those college students who are  most in tune with the storylines and events surrounding their teams.  By giving them a stake in production, ESPN takes some of the pressure off their day-to-day production talent – folks who fly in the night before and are gone after the game – while adding valuable content and building an infrastructure that can scale. 

It also enables ESPN to react more quickly to breaking news and will enable stronger relationships with college athletic departments. If ESPN can build a self-sustaining base of quality content they don’t have to pay for, they will build a stronger network across all platforms at nearly no cost.

Ben Homer is a contributing writer from Online Video Watch.

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