ESPN leverages some of the media world’s sharpest new technology
The well-known sports network offers super-exciting
jobs for techies plus comprehensive diversity
programs and inspiring volunteer work for all
Techies at ESPN, the cable TV sports giant, support two of the most technically advanced production centers in the world. One is a new Los Angeles 1080 P-capable production center. The other is ESPN’s digital center at its Bristol, CT HQ, says Stephanie Turner, associate director of diversity.
“We’re looking for diverse techies who are also sports nuts and want to be among the leaders in the sports industry, especially in building dot-com and ESPN radio and 3D,” Turner says.
ESPN leverages some of the world’s most cutting-edge IT work, she explains. Employees get involved with software apps, Web development, graphic design, digital media, transport and network trafficking. They handle their own in-house R&D, right there in the ESPN studio, Turner says.
“One bragging point is the ‘Huck-O-Meter’ that tracks X Games athletes’ height while performing action sport events.” The creators of that also designed an Emmy-winning EA Virtual Playbook application that provides a 3D graphic of a player that comes up with the
on-air game field, “which allows ESPN analysts to explain plays and show the fan what a player should do to make the play,” Turner explains.
IT work areas include architecture (building infrastructure, digital media and iPhone apps), transport, network, traffic and satellite feeds, and making everything digital. “Web development is huge!” Turner enthuses.
Upcoming work includes a new ESPN innovation lab at Walt Disney World. That will be a production house that “fosters creativity” while giving park visitors a chance to view the IT team at work. You’ll find it at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando.
ESPN has also introduced a “Ball Track” program that tracks a baseball’s flight, distance and height. “Anything that enhances the experience for the sports fan is our priority,” Turner says. Other IT work varies from crunching data with analytics to digital media.
EPSN is equally innovative in its search for new sources of employees, Turner says. “Recently the HR team partnered with the tech group to work with the Navy’s Groton, CT sub base. They were looking for vets with engineering skills that could transfer into a career with us.”
ESPN also has a college relations group that targets HBCUs: FAMU, Howard, NC A&T and more. Recruiters also touch base with SWE and groups of black, Hispanic, Asian and LGBT engineers. And the company works with the T Howard Foundation, which promotes diversity in multimedia and entertainment, to bring interns into technical production or the technology group. ESPN’s workforce is “skewed on the younger end,” with more Gen Ys and Gen Xers than any other age group, Turner notes.
Awareness programs abound at ESPN. One on “embracing diversity,” designed for the general employee population, has been well received. Another, mandatory for managers, discusses perceptions of diversity, inclusive behaviors, and how managers can leverage them. “We view everyone as an individual, and everyone is motivated differently and sees things differently,” Turner says. When new employees join ESPN they go through a two-day orientation that includes diversity and inclusion awareness.
The ESPN diversity council, in place two years now, is made up of senior execs from the six business units. This year the council will incorporate eight newly launched employee resource groups: African American; women; Asian; Latino; young professionals; ESPN fathers, mothers and families; people with disabilities; and the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender and Straight Allies. “I don’t think any other company has launched eight at once,” says Turner.
Each of the groups is “very active,” she notes. ESPN women, for example, launched a women’s leadership conference which grew from 150 participants in 2008 to 350 last year. The Latino group has helped marketing people reach Hispanic sports fans. And last fall ESPN observed Diwali, an Indian celebration.
The young professionals group, in its turn, is planning an emerging technology panel to help non-technical managers understand the new technologies.
Turner’s office coordinates company-wide mentoring involving everyone from the president
to executive assistants. Leadership development programs and connections with key organizations like Women in Cable and Telecom are facilitated through HR, which also maintains a diversity scorecard.
Work/life effectiveness is important at ESPN. Employees are offered flexible work arrangements like telecommuting, compressed workweeks and job sharing, plus backup dependent care, a resource and referral service, an employee resource center, a fitness
center at HQ and even a massage therapist, plus an onsite nurse, free vaccinations and mammograms, lactation rooms and soon a childcare center, currently in the works.
There’s also a corporate outreach department for volunteer initiatives. It helps charities like
the V Foundation for cancer research, which ESPN helped to found, the Boys and Girls Club and, in Bristol, CT, ESPN’s HQ city, a local family center and hospital and an “imagination center” for children.
When ESPN recently launched an initiative looking for 30,000 hours of volunteer work, employees surpassed the goal. “It was a lot of fun,” Turner recalls with pleasure.
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