RTA teams up with Sportsnet to create a national television show

For eight students in the RTA school of media, a fourth-year practicum assignment has turned into something more than they ever imagined.

Sportsnet has partnered with the students to create a show, Varsity Life, that will air nationally.

Alex Bloomfield, Toby Kerr and Adrianne German went to Sportsnet to pitch the idea to Greg Sansone, Sportsnet’s director of programming, and a couple producers. Sportsnet wanted to work with them to make a show about student athletes by
university students.

“We just knew that we wanted to tell stories and we wanted to do something that no one else had done as a practicum, at least in RTA,” said Toby Kerr, the content producer of the show. “There’s nothing better than a great sports story in my mind, so it sort of just came together.

“Who did we have access to to tell these stories? Who is a group of athletes that don’t get the coverage that they should? And the OUA (Ontario University Athletics) and CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sport) came to mind right away.”

The idea was already in the works between the media school and Sportsnet and now that there were students to pursue it, their show was accepted quickly by the RTA chair Charles Falzon.

“We found out that RTA already had a deal with Sportsnet basically making the same show … They didn’t tell us until after we were accepted,” said Bloomfield, the project manager. “They kind of all knew about it and were like, now that you guys are accepted, let’s do this.”


Crew and cast members of Varsity Life going over the show's script. (Melissa Wronzberg/Ryersonian Staff)

Crew and cast members of Varsity Life going over the show’s script. (Melissa Wronzberg/Ryersonian Staff)

Falzon helped make sure the group was prepared, and they too made sure they had everything ready before entering their meeting with Sportsnet.

The meeting went well. However, their original idea changed a bit in order to make it fit to what Sportsnet wanted. Sportsnet also agreed to help get the project going.

“Sportsnet decided to fund it, which was great, so we could buy some sets, well a set anyway, and also pay for a few personnel that we might need that are a little bit more professional,” said German.

That being said, the production is an RTA effort. The group of eight students wrote all the scripts, selected the plays, created the feature pieces and made technical decisions on all the camera and audio setup.

Sportsnet provided a graphic designer, the on-air talent, Donnovan Bennett, a former running back for the Western Mustangs and current host and reporter for Sportsnet 360, as well as an overseeing producer, Chris Barrow.

The final idea for what will be aired includes the top 15 highlights from this CIS year, including plays from many sports such as rugby, basketball, hockey, soccer and football. The plays show great athleticism from different players, including incredible catches and dunks and amazing individual efforts on tries and goals.

Bennett says he thought the show was a great idea, which made it easy for him to be a part of it.

“I think it’s great, I think it would have been amazing if we had something like this when I was playing,” said Bennett.

“Probably wouldn’t have mattered because none of my plays would have been good enough to make the top 15, probably not even the top 50,” he said. “But I think it’s awesome, I think there’s so many great stories within the CIS and this is a platform to tell it so I’m all for it.”

Filming for the show took place Jan. 30 at the Sportsnet RTA Production Centre. Bennett was in front of the camera while Barrow helped give input behind the scenes.

Though the project was still the work of the original eight students, they sought help from other RTA fourth-years and some first-years to make sure everything ran smoothly. Students controlled cameras, telepromtpers, graphics displays, audio levels and directed the floor while Bennett was delivering to the camera.

Crew and cast members of Varsity Life going over the show's script. (Melissa Wronzberg/Ryersonian Staff)

Crew and cast members of Varsity Life going over the show’s script. (Melissa Wronzberg/Ryersonian Staff)

The two Sportsnet personnel helped on the big day with making sure shots looked good and the script was perfect. Their help was big for the students.

“You see how things are supposed to be done versus how you kind of like things to look,” said Barry Robertson, the director of the show.

“Things look good in rehearsal and then the producer comes in and says that’s not going to work on TV kind of thing. It’s good to have a different perspective and someone who’s been there before definitely knows what he’s talking about.”

Kerr echoed those thoughts.

“It was obviously an eye- opening experience working with people in the industry,” said Kerr. “I mean, standing next to Chris, me producing this project, him being sort of the senior overseeing producer he would just see these things that I didn’t see before.

“But I sort of got a better feel for the kind of thing he was looking for in takes and the kind of thing that ruined takes and that was a really helpful learning experience for me.”

As much as the students enjoyed working with Barrow, he was equally impressed with their work, smiling and cracking jokes with the crew all day.

“Working with students, it’s actually kind of a first experience for me and it went pretty well.These guys are on the ball, they answer emails quickly, they come prepared,” said Barrow.

Bennett also found working with the students to be a good experience as it brought a different, fun energy. He said he would often throw in his own ad libs on some lines mid-take, which got a laugh out of the crew more than once.
This is an opportunity that they hope to make available for students in the future. However, they didn’t let that affect the way they worked.

Kerr says people are throwing around the word “legacy” as something to describe what they might be working on here. He says while that may be true, the group does not let that affect the way that they are doing their jobs.
“You know you keep it in the back of your mind and really it’s just another factor to push you to do your very best,” said Kerr.

Barrow says that this isn’t just an amazing opportunity for the students, but it is a good chance for Sportsnet to see the talent that is coming through as well.

“Well, hopefully in a project like this you find talent,” he said. “We’re always looking for new people to come in to work in the industry that have some talent, that are hard workers. So this partnership will hopefully help find that sort of a person.

“I also think it’s a really cool experience for students. If I were a student and I got to do this I’d be super stoked.”

The show is set to air on March 14 at 11:30 a.m. on Sportsnet 360 during the Men’s CIS basketball championship week.

Two feature stories will be shown. One is about a hockey player who is also a pilot. The other one is about Carleton University’s basketball team, one of the top teams in the CIS, and what it means to Canada. The top 15 will also be revealed, including an interview with the athlete who holds the number 1 spot.

When the shooting finished, Bennett complimented the students’ work. “Bottom line is, I can’t do anything that I saw (them do).”


This story also appeared in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on Feb 4, 2015.

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