More than 85 million homes across the U.S. and other parts of the world now have a front-row seat to a variety of Liberty University athletics events, compliments of the Liberty Flames Sports Network — the university’s newly branded TV and radio network. LFSN more than doubles the audience of its predecessor, Flames Sports Network, which covered Liberty sporting events for more than two decades.
LFSN’s reach is now larger than the top 10 Designated Market Areas (DMAs) in the country combined. (DMA refers to a group of counties that makes up a TV viewing area. Among the top 10 in the U.S. are New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Dallas-Fort Worth.)
“Liberty’s brand, Liberty’s students, Liberty-awareness are all going worldwide,” said Dr. Norman Mintle, who oversees LFSN as dean of Liberty’s School of Communication & Creative Arts (SCCA).
The network made its debut on Sept. 7, with the Flames Football team’s 45-15 victory over Monmouth in its 2013 season home opener.
Every Saturday during its “Game of the Week,” LFSN brings live coverage of Liberty athletics events to a diverse network of national and regional platforms, including DirecTV, Dish Network, Verizon Fios, AT&T U-Verse, and ESPN channels. It also broadcasts to the Middle East Television Network, which reaches every cabled home in Israel and is available via satellite across the Middle East.
|LFSN hosts (from left) Erin McKeown, Paul Rutigliano, and DJ Jordan provide insightful analysis and colorful commentary during Flames football games.|
From football, volleyball, and hockey to men’s and women’s basketball, many Flames teams have already been featured on the “Game of the Week” program. Each broadcast also includes highlights from the sports desk and features on athletes, coaches, and athletic teams. Depending on the sports season, “Game of the Week” runs for a three- or four-hour block and reaches over 85 million homes.
LFSN is staffed by a team of highly trained industry professionals who have experience working for some of the nation’s largest sports networks, including ESPN, ABC, CBS, NBC, NASCAR, Comcast, and Fox Sports.
The quality of these broadcasts has drawn attention. Viewers all over the world — some as far away as California and even Afghanistan — have shared their enthusiasm for live Flames coverage. ESPN has approached Liberty and asked to carry some of LFSN’s programming, including select women’s basketball games. The Mid-Atlantic Sports Network also carries select broadcasts.
On New Year’s Eve, LFSN’s production team helped the university reach into more than 200 million homes worldwide with its two-hour live broadcast of Liberty’s Winterfest. The New Year’s celebration included prominent artists from the Christian music industry and culminated with a countdown to 2014. Four one-hour specials featuring different Winterfest acts — including Skillet, Third Day, Audio Adrenaline, Building 429, and Tenth Avenue North — will continue to air on various Christian networks around the world over the next few months.
LFSN also recently launched a 30-minute daily program, “Game On!” which features national college sports talk and highlights. The program is aired at different times throughout the day, predominantly between 4-7 p.m., on a variety of stations and Christian networks. Segments also highlight sports and athletes from other Christian colleges and tackle some of the most pressing issues in collegiate athletics. Prominent analysts are brought in on occasion as guest hosts.
“We are Training Champions for Christ, so we want to get the message out there about what a Christian perspective is on important and sometimes difficult issues that people in sports are dealing with in their day-to-day lives. A lot of the world doesn’t have answers,” said Russ Martin, LFSN’s executive producer of programming.
Andrew Freeman, the program’s senior producer, said it will also include spotlights on Flames student-athletes.
“Special segments will feature stories on athletes overcoming personal challenges, reaching out to the community, using other talents to gain a platform to proclaim the Lord, or traveling overseas to extend the hand of our Savior,” he said. “We hope to leave people with a smile and a good feeling to complement the day after they turn off the television or computer and tackle their busy lives.”
Mintle added, “There are some tremendously powerful human interest stories that have clear and obvious biblical implications in people’s lives that we want to hold up as examples.”
LFSN radio coverage, led by its flagship station Victory FM, is heard on more than 30 full-power stations and translators across Virginia and North Carolina. LFSN is in the process of expanding its radio presence regionally and nationally.
|Students gain hands-on experience during a live broadcast of the American Collegiate Hockey Association National Tournament selection show on Feb. 13, 2013.|
To ensure that all broadcasts are of the highest quality, Liberty has completely converted its campus to high definition. The process took about a year and was finished in time for the launch of LFSN. Fiber optic cables were run from Williams Stadium to the Vines Center, old control room equipment was decommissioned, and new equipment was acquired. Today, Liberty’s equipment rivals that of any professional station. In addition to state-of-the-art HD cameras, the university also has a remote HD production truck for live event coverage and a new Media Production Center (read more below).
“World-class education demands world-class learning tools,” Mintle said. “Our conversion to high definition and all the changes in control rooms, remote production trucks, etc. that accompany such an upgrade demonstrate Liberty’s deep commitment to be top-notch in every area. Increasingly, our students now have opportunities to learn in state-of-the-art environments.”
LFSN operates under Liberty’s Programming division, one of three professional divisions that supports the SCCA. The division also includes Campus Productions (which covers Convocation, Campus Church, and Student Activities events, and produces content for online students), and Student Productions (which evaluates students’ competencies and mobilizes student crews for various projects, such as streamed sporting events or concerts).
The other divisions are Technical Operations, which includes engineering, equipment, and support, and Broadcasting, which operates two radio stations, the student-run WWMC (90.9 The Light) and WRVL (Victory FM and its network), and two television stations, WTLU (The Liberty Channel) and the New WTLU 24 (read more).
“In any SCCA academic discipline there is a corresponding professional opportunity for students in the school,” Mintle said.
This gives students a competitive edge in the job market.
“Our heart behind all of this is to give students a world-class academic education plus real-world professional experience. For us, the notion of experiential learning is the foundation of everything we do.”
A new Media Production Center for Liberty Flames Sports Network recently opened at Liberty University’s River Ridge Mall location (formerly the Sears building), less than a mile from campus. Part of the building is also currently being used for Liberty University Online and other administrative offices.
The state-of-the-art center features a 60-by-60 sound stage for television production, four HD editing suites, a graphics suite, offices, and an audio and post-production suite with a VO (voice-over) booth.
“We are excited to have begun full-time TV production in this facility with our professional LFSN staff, and far happier that our students are able to use the studio as both a classroom and a work environment side-by-side with our professional team. Where else do college students have such opportunities?” said Dr. Norman Mintle, dean of Liberty’s School of Communication & Creative Arts.
The Media Production Center serves as the hub for LFSN broadcasts, such as its “Game of the Week” program, which is available in 85 million homes across the U.S. and the world. LFSN’s daily college sports program “Game On!” is produced in the studio and now, TV production classes are also held there.
“Liberty’s commitment to world-class education for our digital media students in the School of Communication & Creative Arts often begins in classrooms that are very different than most: TV control rooms, film sets, theater stages, and design labs. This is where we take the rigorous academic training and then add to it the experiential learning component,” Mintle said.
In addition to their academics, SCCA students have opportunities right on campus for professional experience in film, theater, television, digital media, video, audio, broadcasting, advertising, public relations, speech, and journalism.
“The bottom line of all of these opportunities is to get students involved, students learning, and students getting professional experience while they’re in college,” Mintle said. “Nobody else that I am aware of is doing what we’re doing.”