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SRT Pipeline Starts Here

Grads Feed Mobile Sports Engineering Firm

Engineer and Sound Recording Technology grad Keith Morris '08 works in the Game Creek Video mobile production unit covering men's college basketball. The Jan. 12 game, in Baton Rouge, La., featured Arkansas vs. LSU.

01/14/2011
By David Perry

Patrick Sullivan may have a better eye than most for a good farm system.

And these days, he’s calling the 16-mile stretch between UMass Lowell and his office in Hudson, N.H., “the pipeline.”

So far, the University’s Sound Recording Technology program has provided him with five employees, beginning with Joe Lowey ’08. Another SRT grad, MeiLing Loo, is in line to join Sullivan’s Game Creek Video next month.

Game Creek has a fleet of 25 trucks across the country, covering everything from The Super Bowl to the Rose Bowl to concerts for HBO (the Rolling Stones) and corporate events.

Sports provides the lion’s share of work for the  72-person company, as they work everything from Major League Baseball’s World Series and All-Star game to golf, basketball, pro soccer and NASCAR. The truck called “Liberty” is contracted to cover ABC’s weekly college football game.

When the Super Bowl airs this year, it will filter into millions of homes through Game Creek trucks on-site.

Game Creek’s mobile units are production facilities on wheels where broadcasts are produced as they happen. They are mobile production studios that act as the link between the action on the field and the cathode images of quarterbacks, outfielders, point guards and, well, every crease on the face of Mick Jagger.

In the middle of the office complex up Route 3, Sullivan is surrounded by whiteboards marked with colored pen, noting events stretching well into the summer.

And everyone is happy.

Sullivan continues to build a young, well-educated and well-trained workforce from UMass Lowell graduates in a time when the broadcast industry is wondering where the next generation of mobile-production engineers is going to come from.

Grads a 'Goldmine' for Industry

The University has an industry-leading business looking for its grads, whose president hasn’t been shy with his praise of UMass Lowell’s program. In an industry journal, he recently called the University a “goldmine.” In a gesture of appreciation, he donated to the SRT program a high-end engineering console.

And the students?

Keith Martin ’08, 24, calls it “mind-blowing.” Later on the day he spoke, he would fly to St. Louis to engineer  truck coverage of an NHL game. And he will be engineering from the Game Creek truck hired by CBS to cover President Obama’s State of the Union address.

“We just did a UConn women’s game for ESPN, just me and Pat Calhoun, two 24-year-old UMass Lowell grads,” said Martin, who lives in Brighton.

“We have 24-year-old kids running $7 million trucks at major events,” says Sullivan.

Sullivan, whose Lowell-born father, Billy, established the New England Patriots franchise in 1959, left behind his job as Pats general manager in 1991.

He had, from the sidelines, seen a trend forming among the networks, save for ESPN. Nearly all of them were unloading their massive production trucks and “outsourcing” the work of mobile TV production to companies that specialized in mobile coverage.

“I noticed fewer and fewer trucks were coming in to do the Pats games,” he says, sitting in an office festooned with as much memorabilia as one might imagine.

He bought a company in Ohio which included “a couple of trucks.”

As his fleet grew, so did the demand for the kind of sports coverage Game Creek offers. Sullivan says the industry is growing, booming even, during the Great Recession.

“There’s a huge demand for quality work,” he says. “It’s really not all that different from the NFL. It’s putting the right people in the right places, surrounding  yourself with smart people.  And then getting everyone in the organization to pull in the same direction.”

Our Alums Have an Edge

UMass Lowell’s emphasis on “trouble-shooting,” says Sullivan, gives Sound Recording Technology graduates an edge.

“Youth is a good thing, since a lot of the older, traditional engineering guys are less IT savvy. The knowledge of these young guys is really good. Having knowledge is good, but so is the ability to relate to people in the middle of the maelstrom of producing a game that’s going out to 20 million people. The UMass Lowell kids have that. I get thank-you letters from producers telling me so.”

Tim Jobin ’10 is the newest UMass Lowell SRT grad to join the staff at Game Creek. He works in the massive garage bays, “building” trucks with equipment, learning the business from the ground up. He will soon become an engineer working live productions. A UMass Lowell classmate, Joe Flynn, called him when there was a job opening at Game Creek.

“I’ll be a shop tech/assistant until next August or so, when the truck is done being built,” says Jobin, 23. “I remember in school hearing about this place, and I knew Joe Flynn was where I am now.”

“There tends to be a lot of thrashing and rushing until we hit the airwaves,” says Martin. “And as long as I did a good job, I might be able to sit and actually watch some of the game.  A lot of it is quality control. The program at Lowell gets you thinking, puts you in an engineer’s mindset. There’s lots of problem-solving. Projects tended to have tight deadlines, and it’s similar to what I’m doing in the real world.”