ESPN’s Arends: Conference channel whisperer
Rex Arends is the consummate insider, a network operations guy who has played a vital behind-the-scenes role in the startup of the Big Ten Network in 2007 and the SEC Network in 2014. He’s spent the last three years helping ACC schools prepare for their network launch in August 2019.
Arends is believed to be the only person in TV who has worked on the launch of three conference-branded channels, where he’s become known as ESPN’s chief problem-solver.
He worked with Big Ten schools to identify student workers as viable alternatives to costly freelancers, and with the SEC created the model for all athletic venues to be tied into a central control room, rather than driving production trucks all over campus, a system the ACC is using as well.
If there’s such a thing as a conference channel whisperer, Arends would be it.
“You take what you learn at every stop along the way and it all goes into making you who you are,” said Arends, ESPN’s director of remote production operations. “BTN was the catalyst for all this, but so much has changed since then.”
That depth of experience has made Arends one of the liaisons, along with coordinating producer Meg Aronowitz, between ESPN and the ACC’s campus operations.
Whenever school officials have a question about logistics or staffing or just about anything else, Arends likely will have an answer. And no one is better equipped than the ESPN veteran who started his career in the television business in Seattle in 1980. After several years at Fox Sports Northwest, Arends joined Fox Sports’ effort in 2007 to launch BTN before jumping to ESPN in 2011.
Now, Arends advises schools on everything broadcast-related, from the best camera angle to the right size of a softball press box.
“It’s all about helping the schools understand what to expect so they’re not trying to figure things out after the gun goes off,” Arends said.
On a mid-July day in Charlotte, Arends, Aronowitz and their ESPN co-workers wrapped up two days of meetings with production staff from all 15 ACC schools. A year out from launch, the schools are preparing with meetings like these to share best practices on storytelling and production tips.
At the end of the meetings, Arends scrolled through his phone to check his flight status out of Charlotte. He’d board his 28th flight in 22 days later that evening.
Not all of those flights took him to an ACC campus, but most did. He started campus visits across the ACC nearly three years ago, before ESPN and the ACC officially announced that they’d partner on a channel. By now, he’s been to all 15 campuses multiple times. All of the schools are on pace to produce linear-quality live events by next summer, which puts them well ahead of other conference channels at launch.
“Before, we were kind of making it up as we went along,” Arends said. “Now we have tangible evidence for how to do this.”