Thursday, 09 October 2014 00:00

ESPN researcher goes from Little League to World Cup Featured

Written by Timothy Morris
Antonio Rusiñol is an ETSU grad, ESPN researcher and avid soccer fan. Antonio Rusiñol is an ETSU grad, ESPN researcher and avid soccer fan. Timothy Morris

Imagine being a passionate soccer fan on a dream trip to the World Cup in Brazil. You are paid to be there because it is a part of your job. Imagine that and you have stepped into the life of Antonio Rusiñol, 27, senior researcher at ESPN Stats & Information Group.

The group does analytics for ESPN Deportes, providing advance statistics for game coverage – ratings, rankings and material that doesn’t usually appear in box scores.

“It’s really a dream come true,” Rusiñol said,  “because ESPN was my first real dream job, just because my No. 1 passion is sports.”

A native of Argentina, Rusiñol spent his adolescent years in Canada. His family moved to Johnson City, Tennessee, where he attended Science Hill High School.

 Rusiñol played baseball and soccer while in high school: outfielder on the baseball diamond and midfielder on the soccer field. But before playing in high school, he was a Little League Baseball all-star with a high level of competitiveness and a flair for the dramatic.antonio.rusinol.maracañ

ETSU associate professor William Hemphill, a family friend, remembers one Little League game in particular.

It was July 2000, and Rusiñol’s Johnson City National All-Star Little League baseball team played a team from Lexington, Tennessee, in the second game of the state tournament.

After two consecutive home runs, Rusiñol stepped to the plate and delivered a third-straight home run, virtually sealing the win in the first inning.

“Twelve-year-olds are funny like that,” Hemphill said. “They’re pretty competitive. He silenced the bench and showed that the Johnson City team was serious about winning.”

Sports, especially the game of soccer, have always been a part of Rusiñol’s life. One could say that the love for the game is in his blood. 

His family instilled that love for sports through stories like the one about his grandfather, who would become physically ill if his beloved Boca Juniors, an Argentinian football club, ever lost a game.  

Rusiñol worked at a men’s clothing store while he was in college. After graduating with a degree in international commerce, he returned from a visit with family in Argentina to find an online posting about a researcher’s position in the ESPN Stats & Information group. 

"It’s really a dream come true, because ESPN was my first real dream job, just because my No. 1 passion is sports."

                                             – Antonio Rusiñol

There were a number of requirements for the job, but two stood out as important: knowledge of sports and fluency in Spanish. With a Spanish minor at ETSU, Rusiñol credits his knowledge of the language for getting him in the door. ESPN has a Spanish-language sports network, ESPN Deportes.

ESPN started in September 1979 when the communications director of the New England Whalers hockey team, Bill Rasmussen, founded the network with his son, Scott.

In the early days, the E.S.P. Network, as it was called, only provided sports fans with a couple of live events, like the NCAA basketball tournament games that other stations were not playing. But the first sport ESPN covered from the professional ranks was hockey. 

According to ESPN, Rasmussen’s experience as a National Hockey League communications director meant the NHL was the first major sports league in the United States that had a contract for the network to air its games.  Even those games were at a premium, and time slots had to be filled. 

Before ESPN was the network sports fans around the world come to know and love, the company had humble beginnings as far as programming went.  The program lineup was hardly recognizable to the average sports fan today. The first live event was a slow-pitch softball World Series game. 

CopacabanaInternational sports aired on that first weekend as well, like Australian-rules football, Irish cycling and volleyball and racquetball, just to name a few.

One program was and still is synonymous with ESPN: SportsCenter, the station’s premier show, debuting live on Sept. 7, 1979, from the ESPN studio in Bristol, Connecticut. 

Growth was steady within ESPN as programming contracts were signed over the years with the major U.S. sports leagues.

In 1987, ESPN secured its first cable contract with the National Football League, agreeing to broadcast a small number of games, and three years later, major league baseball came to the network.

Events that sports fans wait all year for were born on ESPN, like the NFL draft in 1980, and the emergence of the NCAA basketball tournament and the “March Madness” that surrounded it.

Throughout the years, several technological advances have shaped not only sports programming, but also the sports themselves and how fans view them.

The first-and-10 line shown during college and professional football games, a digital line indicating the approximate location marker, debuted in 1998; the “K-Zone,” a digital box outlining baseball’s strike zone, won a Sports Emmy Award in 2001 while airing on the network’s “Sunday Night Baseball” program.

The same year, ESPN Deportes started, giving Latin and Hispanic Americans a Spanish-language sports network. While every sport is covered, Rusiñol says soccer is the mainstay on ESPN Deportes. He does most of the statistics for many soccer leagues.

Fast-forward to 2014 and ESPN is one of the most advanced networks, technologically as well as statistically. 

Large events, such as the World Cup, have to be planned months in advance from a research production standpoint because of the cutting-edge statistical work that he and his colleagues do, according to Rusiñol.

For last summer’s World Cup, Rusiñol said, “the entire research project started in January: every single soccer team, dividing the workload up within our group, really making good team notes, player notes and storylines.”IMG 0385 t

Rusiñol says the network is popular because of the time that people at ESPN put in to assure the best sports coverage from top to bottom. From stats and scores to storylines, he said, ESPN tries to educate sports fans with its coverage.

Although the position that Rusiñol holds may seem like a dream job, he said in reality, getting it was not as difficult as it seems. Rusiñol advises aspiring journalists to follow his path.

“Just apply,” he said.  “You never know what may happen.”

Upper right: Antonio Rusiñol views a World Cup game from Macarana Stadium, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Left: Rusiñol on the top of the ESPN studio set on Copacabana Beach (contributed photos). Bottom: Rusiñol visits the ETSU campus (photo: Timothy Morris)

En español: Un investigador de ESPN va de la Little League a la Copa Mundial de Fútbol



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