An Emmy™ -winning professional for long- and short-form television and digital content in sports and news, Justine Gubar is an adjunct instructor at the NYU SPS Preston Robert Tisch Institute for Global Sport. She teaches sports documentary, league governance, and business skills at the Tisch Institute and has taught at the NYU SPS Real World Program. She also has served as a faculty advisor to the NYU Sports Film Festival and Sports Media Fellowship. Outside of NYU, she is the head of the Sports Emmy Awards, presented by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
We connected with her to hear her perspectives on the evolution of sports media and film, industry challenges and opportunities, and what she is looking forward to in the coming academic year, among other topics.
Where do you see the evolution of sports media and film heading? How will it impact how we consume and interact with sports in the coming years?
The explosion of narrative nonfiction storytelling in the sports space has created an entry lane for fans to immerse themselves in sports they didn't even know they were interested in. Take a look at the immense popularity of Formula 1 Racing. Much of that is attributed to the popularity of Netflix’s Emmy Award-winning documentary series, “Drive to Survive.”
Recently. I sat next to a 15-year-old at a birthday party and asked what she was streaming. I expected the answer to be a more predictable young adult show like “Stranger Things” or “The Summer I Turned Pretty,” but the answer was “Drive to Survive.”
The relationship is also a two-way street. Live event producers sustain interest and showcase their brands by rolling out rich, character-driven stories that complement their live programming. This current environment is a boon for fans, and it's an exciting time to see what stories content creators are bringing to market and what innovative production tools they rely on.
What are some of the industry challenges and opportunities you see?
The biggest challenge is making the billion-dollar investments networks and platforms are spending on rights fees for live sporting events pay off in an uncertain and ever-changing media landscape. For example, CBS, ESPN, FOX, NBC, and now Amazon will reportedly pay the National Football League more than $110 billion over 11 years to broadcast and stream their games.
To maximize this commitment, media partners must continue to grow their fan base and, in particular, develop programming that resonates with digitally native sports fans whose methods of consumption of sports are very different than the traditional, linear television-watching sports fan.
We see Apple and Amazon getting into the live sports space, and Netflix is moving into gaming; content that serves a global audience has become a priority for media platforms. Meanwhile, we see corporate contraction and reorganization throughout the sports media industry and can’t ignore the deep cutbacks that took place during the pandemic, recent layoffs in esports and at startups, and a movement toward remote productions that inevitably rely on less personnel.
With both contraction and recalibration, opportunity absolutely presents itself as sports producers seek new ways to bring content to consumers—the sports betting space and the metaverse are two areas that deserve attention.
What are you most excited about sharing or teaching your students this academic year?
This semester, I teach the Sports Business Practicum class and co-teach in the Real World Program. These classes have been developed with a deep commitment to experiential learning. Students spend four weeks shadowing and training at a professional sports organization for the practicum class, while classroom time supplements and contextualizes the experience. For Real World, the entire semester focuses on solving a real-life business challenge for an organization.
To me, opportunities like this are what make NYU SPS shine as a learning environment and why students gravitate to our program in the first place. As a teacher, I love to see students discover themselves in the context of career building and develop their professional aspirations in often unexpected ways.
Describe your role as Head of the Sports Emmy Awards.
The Sports Emmy Awards reward the best in class of national sports television programming. Anyone who has taken a Zoom class or meeting with me sees the Emmys I've won along the way as part of my Zoom background. I spent two decades as a television producer at ESPN and other linear and digital outlets in sports and news and published a book on the outrageous side of fan behavior.
My role draws on vast industry knowledge and understanding of the latest media trends, deep relationships across various genres, a belief in creating connected communities, and a commitment to diversity, inclusion, and transformation. I am particularly interested in incorporating the thinking of younger media consumers so that our iconic brand can maintain its relevance as the television industry faces its next iteration.
As a faculty advisor for the NYU Sports Film Festival/Sports Media Fellowship, could you share one of the most rewarding experiences you have had in these roles?
The Festival launched during the pandemic, so for the second year of the festival, which is when I became involved, it was incredibly gratifying to bring people together in person. The event was held at the NYU Production Lab, a terrific collaborative space that supports creative endeavors at a highly professional level, in front of a standing-room-only crowd.
We've learned that next year a bigger venue is in order. The NYU community galvanized around the captivating films and gave us proof of concept to grow the festival for the future. Watching the student fellows secure festival sponsorship from one of the leading sports media production companies, multiple Emmy award-winner Religion of Sports, supporting the students in tackling the challenges of hosting a live event with public health challenges and finally welcoming an audience that was a mix of students, faculty, celebrities, and industry experts was the culmination of a memorable semester.
What are some of the research initiatives you are working on?
A full-time job and adjunct teaching at NYU keep me rather busy. That and my new obsession with pickleball. But I am in the nascent stage of a book project that fuses my interest in fandom with my knowledge of the television entertainment ecosystem. Additionally, I am firmly committed to the need for better diversity statistics in sports media. An investigation of this sort would make for a fruitful partnership between industry and academia that could drive significant impact. I think the phrase “you can't fix something if you can't measure it” is spot on.