In early October, IU President Michael McRobbie approached Athletics Director Fred Glass with the idea to broadcast IU men’s basketball games in Mandarin.
Previously, professional and student broadcasts were done only in English.
Now, students like Zhang have made it possible for the athletic department to also broadcast Mandarin commentary of all home men’s basketball games on iuhoosiers.com.
Zhang’s favorite team is the Miami Heat.
“We would watch people on the television talking about basketball,” Zhang said. “We also played (NBA) 2K, so we’d hear the radio on 2K games. The first time I did Mandarin radio, it felt like dreams come true because I’m not a professional. I had never even done radio before.”
Jeremy Gray, associate athletic director for strategic communications and fan experience, said the Mandarin broadcasts cater to a growing fan base.
“China is a huge market,” Gray said. “It’s an enormous growing alumni base for us. There’s 3,000 students who either speak Mandarin or are from Mandarin-speaking countries. We have 5,000 alumni living in China or Mandarin-speaking countries, including Americans who are working over there.”
The viewership is so large that the first few broadcasts of men’s basketball games in Mandarin surpassed English streams of other sports, Gray said.
The athletic department reached out to potential broadcasters through the Office of International Services and received more interest than they expected.
“I was worried if we’d even have two people willing to do this,” Gray said. “But then we had well over 30 people show up at the call-out meeting.”
Gray said he wanted the experience to be as inclusive as possible for student broadcasters. He set up a rotation in which four students, two per half, serve as commentators every home game.
Zhang worked at the Nov. 3 season opening exhibition against Ottawa. He said he researched the players and their statistics to offset his nerves.
Zhang said his previous experience playing and viewing basketball helped him when he sat down to broadcast.
“They just asked us to talk naturally and say whatever comes out of your mind, so actually the way I do the radio comes naturally,” Zhang said.
Gray believes the decision to move forward with the Mandarin broadcasts has been overwhelmingly positive, he said, both for the student broadcasters and Mandarin-speaking audience.
“To talk to students who are getting to do it has really been special, to see their reaction to the opportunity to go to IU basketball games and do those games on the radio,” Gray said. “And I feel like it’s outreach to a group of students that athletics maybe hasn’t reached out to enough in years past.”
Zhang said his post-graduation plans are uncertain. Although he doubts he will continue to pursue broadcasting, he said this experience has been fulfilling.
“That’s a big reason I came to the United States, for the basketball,” Zhang said. “(Broadcasting) is a great experience for me, because that just makes my dream come true. And that’s enough for me. Every time I talk to my friends, I have some story to tell.”
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