Broadcasting in the Big Leagues
From a young age, ESPN associate producer and Kent State University alumnus Jason Kostura fell in love with the world of sports.
“My first sports memory is my aunt taking me to Tower City mall in downtown Cleveland. I was probably 6, 7 years old,” Kostura said. “She took me to this little kiosk, and she explained to me that we used to have a football team, but they went to Baltimore overnight and explained to me that someday we were going to get them back and it was going to be awesome. She bought me a T-shirt that said ‘Bring Back the Browns’ with a little sad dog on it. I’ve been hooked ever since.”
Long before his days at ESPN, you could find Kostura on the field ... or mat or court.
“I played every sport under the sun, wrestling, football, basketball, you name it,” Kostura said.
Kostura also ran track, competing in the mile race. He reflected on how this time in his life shaped him as a team player and a young professional.
“With track, you’re a part of a team, but your contribution to the team is your event. In my job, I very much have to pull my own weight to help contribute to the team. I think there’s a lot of analogies and a lot of natural lessons learned that have helped me along the way,” Kostura said.
Coming to Kent State, Kostura channeled his love for sports into student media.
“I worked at TV2 for all four years, and I loved it. You know, getting to cover Kent State sports, getting to call basketball games. We did a lot of work with the local high schools in the area and did a Friday night high school show, which was a lot of fun. I learned a lot of the skills that I use now in editing, reporting and storytelling.”
Throughout his time at Kent State, Kostura was mentored by now-retired journalism professor Karl Idsvoog, famous for his tough feedback and ability to shape students into successful, strategic young journalists.
“One of my favorite memories was when I took Karl’s class, and I worked really hard on this project. He looked at it and he was like, ‘This is not great, but it’s going to get there.’ He helped me, and I remember I pulled an all-nighter to work and figure it all out,” Kostura recalled with a smile.
“I got an A on the project. And I learned from that day that with storytelling, you can’t be afraid of feedback, and you can’t expect that you’re going to get things right the first time. He really instilled the idea that you’re always going to have to work hard for what you want.”
As his college years came to a close, Kostura got one final takeaway from Kent State – his wife. Christine Percha, now Kostura, also graduated from Kent State in 2014. She works as an acute care speech-language pathologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Kostura earned a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism in 2014, but his big break came just days after graduation.
“When I was a senior, a buddy of mine from TV2 was a year older, and he got a job at ESPN. Justin Rockhold. And he reached out and asked if I’d be interested, and I said absolutely. And I owe him a massive, massive thank you,” Kostura said.
“He got me an interview and gave me a recommendation, and I ended up getting the job. I started eight days after graduating from Kent State. I moved to Connecticut. It was a wild journey,” Kostura said. “I’m born and raised in Parma, so making that jump was a little bit a little bit crazy, but it was awesome,” Kostura said.
Kostura worked around the clock on every project he could get his hands on, ultimately falling in love with long-form storytelling. Now, he produces and directs content for ESPN brands including E60, Outside the Lines and NHL coverage, among other projects.
“Storytelling really is at the core of the human experience. Getting to not only tell these stories but meet these unbelievable people. ‘Inspiring’ doesn't even describe some of these people and what they’ve gone through and what they’ve overcome,” Kostura said.
Many of the shows Kostura works on have been running for decades, but Kostura never wants the content to feel stale and works to find fresh stories and angles.
“I think that I always try to be inspired. ESPN has this motto ‘To serve sports fans. Anyplace. Anytime.’ And I always try to think ‘What do the fans want to see?’ Like ‘What is there not enough of?’ ‘What types of stories are people interested in?’” Kostura said. “I try to bring unique ideas based on the fact that I’m a millennial, right? So I say, ‘This is what my generation is interested in. Video games, music, those types of things and let’s find stories that bring sports into that and reach those different demographics.’”
Although the story ideas never seem to run low, Kostura knows he can always rely on fans for more.
“The cool thing about sports fans is they’re dreamers,” Kostura said. “They all go to sports because it’s an escape from our realities. They just want nostalgia. They want the love, the passion of it, and to be able to give that to them. I mean, it’s a dream job.”
So how does Kostura do his best work? By channeling his approach to storytelling the same way he did as an athlete.
“You know, one of my dreams was to be an offensive coordinator for a football team. Unless Kent State is going to hire me someday, it’s probably not going to happen,” Kostura said, laughing. “I look at this like I have to execute a game plan. I come up with a game plan just like a coach would. The game begins when I start producing my story. It’s always going to change based on things that I might not have known about the story, things that are happening in the story, footage we can’t find, whatever it might be.”
Kostura looks forward to the future of sports storytelling and is excited for his future at ESPN.
“I want to continue to tell the best stories I can. I want to continue to find stories that relate to younger fans, older fans and everyone in between. Ultimately, I want to keep challenging myself by seeing what else is being done and being inspired by it,” Kostura said. “At the end of the day, the most important thing is to never lose that fire and passion to do the best you can and be the best teammate you can be.”