This weekend, the country's best collegiate players are headed to sunny Malibu, CA for the Oracle ITA Masters tournament. This national tournament features 32 of the top men’s and women’s singles players in the United States. These elite college tennis players will face off in singles and pair up in mixed doubles over the course of the weekend, and ESPN3 and ESPNU will be broadcasting the the men's and women's singles finals. Team UTR spoke with Dan Johnson, Director of Communications & Marketing for the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) about this exciting tourney. Congratulations on the ESPN live stream announcement! What does that mean for college tennis fans? It means tremendous exposure for college tennis. We believe the collegiate tennis product is exciting and captivating, and worthy of being in that national spotlight. This announcement of airing the men's and women's singles finals on ESPN3 and later ESPNU, is one I hope all involved and invested in our sport will celebrate and support. With this announcement of both singles finals of the Oracle ITA Masters being live streamed on ESPN, can you tell us how revolutionary this is for the ITA and the tennis community that an event like yours has an opportunity to be seen by a wider audience? Both the ITA and Oracle are excited to be a part of the ESPN platform. Being able to stream live on ESPN3 and then follow that up with broadcasts on ESPNU is a tremendous opportunity to showcase our tremendous student-athletes to a nation-wide audience. Let’s talk about the tournament now. Can you give us an explanation of what the Oracle ITA Masters are like for people who may not be there The Oracle ITA Masters is now in its fourth year of existence. Thirty-one NCAA Division I conferences are represented here in Malibu, and the Masters is the only event on the ITA national calendar that extends an invitation out to each conference. The draws are seeded using a player's UTR, and follow a 1-32 format in terms of matchups. The Oracle ITA Masters features the only Mixed Doubles tournament in college tennis, with players paired together based on conference affiliation. What are you most excited about this year during the 2018 Oracle ITA Masters? Certainly the ESPN component is exciting, and will likely be the biggest highlight of the tournament for me, but I'm also a big fan of the Mixed Doubles event, as it's fun to watch strangers become friends and figure out how to compete together on the court. And of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about the scenery; it's hard to beat watching tennis at Malibu Racquet Club and Pepperdine University in beautiful Malibu, California! What kind of preparation do you have to do to make sure an event like this is a success? I probably won't do all of the preparation justice in this answer. I have to give a big shout-out to ITA Senior Director of Championships, Rankings and Membership, Cory Brooks, and his departmental staff, as they really are hands-on in nearly every aspect of pre-tournament planning, which takes places many months before we arrive in Malibu in mid-September. Speaking strictly from a content standpoint, we try to focus on overall engagement, developing a comprehensive social media plan so that we have a good idea of what we want to accomplish with our content that we develop to build up anticipation for the event, and the on-site coverage. With our recaps, I tend to look for storylines that go beyond the box scores, as there's so many avenues one can explore to find that information, but what is it about that player(s) that maybe you wouldn't know from their scores? That's what I try to uncover. That said, you can only plan so much because as we know with athletics, you can never truly predict what will happen when the action begins. Being nimble and adjusting on the fly to the twists and turns of an event are critical to success. Can you walk us through what a day during this event looks like for you? Typically, I'll arrive on-site about an hour before matches begin, just to set up my workspace and do a quick walk through the facility to make sure none of the signage has fallen down! I like to send out our first communication of the day, usually a Tweet, one hour before matches begin. This helps give followers an overall idea of what's going to take place; we include all pertinent info. and links in that post, and will have either a pre-made graphic and/or scene-setter photo to accompany the post. When matches begin, I'll bounce around the courts taking photos, looking for action and any good reaction (fist-pumps, high-fives, etc.) shots. Live scoring never leaves my side so I can adjust if I need to move three courts down to try and catch a big match point. I'll take notes of things that catch my eye during the day that I may want to include in a recap, and I'll also conduct interviews with players and coaches throughout the day. Social media-wise, we try to capture exciting moments and share those during the day. Once matches are completed, I'll work on finishing up the recap, post that (website, social, email) and perform any prep work I may need for the next day (this is a must when television is on-site). What are you hoping the players and fans get out of this experience? The hope for the players competing is that they enjoy the competition on the court, but also get a chance to stop and take in the scenery of Malibu. I believe the Mixed Doubles event is truly unique and provides student-athletes with those unique experiences that they look for when they decide to play college tennis. For the fans, I hope they appreciate the skill and determination of the student-athletes competing, and come away from the event feeling like it was a first-class production. How is UTR impacting this tournament in a positive way? Any stories or athletes you want to highlight? UTR has a major impact on the Oracle ITA Masters. We seed the men's and women's singles draws strictly off of a player's UTR, while the Mixed Doubles is a seeded by combined player UTR. In terms of highlighting players, there's many great stories to tell here. I think Fernanda Contreras of Vanderbilt, the No. 1 seed in the women's singles draw, will be a player to keep an eye on throughout the year; she won the 2017 Riviera ITA Women's All-American Championship and was a semifinalist at the 2017 Oracle ITA National Fall Championships, and was a key contributor in Vanderbilt's run to the final of the 2018 NCAA Division I Women's Tennis Championship. For the men, No. 2 seed Daniel Cukierman of USC is a name to keep an eye on. (Ed. Note - Daniel Cukierman is a 2018 UTR/ITA "Freshman to Watch".) Check your local ESNPU and ESPN3 listings to watch the men's and women's singles finals. If you are in the area, stop by the Malibu Racquet Club - the event is free to attend! For more information, please visit the ITA website.