Diehard sports fans dream of blowout wins for their team. But not Jacob Ullman ’95. The senior vice president of production and talent development at FOX Sports loves a high-stakes, edge-of-your-seat, fight-to-the-finish nail-biter.
Uncertain outcomes mean viewers are glued to their screens, giving his on-air announcers time to shine. And that’s always exciting for Ullman, who assigns the sportscasters and crews for up to eight of FOX’s weekly NFL games.
A good announcer has the ability to educate and entertain viewers, says Ullman, who is always on the lookout for new talent. “An announcer should sound like he’s having a conversation with the person sitting at home. They are like someone you’d have a beer with while watching the game.”
I wouldn’t be where I am today without USC.Jacob Ullman
One of Ullman’s discoveries was Kevin Burkhardt, who at one point was calling local high-school football games, but selling used cars to make a living. Ullman liked Burkhardt’s delivery and helped him develop his skills, and today he’s a FOX play-by-play announcer for NFL games.
Growing up, Ullman played baseball, basketball and soccer, but while other kids imagined cracking the major leagues, his dream was to sit in the announcer’s booth. “From the first time I could articulate thoughts in my head, I always wanted to be a sportscaster,” he says.
He majored in broadcast journalism at USC, to which he had strong ties—from his great-grandmother, Elizabeth Brewster Jordan ’28, to his grandfather, Vince DeRosa, a renowned French horn player who taught at the USC Thornton School of Music. As an undergrad, Ullman called football and basketball games on KSCR, the student radio station, and hosted two weekly sports shows and a music show. By senior year, he was working as the station’s sports director.
He credits USC Senior Associate Athletic Director Steve Lopes for teaching him the importance of hard work and loyalty, and Sports Information Director Tim Tessalone for showing him how to deal with tough situations. “No matter how difficult media requests were, Tim kept his composure and made difficult decisions while maintaining relationships,” he says.
Today, Tessalone often sends graduating students Ullman’s way to get their start. “It’s a great way for me to give back to the university and students,” Ullman says. He got his own break in 1994, when someone at USC passed his name to the right people. “I don’t know who recommended me, but FOX called me out of the blue to work part time,” Ullman says. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without USC.” Over his 23 years in the industry, he has mentored dozens of sportscasters, overseen hundreds of NFL games, including eight Super Bowls, covered NASCAR and World Series games and snagged eight Emmy Awards.
He is also never far from his Trojan roots. FOX covers USC football games, and Ullman occasionally crosses paths with his mentors.
“As a student, I remember Tim was constantly getting requests from the media like, ‘Can I have special access?’ and ‘Can I put my camera here?’” Ullman says. “Now I’m the one asking him for special access and where we can place the camera.”