From English Major to Senior Editor at ESPN: Meet Jonathan Costa, new Alumni-in-Residence

Whether it be Derek Jeter, Tom Brady, or Paige Bueckers- many kids look to icons in sports with the dream of one day filling their shoes. The chance to enter the world of sports and make an impact. Jonathan Costa had a similar dream- but knew that he probably wasn’t going to become the next shortstop for the Red Soxes or a general manager. “My brain didn’t work that way.” So, Jonathan looked to how he could instead become the messenger for sports fans around the world. 

Jonathan Costa is the Center for Career Development’s first Alumni-in-Residence. A proud 2004 UConn grad, Costa started his journey at another University. However, after missing home, Costa transferred to UConn Stamford and later moved up to the main campus his junior year. At UConn, with his dreams of being a part of the sports world, Costa didn’t go into sports management or journalism, rather, he decided to pursue an English degree.  

“There’s always room in industry for people who can read, think, and write” Costa says. And he was right. Jonathan would break into the world of sports through a media internship with the Florida Marlins with his English degree. “They liked that I majored in English because it meant they knew my written and communication skills were going to be good,” Costa says.

“People say “What you can do with an English degree?” It got my foot in the door in this world, it got my résumé noticed.” 

Thousands of miles from home, Costa spent a year as the media intern for the Marlins. Within this first role, things weren’t easy. Like many interns, he made mistakes. However, he took from them experience skills in organization, time management, and an understanding of how to take feedback constructively. So, when a former intern, now-ESPN employee revisited the Marlins to visit Costa’s boss, Costa had his first connection with the company he would be employed at for almost two decades. 

Costa explains that while this connection didn’t land him a job immediately, it got him noticed. “I went through a 7-month interview process… to get my first job at ESPN” says Costa. This first role was not a media role akin to his internship, he was on a newer team that would be dealing with statistical analysis. ESPN at this point had decided to switch away from outsourcing their data analysis. With the ESPN app and smartphones yet to be invented, Costa and his team were able to set the standard for ESPN’s statistical analytics. With his English background, a statistic’s position may seem out of Costa’s realm. But he learned how to adapt this experience to fit his strengths. “It’s all story telling” Costa says. “How can I make someone understand what they need to be seeing using these numbers, how can I tell them the story.”  

Costa would spend over 7 years within this department, moving up to Senior Statistics Analyst. However, his next career move would bring Costa back to his media training. As a Senior Researcher, he would work on ESPN’s production teams for staples like SportsCenter. Within this position, Costa was able to experience those moments he imagined as a kid. Whether it was getting the opportunity to attend the 2016 Olympics or watching as Ian Darke thanked him for his hard work during the World Cup Finals, Costa was able to be a part of so many different big moments within the sports world and he “still gets goosebumps thinking about it” now. 

While these moments were undoubtedly memorable, Costa loved the work for a different reason. “My favorite thing on SportsCenter was when everything got set on fire,” Costa says. Whether it was a huge trade happening just minutes before going live or bring the researcher on nights where sports history was made, Costa not only got to be in the room, but also learned how to contextualize each of these moments for the mammoth that is the ESPN audience in mere minutes.  

Today, Costa works as a Senior Editor for Audience Engagement. Specifically, he oversees the team that writes the alerts and notifications that will appear on 36 million touchscreens around the world. So, when it comes to the NFL draft or even holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, sometimes Costa needs to work. But, with 17 years of experience, Costa has learned how to make this work- whether it’s preparing 500 pre-written draft alerts so day-of production can run smoother or working with his family to ensure he can still be a part of those holiday dinners, Costa has grown to create a balance where he can dedicate his time to his family as well as to the necessities of his career. 

Within his role as Senior Editor, alongside learning how to balance career and family, Costa placed an important emphasis on networking and mentoring. Costa himself never had one specific mentor, however, he details how throughout his life he has made great connections with coworkers and bosses and how that has got him to where he is today. “The VP of my group was my first manager, and she brought me into this group.” Costa states. When he realized that he wanted to continue to grow past SportsCenter, he reached out to this VP about a position on her team to start working on the ESPN app. This is why Costa recommends that students looking to gain experience should not be afraid of reaching out to those in their field of interest. Whether it’s through a cold email or a LinkedIn message, “Search out people who are doing the thing you think you want to do. I stress think because I didn’t know I wanted to work on the ESPN app until I was working on the ESPN app” Costa says. “You never know where your career is going to take you.”  

An on-camera moment when Costa was shown on ESPN during Baseball Tonight.

As someone who has had to deal with failure many times in his career, Costa stresses that these moments of outreach are important. The worst they can say is no, and doubt can be limiting seem to be Costa’s ideology. As the first Alumni-in-Residence, Costa is looking to make conversations with students and be a mentor.

“I owe it to people coming up behind me to pass on what I learned. I think it’s so important to not pull the ladder up behind you”.  

Jonathan will be available throughout the semester for office hours to fulfill this dedication to helping and mentoring students. He will also be attending the BIG EAST Career Consortium Sports and Entertainment Networking Event at Madison Square Garden for students interested in connecting with alumni and professionals within the sports world.  

By Amanda Rutha
Amanda Rutha