Anytime Full Sail University President Garry Jones walks around his campus, people take notice — especially when giving a tour to WWE Executive Vice President of Talent and Live Events Paul Levesque.
You know him better as Triple H, and so do the students and staff at Full Sail.
“The first time I toured Triple H across the campus, I was shocked to see the students saying, ‘Oh my God. It’s Triple H,’” Jones said. “They flocked to him. Our employees did, too. There were assistants, vice presidents coming out of their offices saying, ‘Could I get a picture with Triple H? I can’t believe he’s on our campus.’
“It’s been amazing to watch how embracing and how thrilled, not just the students but our faculty and staff are, too, about this whole relationship.”
WWE NXT, featuring the future superstars and divas of WWE, is taped at the state-of-the-art Full Sail Live studios inside Full Sail University in Winter Park, near Orlando. The accredited college is an entertainment media institution, developing students for movie, music and television industries as well as working with giants like ESPN and now WWE.
“From the very onset of WWE approaching us and saying we’ve got an idea that we think is going to be amazing,” Jones said. “From that first conversation all the way though to today — we’re about seven months into the relationship — I’ve been impressed with how this organization to the person follows through, follows up.
“They do what they say they’re going to do. They move with integrity, and it’s just been such a refreshing and great partnership between Full Sail University and WWE.”
Students are mentored by WWE staff, gaining experience and knowledge of how to professionally produce (in all facets) a professional television type show. Also, up-n-coming WWE talent learns how to work in a professional television setting.
Shows are run monthly with several being taped in one evening. Tickets are inexpensive and go quickly. Every seat is a good seat, close to the action, and the money from admission is designated toward a scholarship fund for a Full Sail student.
Levesque said: “We did some events here. We turned them into TV. We got the idea to do the show here. The show took off. We didn’t want to have no value for tickets, so we started charging a little for tickets. Then it was like, ‘You know what. Let’s take that money and give it back to the school. Let’s make a scholarship fund and give it to the students.’”
WWE not only provides a hands-on learning experience for Full Sail students when they host WWE NXT but also in their classroom setting.
“We have our exec team coming down here and lecturing their students quarterly,” Levesque said. “Our marketing people come down to talk about marketing. Our digital people come down and discuss digital strategies and social media initiatives. We give them real world corporate vision and experience they can’t get anywhere else.
“It’s a really great working opportunity, and this place is like a huge think tank for WWE in a way. So it’s a win-win for everybody.”
The relationship between Full Sail and WWE began with John Saboor, senior vice president of special events for WWE.
Saboor is Mr. WrestleMania (behind the scene’s version).
When he served as the president of the Central Florida Sports Commission, Saboor was instrumental in landing WrestleMania 24 for Orlando.
WWE was so impressed with his efforts — the first to actually pursue WWE about WrestleMania — the multi-million dollar company hired him mainly to acquire bids from cities interested in hosting WrestleMania, check the locations and work with those fortunate to facilitate the week-long extravaganza.
Based in Orlando, Saboor also notified WWE execs about neighboring Full Sail University, which offers on-campus and online degrees.
The process took a different path from the usual WWE methodology.
“John came into my office one day and mentioned this in passing that he met with these guys the other day, and there’s this university in Orlando,” Levesque said. “It just struck me as interesting as they told me about this place. It piqued my interest. I said can you send me the documentation, the books on the school, and I got it, and I looked at it, and I had interest in it.
“So I came down here and took a peak at it, and when I was here, I was blown away. It’s such a great facility, and the learning experience is so big. I saw Full Sail Live, and I was looking for a place to potentially upgrade our developmental.
“We have our developmental as it exists now in Tampa, and the television experience there was very small. It just aired in Central Florida.
“I wanted to bring it into that facility [Full Sail Live] with the ability for [WWE NXT superstars and divas] to learn how to do WWE television -- even if it’s on a smaller level but on the same professional platform.
“When I saw this facility, my visionary, Spidey senses went off, and I said, ‘This is exactly what I was looking for.’ We started to explore it further and brought some execs in to look at it and started to think about it some more and started to hash out this idea about potentially putting on a show here, and we did. We put on a show.”
It went well.
Levesque continued: “Then I started to think, I can take NXT off the road and turn that into developmental because that show wasn’t doing anything, but it was sold internationally. It can open up some time for us on the road to shoot a different show; same point and time I can shoot a really good quality show out of here and take these kids, instead of then learning out of a two-camera warehouse shoot that went no where, I can teach them on a four or five or six camera shoot with real live TV production on a smaller but same platform WWE does everywhere.”
Full Sail students, 65 of them, are mentored by the WWE production team. They are offered occasionally opportunities to do some of the work side-by-side with the professionals. Their creativity is also acknowledged and welcomed.
“The students are immersed in every one of these NXT events,” Jones said, “in actual broadcast quality recording and live events, where they get to learn what they’re studying in school at an actual professional event.”
Jones added: “When those 65 students walk out of our doors, they not only walk out with a diploma, a degree, but they will walk out with WWE on their resume. They were part of that project. They were able to learn on that project.”
WWE is a global company, traded on the New York Stock Exchange. It is a leader in sports entertainment worldwide. Many working behind the scenes for WWE also boast exceptional backgrounds with other major sports and entertainment companies.
WWE will be launching its own network in the future (TBA). Could Full Sail University be part of that?
“Certainly,” Levesque said. “When I say we’re scratching the surface, there’s a lot of things potentially. Could we do other shows here? ‘Yeah, they have studio facilities all over this campus. They’ve got green screen facilities.
“Right now we’re working with them at Full Sail Live, producing a show out of here that goes internationally — hopefully soon domestically; that’s a spoiler — but there are so many other things that we can very easily begin to do out of Full Sail that synergistically works for us and works for them.”
Everyone benefits, especially the students.
“It’s real world, real life experience on a TV show that’s going out there to the world,” Levesque noted. “You can’t buy that experience. You can’t get that anywhere else.”
Full Sail film students are learning film roles. Show production students are learning, being mentored by WWE staff in show production roles. Audio students in Full Sail’s Recording Arts program, they’re getting to work in audio roles. So it expands throughout Full Sail’s curriculum.
“Now that we have 34 years of experience and 40,000-plus graduates, more and more entertainment companies of all types — film makers, the largest recording studios, great companies like ESPN and WWE — are realizing our graduates are equipped and ready to go to work on day one,” Jones said. “So for an ESPN, for a WWE and other organizations that have a global scope of production or entertainment program delivery, we are all about nurturing relationships with professional entities; so our students get this kind of exposure like WWE is offering them.”
There are no guarantees in real life, but these real life experiences can help a graduating student land a job in WWE or elsewhere.