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Part 1: My trip to the CFP National Championship

Hi friends,

One of our goals at empowHERed is to be completely transparent about our experiences in the sports world. At times, that means sharing some of the “hard” parts that come with the job. But there’s a reason that so many people are drawn to this industry. Working games and events requires long hours and demanding work, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. The adrenaline rush you get from being on the sidelines looking up stats while trying to write copy and print info for the anchors during a live halftime broadcast is unlike any other.


Today, I’m going to walk you through my first “remote”, aka an on-site game assignment. I was in my first year at ESPN working in the Stats and Info Group and had already begun to specialize in college football (my favorite). By midway through that year, I’m proud to say that I had established myself as one of the top CFB researchers in the department. As such, I was named one of three on-site researchers for the national championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, an incredible opportunity that I’d been working toward all year.

When I found out, I was thrilled…for about 5 minutes. After that, panic set in, as a million questions and concerns ran through my head. I’d never traveled for an assignment before, I was used to working in studio not on a makeshift set, this was the most important game of the year, what if I faltered under the pressure of delivering real-time statistical nuggets on the biggest stage. I spent the next two weeks nervously over-preparing and questioning whether I was qualified for the role. (I wish I could say this wasn’t how I still process new opportunities, but I’d be lying. 😂)


TRAVEL

Fast forward to the week of the title game. I was scheduled to fly down to Atlanta three days before, as virtually every ESPN show was going to be doing live “hits” from the field leading up to the game. But I was leaving from Hartford, Connecticut…in early January. Of course, the day before I was supposed to fly down the biggest blizzard of the year was rolled in, leaving behind a winter wonderland. While I love snow as much as (if not more than) the next girl, I was horrified by the icy conditions and the subsequent travel delays and flight cancellations that were all over the news. After hours on the phone with ESPN’s travel department and endless worrying, I ultimately made it out of CT (which was insanely lucky because a coworker had his flight canceled altogether and wasn’t able to rebook until the day of the game).


HOME BASE

Finally in Atlanta, I immediately headed to the Georgia World Congress Center, ESPN’s hub for the week. The way it works is that the company rented out a massive conference room within the venue that served as a sort of home base for all on-site employees – researchers, anchors, producers, graphics producers, directors, event coordinators, and more. Whenever I wasn’t working on set or covering media day, I was working out of that conference room, prepping as many notes as possible for the game.



MEDIA DAY

My first assignment while there was to help with media day coverage. Held two days before the national championship, media day features players and coaches from both teams (in this case, Alabama and Georgia in their first title-game meeting). I was supporting SportsCenter and College Football Live, as both shows were reporting live from the event. I helped write copy for anchors and create the stats-based graphics you often see on those shows. For example, if we were showing a clip from Nick Saban’s media availability, a segment might go something like this:

  • Intro – I’d write copy for the anchor to use to tee up the segment, such as, “Alabama head coach Nick Saban is looking for his sixth national championship, which would equal the legendary Bear Bryant for most all time. He spoke today about how he’s keeping his young team focused and making sure they’re not listening to the “rat poison” ahead of the biggest game of the year.”

  • Clip – We’d then play whatever Saban quote had been cut for the segment. Depending on the length of the quotes, the segment may include b-roll of Saban and the team, as well as “lower thirds”, small graphics that pop up toward the bottom of the screen and provide additional statistical context. I’d create those graphics for the segment.

  • Graphic – At the end of the quotes, the anchor would the transition into some type of stat-based graphic to tie up the segment. For example, it may be a comparison of Saban and Bryant or a look at Alabama’s unit rankings from the season. I was responsible for writing that copy and building the graphic as well.

As far as first assignments on your first remote go, media day was pretty awesome. As a lifelong college football fan, it was surreal to be a part of it, to see these larger-than-life coaches and future NFL stars (shout out to my fav, Jalen Hurts – more on him in the next blog) up close. It also allowed me to ease into the remote with a relatively low-pressure situation. By that I mean that daytime SportsCenter and CFB Live shows are rarely completely live or reacting to an event in real-time. Nick Saban’s media availability may be at 9 am but your SportsCenter hit isn’t until noon.


GAME DAY EVE

The next day, I was up at 4 am to work morning SportsCenter hits, then worked most of the day from our conference room (remote assignments mean long hours and lots of Chipotle). That evening, I headed over to Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the first time, as I was working a national championship game preview show with Adnan Virk, Jesse Palmer, and Joey Galloway.


Our set was on the field. While I was mostly terrified to take pictures or videos during my trip for fear of looking unprofessional, I snapped a couple quick photos (discreet, I know, lol). This particular show was longer than most, as it was a full preview show that featured a number of guests like Todd McShay, Kirk Herbstreit, and Chris Fowler, but it was still a relatively “easy” lift compared to working game day itself. It was a great warm-up for the national championship, by far the most exhilarating, nerve-wracking, and fast-paced event I’ve ever worked!


But more on that in part 2! Check back next week, and remember, you’re awesome and you belong here!







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