The myth of a sportscasting career path

A lot of young broadcasters, including myself, always wonder: what’s the best path to success? That phrase sounds like the title of a book in the $0.99 bin at Hastings.

Fresh out of college in 2006, I was fortunate to have a gig calling play-by-play for a Division I school at Texas State University, but I was wondering what it would take to get to a bigger D-1 program, to become the voice of an NBA/NFL team or to start calling College Football for ESPN.

career-path-myth

So, I did as much reading and research as I could. How did X voice of the X’s get that job? Well, let’s see…X got his degree at X school, worked at this news station in rural Iowa, became a sports anchor at Corpus Christi, starting doing freelance reporting for Fox Sports Southwest, and after 4 years doing that, was hired by the X’s.

Got it. I guess I need to apply for that job in Iowa.

But what a minute, Y got his gig with the Y’s just 3 years out of college, having worked at a sports radio station in the Miami market. So scratch Iowa, and try to get a foot in the door in Miami? Well, that does sound more appealing anyway *googling apartments in Miami*…HOLD ON.

Z got his gig at the University of Z after being the voice of a D-II school for 12 years. Wouldn’t that be a step down from what I have now? Does that mean I should stay put? I need to lie down.

The truth about career paths

That was 9 years ago now, and I am still calling games for the same school since I graduated. While I still find myself doing “career background” research from time to time, I’ve learned a few things about the path to the success in our industry: there is no sure-fire way of getting from Point A to Point B.

There are the greats who don’t even have a degree in broadcasting, or didn’t have to “pay their dues” for 15 years to land that network TV gig. Others went down the presumed “best path” by going to the best broadcasting schools, interning, grinding away in the low minor-leagues, beat out 200 other applicants for a job and finally got their break.

Now that I’ve been in the industry for 12 years, I get asked a lot about how I got to where I am today. The honest answer: luck.

I started doing games for the Texas State University campus station in the 2003 Spring semester. Sports such as women’s basketball, baseball and softball. That fall, our football radio play-by-play voice, who was also our SID, had to step down from calling home games so he could focus on his SID work. When it came time to find a viable replacement, they chose me. There was no interview process or job opening. I guess I made enough of an impression that they were ready to hand over the keys to the car, a decision that changed my professional life forever.

Was I the most qualified? NO. A semester of non-revenue sports, leading to Division I football? Are you kidding me? Was I good? NO. I’ve listened back to those games. I was awful and in over my head.

Three keys to keeping a great job

So how did I get the gig, and keep it beyond that first season?

The answer, is the same when it comes to success in the industry. The first part, and most important, is timing and luck, that’s how I got the Texas State job in the first place.

The second: work your tail off. Every game I did that first year, I’d go back and listen. I would prepare harder and smarter each game. I would ask the analyst questions on how I could improve.

Third: professionalism. Every time I was around decision makers or administration from the athletic department, I’d be courteous, respectful, willing to do anything they asked. That allowed me to keep my foot in the door, while improving my craft. Lo and behold, 3 years later, after I graduated, the school asked me to stay on board, and I’ve been there ever since.

Even though I’ve had the Texas State gig to fall back on, I’ve maintained the same principles, in the hopes of other or bigger opportunities. Those principles allowed me to get into TV play-by-play, and freelance opportunities outside of college athletics such as minor league baseball and arena league football.

So would I recommend my path? No, the odds of that repeating for someone else are slim, just as they would be trying to go someone else’s exact path. I’ll end with this, and it’s something I believe to be true in sports and applies to our industry as well:

The good ones make luck matter.

The Patriots were lucky to beat Seattle in the Super Bowl because of that one play, right? Well, if they didn’t work their tail off to get it to THAT point, then that luck doesn’t matter. Make it matter for you.