My day with a Media Pass
This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Conference USA basketball tournament, as a media member. As a life-long sports fan I have attended many sporting events, but this was the first experience since college in the media. Here was my experience.
I arrived early, like I always do and spent my time waiting, as per usual. But today I would be a member of the “sports media”. Today, I would get to see sports from a completely different angle.
I have been watching sports my whole life. Television is the medium of my lifetime, I’m one with very little patience for radio announcing. In college I pursued sports media for a while but left when multiple circumstances caused me to look elsewhere. But 10 years later I’m back with the media credentials on, not with a professor but my own judgements determining my choices this day. The experience of watching a sporting event from the media was interesting and unlike any other viewership I had experienced.
As an early arrival I was one of the first to pick up my credentials for the day and the only one at the media tables. This was a small event, the Conference USA men’s basketball semi-final games. There were no local teams still in the men’s tournament so the media was fairly small. But it would be on television and I wanted to see what I normally only heard as a basketball fan.
I picked a seat squarely behind the television commentators, CBS was broadcasting the event. I sat directly behind them. Being so early I was able to watch the media arrive. I had been told there was a hierarchy within media. Television was on top with the national television companies at the very top, the 1 percent as it were. Behind the television crews came radio play by plays. Each team brought their own play-by-play guy. He got great seats just next to the television crews. After the radio comes the print media and at the very bottom come us “Multimedia” types. Bloggers, writers and podcasters from the rising media, I had been told, lived at the bottom of that barrel.
Now in a sense that is true. When I sat down in what I thought was the best seat in the house, an employee for the event came by and said, “Don’t get comfortable, we have assigned seating.”
“Ugh”, I thought, “They have figured me out. I’m just a hack that loves sports and loves to write. They will throw me with the other sports fans where I belong.”
I put my backpack on my treasured seat and went to explore the facility in a way only a “Multimedia” Press Hack could.
The event was hosted at the Star. The Star has been a project of Jerry Jones for years now. It’s the practice facility for the beloved Dallas Cowboys. It’s about an hour from Cowboy Stadium that is in Arlington, Texas. The Star is in another Dallas suburb of Frisco which has exploded in growth in the last 10 years. The Cowboys organization purchased this huge swath of land years ago and no one could quite understand what he was building. My children’s pediatrician is across the street and I’ve been going there since before any construction was started.
I’ve watched over the last 3 years as buildings, then parking structures, then holes, then more buildings were created. I’d been told what it was going to be, yet it is so much more fantastic and amazing than you can think. This practice facility is larger than many college football stadiums. It seats 12,000 spectators in it’s 510,000 square foot facility.
And that’s just the inside football stadium. They also have the World Headquarters for the Dallas Cowboys as well as a Cowboys gift shop, a private social club and restaurant, a workout facility, apartments and restaurants galore. This campus, because that is what it really is, is a beauty to behold. And I had the credentials to see it in a way others did not. Explore I did and talk. I talked to anyone that would have a conversation with me. I met a man who works in Public Relations for the Cowboys. He talked glowingly about his job and his co-workers. I talked with fellow “multimedia” journalists, some wrote for websites like myself. I met college students there with their school working for their school radio station, athletic department or school newspaper. I met those in charge of their school’s social media page with dreams of careers in public relations. I met Sports Information Directors and volunteers for the event. There may not have been a lot of fans at these events, but the amount of people invested in this tournament would not have betrayed that.
The Star is obviously a football stadium, where the local high schools play. But for this event they transformed it into a basketball arena. They split the field in half allowing for two courts to be playing simultaneously. It’s any basketball fans dream. Earlier in the event they had played multiple games at once. But by the semi-final’s only one court was being used. With extra bleachers placed on the fields it allowed for an intimate feel in a colossal venue. Perfect conditions for college basketball.
The facility provided food for us media-types, and it was good. As a local I knew the restaurants that were catering, it was all better at the Star than in restaurant. But it’s probably always like that when it does not cost you a thing.
By the time I returned to my seat, my backpack was still there. I sat down to charge my phone and watch. There was much more activity happening from CBS now. Seven people were mulling around, and those were just the camera guys. You can immediately tell who is going to be on television, they are all dressed completely different from the rest of us media types. Not that the rest of us media types are dressed like slobs. But the television people, they are dressed like prom.
The men have their hair styled to not move an inch with shoes that shine. When I arrived back they were preparing for their pre-game interview on the court. As the players warmed up they sat on stools with bright lights shining on them as they discussed how they thought the game would play out. As this was happening the event organizers came by to pass out the official seating arrangements.
I was asked to move over one seat, even closer to center court. So much for the rumored sports media hierarchy.
The announcers had now come to sit in their seats. They sat between the three screens with a man to their left also with headphones and a microphone. They pulled out their notes for the game and the geeky-sports-fan in me went crazy. They were beautiful. They had organized it by player and by team. They knew all sorts of stuff all laid out before them written in their own writing.
Just this season, when Jon Gruden took the Oakland job, reportedly Steve Young was offered his job as commentator for ESPN’s Monday Night Football. Young turned it down saying how intensely time consuming the job was. I did not understand until I looked at the breadth of their prep-work for this seemingly small and insignificant middle major semi-final game. But those announcers in no way treated it like it was small or insignificant. It’s what every mid-major fan would hope for.
I made brief conversation with the commentators in front of me. But they would have little time to talk and let’s be honest, between the noise of the crowd and their own earphones there was very little to be heard.
So I turned to the other “multimedia” journalists beside me. They all had laptops, I had pen and paper, I’m nostalgic like that. I like to embrace the moment, feel the game and see the big picture. Also, I’m a hack remember, just a writer that loves sports.
As everyone else pulled out their laptop I looked at the crew around me. They were mostly young, mostly those that were there with their universities. But there were lifelong sports reporters there as well.
At the far end of the row sat the interviewer for CBS. She stuck out like a beautiful sorority girl in the midst of the athletic department. I saw very little of her except on the screens in front of me or every time I left my seat to get another of the free drinks or relieving myself after drinking too many of the free drinks.
The game began and there I sat, with the second-best seat in the house. The players are so much bigger in real life, but from there you could see the plays happening, you could really understand the dynamics of the team. I was able to pick out the leader, the one who would take the last shot, I learned who was getting beat by their opposition and who was winning their man-on-man battles. Yet as I stood closer to the game than most sports fans get to more questions arose than answers.
In the first Semi-Final game #11 from Marshall got my attention. Ajdin Penava was from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovnia. What could have lead him to Marshall University? Is basketball a big thing in Sarajevo? I asked the commentators about him. “He’s the nation’s leading shot blocker,” he said during a time out, “By a lot”.
The nation’s leading shot blocker is a skinny white kid from Bosnia and Herzegovina? Like I said, being in the media introduced more questions than answers.
As I watched the game I continued to watch the production of CBS television coverage. Apart from the camera crews there were the three commentators and then 2 behind the scenes members. One was constantly writing interesting facts and stats on sticky notes to hand to them throughout the game. There was also a woman who handed them the promos to be read off throughout the telecast. It was obvious there were other people connected to their headsets because all at the table would suddenly laugh together.
Whenever there was a controversial play, the officials would come to their table to explain what had happened or a reasoning for the call. Talk about feeling VIP, so they weren’t telling me, I’d picked the seat write behind them.
As the games progressed I regularly talked with us fellow, multi-media types. And we talked basketball. It is its own kind of heaven talking sports with people who love to talk sports. We complained about the ending of basketball game and how eventually someone is going to have to figure out this over fouling at the end of games. I stood on my soap box complaining that Stephen Curry has ruined basketball by making every possession about the 3 and not about basketball plays, moving the ball and driving to the basket. I listened as those that knew these teams more intimately than I. They talked about how some players preformed much better when their girlfriend was in the audience, she was there that day. He had over 20 points. We tried to decide if the runner up in this tournament would make it to the NCAA tournament and we talked best teams in basketball.
At the end of the game us media types had the opportunity to go to the press conference afterwards. A couple of student-athletes and the head coach would come and we, media-types, would ask questions. It was every sports fan delight, talking about the game with the people who played the game. In this tournament it was intimate, there were never more than 15 media members. Some were quiet and content just listening, I am not one of those types.
Two games I got to attend this way. A whole day of living the sports fans dream. I was discussing with other members of the media how they go about writing their article. Some lay out the facts.
But I’m a blogger, not limited to a deadline or an editor (or cash flow) I wanted to tell the story of my day. To write pictures and see a perspective we all see without actually living. I lived it that day. Even if only as a multimedia type.