How to Navigate the Many Landmines of College Sports Production

Published on in Advice / Tips & Tricks

By Alicia East, Crew Connection

College sports production is a unique beast. Since schools’ athletic programs (especially football) are often one of their biggest revenue sources, the stakes are high. Meanwhile, during every on-field play or off-field interview, athletes and coaches have scholarships and future career prospects to consider. Anyone on the sidelines behind a camera or a microphone needs to know how to navigate those political dynamics, have superb technical production skills, and maintain up-to-date knowledge of the sport they’re covering. Any misstep could mean an unfilmed play, a botched interview, or a damaged relationship. For the scoop on navigating the many landmines of college sports production I talked to Gwen Brown, who spent over a decade in sports production. Often, she was the only woman on the line, on the sidelines, in the locker room, or in the sports section at the newsroom. Here are the lessons about navigating college sports production she learned the hard way so you don’t have to.

3 college sports production lessons from the sidelines

1. Know when to gut it out

Brown said that in a number of areas in her life, one of the best things she did was simply not quit. In any challenging or competitive endeavor, you’ll be tempted to do just that. This applied to her high school sports football career—she was the first woman to play on the line of scrimmage in 6A football—and put her tenacity to good use pursuing interviews and stories once she was on the sidelines and producing sports for NBC and Fox Sports.

While games are fast-paced, other details aren’t always that way. Sometimes, you just have to have the patience to wait for the shot or the story. Being willing to endure means you may get the angle nobody else had the foresight or patience to get. 

2. Know when to walk out 

It takes a certain bravado and skill to excel in a competitive sport. When athletes are swarmed by autograph-seeking fans and get used to seeing their name on the big screen or in print, you’re bound to find a few oversized egos. While there is certainly an appropriate level of respect to have for those who make sacrifices to excel in their sport, getting starstruck is a surefire way to lose your edge. One of the most effective interviewers Brown ever saw in action was an unknown reporter at the time who has since risen through the ranks at ESPN. No matter how big the star, he’d approach athletes like he would anyone else. With a simple, “Hey” or “What’s up?” he almost always found a way to stand out from the crowd and land the first question. 

It seems counterintuitive, but if you view the people on the other side of the camera as the humans they are, you end up with an edge. One moment especially stands out to Brown on this subject. After a big game, Brown was waiting to interview the star player. The athlete, who seemed to relish being the man of the hour, put the crowd of interviewers on hold, saying they’d need to wait for him to brush his teeth before he’d speak. While she was committed to her job, it seemed to Brown that so many of her colleagues were taking the moment just a little too seriously. Brown didn’t get caught up in the overblown hype and knew she would get the story one way or another. So she walked out. When the athlete returned, he noticed the one press member who didn’t wait to hear him and went to the TV station seeking her out personally. She ended up with an exclusive, in-studio interview.  

3. Do great work and know your stuff

There’s never a substitute for a job well done. Do whatever you need to do to learn the ins and outs of your discipline and to refine your skills. Practice endlessly. Take classes. Talk to and shadow mentors in your field. Work so hard and know your stuff so well that your boss views you as a key team member. On the flip side, keep your humility and remember that there are ten people lined up to take your place. While you want your boss to view you as irreplaceable, you have to remember that you most certainly are not. 4. Tend to the relationships No matter how much you know or how well you do in your role, people still like to work with decent human beings. In addition to sharpening your technical skills, always work on your people skills. The most successful people are those who are good at what they do and good to be around. The bottom line It’s a jungle out there in any college or professional sports arena. A kickass work ethic, superb knowledge, sharp skills, and an ability to navigate a lot of relationships, personalities, and political sensitivities will set you up to succeed. 

About Gwen Brown 

Gwen Brown has been breaking down barriers for as long as she can remember. Brown became the first woman to letter in 6A high school football in the state of Colorado. And no, she was not the kicker. Brown spent her time where championships are won: in the trenches. As an offensive and defensive line-woman, Brown blew past 250-lb tackles and centuries of gender roles all at once. In the big boy's league, she knocked over stereotypes while pursuing her dream. She proved to herself that no one else’s opinion could keep her from doing what she loved. For Brown, that just happened to be football. She didn’t stop after high school. She kept playing the game into her 20s in the Women’s Professional Football League for the Colorado Valkyries from 2000 to 2003.

After her playing days ended, Brown continued to overcome stereotypes and sexism in the world of sports broadcasting. She worked in sports production for NBC and Fox Sports Network, Where she did not request or allow gender-related concessions in any arena and chose to treat everyone around her equally. Not willing to accept the “good ol’ boy” network, Brown continued to move up in sports journalism.

It was only after leaving the industry, though, that Brown found her true calling. She quit her job with Fox Sports Network in 2007 to begin her humanitarian work with the nonprofit organization Something New where she continues her work today.

About Crew Connection

Crew Connection puts a world of video service providers and editors at your fingertips. In just a few clicks you can search, chat with, and book vetted crews local to your shoot—all on your own schedule. Rely on Crew Connection’s team of media experts to organize the crews and gear you need for multi-day and multi-location video projects anywhere in the world. Our crew coordinators are on call around the clock if you ever need live assistance. Sign up on CrewConnection.com, call us at 303-526-4900, or shoot us an email at info@crewconnection.com.

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