It only takes a few minutes in Bristol to realize that ESPN is more than a brand to the people that work there. It’s a belief, a culture and a family. The campus feels bigger than some colleges I’ve visited and I still feel like no matter how many times I’ve walked the halls I still need a GPS to find my way to the cafeteria. But the biggest thing that struck me after spending several days on site is the level of talent walking around in the halls.
Hall of Famers and superstars we all watched as we were growing up, former general managers, current coaches and players and TV stars all walk around with the same level of affability and approachability that you and I walk around Nashville with. That commonality creates knowledge sharing and support and allows everyone to become more informed, which is the key to how the network operates.
Our show, NFL Insiders, was live at 12:30 central time. What many don’t realize, is that means we went into work mode hours before. The morning meeting takes place at 8:30 CT for insiders, and by that point the team working behind the scenes has already received pages of notes from each insider on possible topics and has created a possible run down of the show. They then throw subjects out during the meeting to see what sparks discussion. My job in that meeting was to take notes on anything an Insider may have said that could be a nice “tease” for a segment or get a nice reaction. It’s also my job even in that meeting to try to push the conversation forward and see how engaged the guys are on each topic so we can structure the best show possible.
When the meeting finally wraps (usually around 45 minutes), the insiders go their separate ways to do other work and find more info, and I – as the host – went back with the production staff to a group of desks and started writing. The show intro, specific questions, stats needed, transitions during the show, teases (“after the break, Jim Trotter is going to say something that Titans fans will hate!” type stuff) is all written and put in to a teleprompter by the staff, while someone is continually monitoring the news for changing stories and a staff of researchers are throwing stats at you.
Nowhere was this more impactful than, of course, Day One. Leave it to Murphy’s Law to ensure chaos happens from the outset. We built an entire show around a rumored trade between the Dolphins and Jags that completely changed only 30 minutes before show time. There’s nothing quite like a re-write on Day One of everything in the first half of the show.
That’s why shows typically open with such energy on TV, especially NFL Insiders and NFL Live. Those shows have so many people that work on both and so many friends in each grouping of on air talent that the energized football talk is happening all the way up to the final countdown and live on air start.
The bond and camaraderie you see and feel on the air is real at ESPN because they’ve created an environment of success, support and friendship. Not only did I learn while I was there, it was an honor to be a part of that experience for a few days.