A Day in the Life: Producing Live Sports

live sports production inside the production truck

While you watch the game, there is a whole host of people hard at work behind the scenes

There is nothing quite like curling up on the couch on a nice weekend afternoon and enjoying a little sports on the television.

But just like Santa Claus has to work on Christmas, a whole crew of people are spending their weekend hard at work delivering the entertainment to you.

Trust me, they aren’t complaining.

Working in live sports production is one of the most thrilling jobs you could ever desire, especially if you’ve ever wanted to be close to the action.

To really understand the level of detail that goes into every production we enlisted 25-year veteran sports producer Dennis Kirkpatrick to walk us through a day in his shoes. Kirkpatrick has worked for all the major networks; ESPN, Fox Sports, CNN – you name it, and has produced everything from Track & Field to college hoops.

A Day in the Life of a Live Sports TV Producer #sportsbiz Click To Tweet

Here’s a day in the life, producing live sports from the mind of Dennis Kirkpatrick:

Preparation for Game Day

The preparation you do before game day is really the most important part of the week. Unexpected things are going to happen during a live sports production, but if you are prepared for all the things you can control, it allows you to react freely to the things you can’t.

live sports production

It doesn’t seem as glamorous when you realize much of your day is spent inside a double-wide.

In a nutshell your preparation includes:

  1. Knowing the teams forwards and backwards
  2. Planning the show
  3. Taking care of all the little details
  4. Make sure of your surroundings – you don’t want to be surprised by anything on game day
  5. Coordinate with your talent – communication is vital

Tip: There is no such thing as a normal day in the life of a television producer, every day is different even if you prepare the same each time. Without fail something unexpected happens from a production standpoint, frankly the very nature of sports is unpredictable, which I guess is why so many people like working in sports

Even if you prepare the same each time, there is no normal day as a TV Producer #sportsbiz Click To Tweet

Game Day!

For me, most of the games I have been producing lately begin at 1 PM Pacific. This is a special group. Often, we are the first sports telecast of the day for west coast viewers. Disadvantages – you gotta get up early. Advantages – you are home at night.

4:00 am:  Rise and shine. Time to make sure the formats are in order. Everything is scripted out before the game starts and formats are how that happens.

5:00 am:  Buying breakfast or coffee and snacks for the crew. This is a very important step, because if the crew is happy everyone will be happy.

Producing live sports is really about aligning a team of people toward a common goal. You can’t do it all, every individual on the crew has an important role that is essential to a smooth production. Buying breakfast might seem trivial, but it’s a small detail that goes a long way with the team.

6:00 am:  You want to be one of the first people at the production truck. What does that give you? Well, credibility for one thing. The workers with you with respect you for it, and you can answer questions early.  Here are some of the big ones:

live sports production cameras

The location of your cameras, knowing how you will use each and communicating that to the crew is a vital step in the production process

  1. Camera locations: In college basketball, the minimum number of cameras normally used is four. Two of them are up at center court and two more are located underneath the baskets. Now the bigger the game or bigger the budget, the more cameras, replay equipment, etc. If it’s Duke-North Carolina, you could have up to 10 cameras and corresponding equipment. No matter what the game, or how big the production, it’s your responsibility to make sure that things are where they are supposed to be.
  2. Audio set up: This is especially important if you have planned on taking cameras into the locker room. If it is a big network game, you will have a technical manager with you. The tech manager is the person who coordinates technical aspects of production. It is a great career and a fun one that many people don’t really know about. If you don’t have a tech manager, then the producer is the one who has to make it happen.
  3. What is the schedule for the day? Are you meeting with talent and or coaches? Your day is tightly scheduled and early in the day is one of the few chances to check it and make sure everything is covered.
  4. Verifying game times, et. When are things going to happen, like the opening tip-off.
Producing live sports is about aligning a team of people toward a common goal #sportsbiz Click To Tweet

7:00 am:  Working on tape elements and verifying graphics. Tape elements are the tools that a producer uses inside the shows to tell a story visually, such as:

  1. The show opening
  2. Feature stories – possibly on a player, a coach or could be an sit-down interview shot earlier
  3. Bookends (also called intersticials) for features.
  4. Voice overs (VO) – pieces of video used for analysis
  5. Soundbites (SOT) – pieces of sound either from interviews or press conferences that are game relevant.

If the game is a big one, then you may have an associate director who verifies tape elements, since your pate will be pretty full.

Tip: As a live sports producer, what you put on the air is the most important thing that you do.  Be organized and know what you want.

Action on the Court

9:00 am:  Normally the first shoot around, which is very light practice and is important to observe. This is a great time to connect with coaches and note which players you will be focusing on. Often, coaches will give you little nuggets of information that can help you highlight interesting parts of the game.

Other things to look for:

  1. Are all the expected starters on the floor?
  2. Are they working on anything that looks unique?
  3. What is the mood of the squad? Tight? Loose? Confident?
  4. If you have it in your prep that you want to focus on certain players…how do they look?

    live sports production

    Connecting with your announcers and building a strong relationship is another important step in being a live sports producer

It’s also crucial to connect with your team of announcers and the director to share notes on what you expect to be important themes of the game. Just think about how this whole thing works – the producer organizes the show, the director determines the visuals and the announcers tell the story – if we aren’t all on the same page, the game will look disjointed and sloppy.

10:00 am:  Crew goes to lunch while the other team practices. You don’t have time to eat, which is the price of being the boss.

While everyone else gets their fill, you hold a production meeting with the director and talent. For a producer, the talent is the MOST important relationship you have. OK, your spouse, partner or flavor of the month aside, it is that important.

If you have worked with the talent many times, it becomes second nature. If it is a first time, you must decide how you are going to do things, like counting to commercial and promos, replays and the myriad of other items that you will do together.

Trust is paramount for each of you.

11:00 am:  Crew is back and pre-production begins: voice over teases, make sure that the effects are correct, check lineups, spellings, special graphics, etc. It’s almost go time, so it’s time to really focus. You begin to look at the clock and it never feels like you have enough time, no matter how much you have prepared.

Noon:  Rehearse the opening and possibly record it if you have all the elements (i.e. various pieces of video and sound). It’s always better to record the open and then run it off tape than try to voice it live, too many things can go wrong during a live read with many elements.

Set the clock in the production truck to line up with the clocks in Bristol, Los Angeles or Houston – depending on which network you are working for.

12:30 pm:  Check in with the studio.

1:00 pm:  Game time. What to do then? Well, that is for another blog. (Stay tuned)

3:00 pm:  Off the air and most likely doing a hit for some post game show. Finally, it’s a wrap.

Sometimes, you will want to have the post-game meetings in the airport bar….watching another game!

About Brian Clapp

Brian Clapp has worked in the sports media for over 14 years as a writer, editor, producer & news director. After beginning his career in Atlanta at CNN/Sports Illustrated, he switched coasts to Seattle to work at Fox Sports Northwest. In 2010, Brian began pursuing a new found passion on the digital media side, launching a successful website and then taking on the role of Director of Content for WorkinSports.com & WorkinEntertainment.com.

Recently, Brian has become addicted to Google+ and LinkedIn so add him to your circles and make him a contact. No seriously, do it.

And if you want to know where our privacy policy is before you submit your comments below, it's right here.

Comments

  1. Very informative article. I have been a professional recruiter for 20 years and a Major sporting events venue/management company in the SE US that is home to both NFL and NBA professional teams recently approached me to source and recruit an A/V Engineer / Production Manager for their venue. This profession is not my forte so articles like this one are helping me understand what this client is looking for.

    Best regards,
    Tom Hunt, CPC
    MSI International
    800.347.3248

    • Glad we could help Tom – if you have any specific questions, I’m sure I can help connect you with experts in the field who may be able to advise or even suggest talented people to you. -Brian

      • Annette Grind says:

        I worked over a decade in the NBA as a scouting manager and I am looking to get back into the industry. Can you tell me how I can get my application submitted to get into production live sports?

  2. Alex Sebahar says:

    I am a student at the University of Massachuetts Amherst and I current work with the production operations team for the athletics department. I am wondering where I should start looking for production operations or similar positions outside of my university. I am familiar with larger companies like ESPN, FOX, CBS, but less with many of the smaller production companies hired by different networks. Any advice or direction you could give me would be extremely helpful.

    • Hey Alex – I’m going to send you an email personally with various crewing and production companies across the country – should help you get started! – Brian

      • Anthony Lyle says:

        Brian
        I’m a freelancer and one of my gigs is live directing at a large church, but I would like to break into live sports directing. Can you send me the list you sent Alex, it would be greatly appreciated!
        Thanks

        • check your inbox… – good luck, Brian

          • Nathan Armstrong says:

            Dido on the previous comments. I have been currently working for some time in live production but would love to get into sports production. I would love to see what possibilities there are especially in the DFW area. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

            THANKS

      • Rebecca Zielinski says:

        Hello, I am in the same boat as Alex. If you would be willing to send me an email with companies across the states that you know of to help get my foot in the door I would be very appreciative. Awesome article!

        Thank you.

  3. Hi Brian,

    Thanks for detailed inside scoop on what it takes to broadcast sports. Really enjoyed reading your article and I would love to learn more about this. Do you know where I can go to find more info on live sport production?

    Much thanks!

  4. Danny M says:

    Hi Brian,

    I really enjoyed this article on what it takes to be a sports producer. My question is to be a producer in sports is the major to go into comminications, and do you have any advise? Thanks!

  5. Thanks! What a fun an informative article. I went to school for TV production but haven’t gotten very far into it yet. I obsess over hockey and hope I can make a living one day somewhere behind the camera. It’s articles like this that make me more determined than ever.

  6. hank you for this very informative article. It enlightened me on the work that goes on behind the scenes. What
    the public sees is the finished produce and, but most of the real work is done before the camera starts rolling.
    What advice would you have for getting into the voice over field? I am quite interested in this area. Thank you again for the information you shared. Be blessed.

  7. Samantha Verissimo says:

    Brian,
    I will be connecting with you on LinkedIn. I really enjoyed the article. I graduated a year ago from Asbury University in YV/Media Communication. I have experience with live concerts, Big 10 Sports for a local large University, and local news TV production. My passion is sports as I am an avid stats person along with my passion for production. I am now seeking to further my career in the larger market of sports. Could you send me info on contacts that I may reach out to so I can advance my career?
    Thank you.
    Samantha

  8. Kartik Joshi says:

    I’m a freelancer and as I read above, I would like to break into live sports. Can you send me the list you sent Alex, it would be greatly appreciated! Thanks -http://www.workinsports.com/blog/live-sports-production-day-in-the-life/

  9. Francisco Gutierrez says:

    Hi, i’m looking for an advice.. wich master i should take if i want to do live sports broadcasting specifically in the area production, my major is in Communications
    Thanks

  10. Very informative article. Very informative article. It enlightened me on the work that goes on behind the scenes. What the public sees is the finished produce and, but most of the real work is done before the camera starts rolling.

  11. Ben Johnson says:

    Thanks for the info. I am a high school teacher and we are converting our “stream team” club (which has done over 100 live sports productions) into an actual class. So now instead of winging it with whichever kids show up on the day of the shoot I am scouring the web looking for information that I can use to better educate them for both our own productions and a potential future in the market. If you happen to know of any really great textbooks and/or perhaps other links with educational activities for budding live event producers that would really be awesome. Also if you would be interested in a short Skype session with my students sometime this semester that would be really awesome as well.

  12. Dylan Lierz says:

    Hi Brian,

    I appreciate you sharing your valuable knowledge in this article! I, like many of the folks who have also commented here, have gained local production experience by working with my universities’ broadcasting department, with the in-house video-boards to providing production for Fox Sports. I also got a job as a newscast director at the local CBS affiliate. I enjoy working in sports, I was wondering how ESPN and Fox Sports ect. hires their local crew for productions, and where & how to get on that list? I would appreciate any help and guidance. Thanks in advance!

  13. CJ Edwards says:

    Hi Brian,

    I have recently started working as a Runner, Production Assistant for Pac 12 Networks and I have really enjoyed my experience. I enjoyed it so much that I am considering making a career in this industry. Since I already graduated from college, UMass Amherst, to be exact, I find it more difficult to find entry level positions so I can gain more experience. Is it possible for you to share any resources that I can find production assistant positions in LA or NY?
    Thank you,
    Camille

    • Our blog is full of advice on becoming a production assistant, getting jobs, finding jobs etc. Just use the search tool on the blog and hit your keywords – you’ll find all my best ideas and info! – Brian

      • Mostafiz says:

        Hi brain,
        We are organizing Super league for first time in franchise mode.
        We are also thinking to have own production house for live broadcast.
        Can you please advice how many camera and type of camera are required for international standard production of football match.
        Regards,
        Lt Col Mostafiz, retd
        masud62@yahoo.com

  14. Hi Brian:

    This article is helpful for background on this book I’m writing about an NFL studio personality. Would you have any suggestions about how to get in contact with retired network pregame show producers?

    Thanks.
    Brett

    • Brett – that is a very specific request! Sorry I don’t have the contact info of any retired network pregame show producers – best of luck on the book! -Brian

  15. Hello Brian,

    Ex-freelancer (TD, Chyron, EVS, etc) in Florida here. Not exactly a fresh face out of school and I have had wonderful experience in the industry. Made the switch over to studio work for a news organization about 2 years ago as a TD and now find myself wanting to get back into the swing of freelancing. I still have a few contacts here in Florida but I am looking to expand into other markets. Do you have any crewers in ANY state that could use a guy with many trades? I would really appreciate any help you could offer.

    Regards,
    Nico

  16. Tyler moody says:

    Brian, your article is exactly what I was looking for. I graduated a year ago and have worked as a news and sports producer in Shreveport, Louisiana. I also produce and host a sports talk radio show but I WANT so badly to produce live sports. There is no doubt in my mind that it is what I was made to do but I have not been able to find an easy way to break into the industry. If you could please help guide me in the right direction it would be immensely appreciated.

    • Tyler – look into the local production companies that produce the live sports content around you and see if you can job shadow a producer. Let them know what you told me, that you have experience in-studio but want to branch out into live events. These places are usually very accommodating! -Good luck, Brian

  17. John Henry says:

    I am a high school senior looking to go into collage for this very job, what collages would you suggest looking into for a degree and also to help make connections in this industry?

  18. Hi Brian! I am from Argentina and i am freelancer. I would like to work covering matches, i love Soccer, do you know some companie for work?.
    Thank.

  19. Hello, my name is Ashley Rogers. I am currently the producer of my colleges newscast. I am graduating in a week or so and have been on the job hunt. This post stuck out to me because it is exactly what I would like to do. However, I don’t exactly know how to enter the field. I have don some work as a runner with ESPN on a few games but I’m not sure where to start. Any suggestions?

  20. Shourabh says:

    Hi Sir,
    Dear Sir, I m Shourabh and I have completed my masters degree in Media and Communications. I have also specialized in Broadcast media. I have always wanted to be a sports camera man. But unfortunately I don’t know to where to start off from or from where I can get the required training. It would be highly grateful and kind if you could guide me. It would be very grateful if I can volunteer with you or do an internship with you. Thanking you, Shourabh

  21. Makia Hastings says:

    I started working in the production field for sports in 2013, I have recently been hired as a full time engineer at a stadium. I freelance on the side at other stadiums and fill in whenever I am needed. However, I would like to expand my journey and start working on production trucks even if I have to start off as a runner. I was wondering if you can direct me to sites where I can apply?

  22. There are many things mentioned in this article I would not have thought of on my own. This material is inspirational, interesting and it allows the readers to open up their minds to original thinking.

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