Celia Bouza: Director, ESPN Next - Work In Sports Podcast

What training and career development look like when done correctly. Celia Bouza, Director, ESPN Next joins host Brian Clapp on the Work in Sports podcast. 

Hey everybody, I’m Brian Clapp VP of Content and Engaged Learning with WorkInSports.com and this is the Work in Sports podcast…

Let’s talk about retention. 

In the business world -- retention is a big deal as it relates to customers and employees.

Let’s take our business for a second, WorkinSports.com. We provide a premium service, we have over 24,000 active sports jobs and internships all in one place, we match your skills to job openings, we connect you with sports employers, we have career training -- we do all kinds of cool things to help you develop in the industry.

Once someone decides to be a member of our site, it makes sense for us to work to retain them. It is easier to keep a current customer than create a new one from scratch.

Businesses focus heavily on retention through elite customer service, increased value, exclusive offers and more. Celia Bouza ESPN Next

Think about it in terms of a sports team… if you have a premium suite sold to a business in town… which do you think is more beneficial to the business, getting them to renew for another year...or having to go n 20 sales trips to different businesses, make pitches, presentations and negotiate deals to get someone else in there?

Retention matters. 

But retention isn’t just for customers - it’s also for the employees.   

There is nothing worse as a manager of people than having one of your best employees leave for another opportunity.   When I started at Fox Sports Northwest back in the day, I was coming cross country from Atlanta, inheriting a staff, that the GM had told me during the interview process that had very low morale. 

Most didn’t feel good about working there. 

When I came in I made it my mission to figure out why, figure out who could be the pillars of the staff, and figure out how to fix the overall problem.

After identifying a complete stud in the building and elevating him to a higher role -- 6 months later he left. And it crushed me.  James Rafferty, I’m still mad at you.

This is when it became very clear to me, that doing everything you can to keep your best people is the absolute best way to operate. You’ll never be at 100%, people leave for reasons you can’t control, James and his wife who was also an incredible performer in our newsroom, left for Montana to go back home… I couldn’t control that. But you can sure as hell try.  

So how do you influence retention? There are many ways because everyone has a different trigger for what is important to them.  

  • Culture - Do people enjoy working here? Do they like the environment, do they have a smile on their face at work?
  • Accountability and process -- if you have an efficient system and hold people accountable to their performance, people are more likely to feel satisfied. 
  • Training - teach them how to be a stellar performer, show them what you want and set them up for success.
  • Career Paths - let them see their future, what could be out there for them at your organization.

These are all methods to retain staff, and great organizations do all this and more -- because the people are what matter most.  

One of the organizations doing more than most is ESPN - the worldwide leader in debate shows. I kid, I kid. I love ESPN - however… that was my Stephen A Smith impression - solid work, right?

Back on track - the ESPN Next program is a big part of  ESPN’s retention plan -- it’s the company's premier leadership development program, bringing in the best of the best for around the globe and training them to be even better.

The Director of the ESPN Next program is today’s guest Celia Bouza...buckle up, we’re getting into this. 


Watch the Work In Sports Podcast with Celia Bouza, Director,ESPN Next:




Questions for ESPN Next Director, Celia Bouza


1: A someone who broke into the sports media as a production assistant way back in 1996, I’ve been reading about the ESPN Next program and thinking over and over again… “wow, I wish they had something like this when I was getting in”… can you explain a little more about the goals of this program and how it was created?

2:  Twenty production assistants were part of your inaugural cohort – I’m imagining there were far more the 20 people interested. How did you decide on the right fit for your program and culture?

3: Let’s get into specifics – I saw somewhere it was written that these 20 have “gotten to experience everything ESPN has to offer” – what does that look like in practice?

4: From watching the ESPN Next twitter feed I’ve noticed some really interesting aspects of the program – one that stood out to me was NFL analyst Dan Orlovsky working directly with your team, showing them how he watches film, what he looks for and how he breaks down a play – how do events like this play into your overall development strategy?

5: This is a big program, with long term benefits for the cohorts and the organization as a whole -- how would you define your role in all of this?

6: I saw a quote from you regarding ESPN, “The opportunities here are endless as long as long as you work hard, advocate for yourself and you tell people what it is you want to do.”

How important is that last part? Everyone always says, work hard, be diligent, show results… but how important is it to communicate what you want?

7: So let’s say I’m lucky enough to get into your ESPN Next program, yes I know I’m far too old, but let’s pretend for a second I’m a recent college graduate… what does my day-to-day look like while I’m immersed in the program?

8: The term leadership comes up a lot in relation to ESPN Next – so what does leadership mean to you, and how is it that it can be taught?

Follow: But it isn’t just leadership, there are other tenants of the ESPN Next program – how would you define the overarching development goals?

9: Any of us that have advanced in our career and reached heights we may not have originally contemplated, can thank others who have helped raise us up and mentor us… what does it mean to you personally to be a mentor and help guide a new generation of talented people?

10: I’m a big attitude and approach guy – what would you say is the right attitude to be successful at ESPN?

11: We’ll finish up with this – when someone finishes the ESPN Next program, what is your hope they’ll have gained from it? And where do you see this program heading in the future?

By Brian Clapp | January 22, 2020
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