When Football Night in America Calls - You Pick up the Phone

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Beginning your sports career at Football Night in America? Sign me up!
A Political Science major graduates from college and a year later is working as a Production Assistant for Football Night in America on NBC Sports.


Sports production jobs are so competitive every opening is flooded with hundreds of resumes. Journalism Majors, Broadcast Production, Sports Management - a prime job at Football Night in America doesn't get filled by a Poly Sci major who hasn't done a single sports internship or have any industry experience to speak of. It just doesn't.

Until it does.

"When I first graduated college, I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do in politics," says Siena College graduate Rory Goulding. "I had been out of school for a little less than a year when I realized that I wanted to fully pursue a career in sports, but having almost no knowledge of what sports careers were out there, I started doing some homework. I looked to connect with as many individuals in the sports world as I could."

Connecting is one thing - having the skills necessary to be a real candidate for jobs is yet another. But Goulding felt confident one of the skills he mastered in college could be his ticket in the door.

"As a Political Science major, most of my classwork consisted of writing papers and essays, while reading and researching for data that supported my thoughts or arguments," adds Goulding. "In sports production jobs, script writing and research is a main task so having a strong confidence in writing is essential."

There is much more to this story, including what its really like to work behind the scenes for one of the biggest shows in sports. Read on to learn more from Production Assistant and Sports Researcher for Football Night in America and Pro Football Talk, Rory Goulding:

Sports production jobs are ultra-competitive - don't be humble, be honest - why do you think NBC Sports hired you vs. all the other people that were applying?

Goulding:  In my mind, what really sealed the deal was the history of sports enthusiasm in my life.

From the time I was young I'd always loved sports, especially the NFL and the NBA, so the interest and passion were already there to begin with. Homework was never done on Sundays in the fall, which was reserved specifically for football.

Whether it was reading Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News to going online and inhaling everything ESPN and the rest of the internet had to offer, I couldn't read up enough on sports. Even with the increased workload in college, sports was never out of the periphery.

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Behind the scenes at the NBC Sports control room in Stamford, CT
Studying for exams became multi-tasking between getting actual work done and satisfying my immense appetite for sports. Many times, as embarrassing is it is to admit, my iPod was filled with more sports podcasts than actual music. (Editors Note: Don’t be embarrassed, mine is too)

So, in my mind, constantly writing and researching political history, trends and policy, combined with my immense passion for sports, melded together to create a skill set that fit perfectly into the sports production industry.

In every step of your career I think there's definitely a sense of "right place, right time", and thankfully, to a degree, there was a part of that in my experience with NBC.

That's not to say I was given this job to any degree.

I certainly earned it through a strong first interview, and it continued with the impressions and connections I made along the way at NBC. By the way, the whole "right place, right time" thing only works when you're dedicated and prepared at all times.

I've only noticed this when interviewing for positions in the sports industry, but when I'm comfortable and passionate about something it shows. It's hard for me to conceal that excitement and emotion, especially when there's an opportunity in a field I love.

My overwhelming passion and enthusiasm for the job really came out in my first conversation with the person who hired me. When we spoke, I think he noticed that aside from my encyclopedic knowledge of football and the NFL, he also saw that it was coming from a deeper place, an excitement for the industry more than that of just a casual fan.

He realized then that I would work my tail off, and that despite my lack of experience or degree in the field, I had more than enough drive to adapt to the chaotic world of research and sports production.

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Take us through your job as a Production Assistant for "Football Night in America" what are your day-to-day tasks? 

Goulding: The first two years that I worked on Football Night in America, we were at 30 Rock in New York City. (The show production has since moved to NBC Sports headquarters in Stamford) My duties were that of a researcher, and I was one of about 4 or 5 that would sit in a research room over the course of the day, watching the games and feeding the rest of the production staff with important notes on the day's games as they happened.

My day would start around 9AM, when I would get in and log one of the early morning pre-game shows. (ESPN, Fox, CBS, NFL Network) This basically consisted of taking notes on what was said about the games, the players, and also any major news stories that had come up over the past week.

I also needed to get down, verbatim, anything that was said about NBC's game that evening, as well as log what was said by each network's "insider" (Adam Schefter, Jay Glazer, etc).

Once the pre-game shows ended, each researcher was assigned a 1 PM game and a 4 PM game, where we would watch and work one-on-one with a producer to create a highlight and script for each game.

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The threat of making Rodney Harrison mad helps focus your attention as a production assistant
The producer would be in charge of cutting the highlight itself, but I would be in charge of picking out the plays for the highlight, as well as researching any statistics and facts that could compliment each play, or "shot" of the highlight.

For example, if Randy Moss scored a touchdown, I would need to find a stat that was important for that play.

  • What this his first touchdown of the season?

  • Did he break a record?

  • How many does he have on the day?

  • The season?

Things like that. Everything that I write and research for the shot sheet is read on air, so attention to detail is essential. Nothing looks worse than a glaring error on a highlight, an incorrect statistic, or if a play is out of order and read inaccurately.

Once the Sunday Night game starts on our network, most of the research staff stays until at least halftime, checking statistics and records, while also making sure that nothing was wrong for our short highlight segment at the half. It's a full day, usually at least 12 hours, but it honestly flies by amid all the action and controlled chaos that goes into producing a show.

You've added to your role at NBC Sports acting as a researcher for Pro Football Talk - how is working for a nightly show different than preparing for weekly programming? 

Goulding: When working for a program that's on once a week, especially in this case with Sunday Night Football, your show is almost completely dictated by the action of that day.

You plan to show highlights of the day's games, but you're really making up talking points and scripts on the fly.

When 12-15 NFL games are going on, news in constantly filtering out, players are getting injured, and you need to be able to sift through what's essential in order to communicate the most important stories.

On Pro Football Talk our shows are, for the most part, planned out from the night before or that day.

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Adding the daily Pro Football Talk show to his list of responsibilities helped provide a new experience for Goulding
There's a daily morning meeting where the staff of the show meets to discuss the main issues for the day, but there's also room to add anything that might've been missed.

During the NFL season, the show's job is basically to recap the previous week's games and preview the upcoming week's games, while contributing important, in-depth analysis on the NFL. Unless a breaking news story comes out minutes before the show starts, we basically know what we'll be talking about hours before our show airs.

Also, the amount of people on each show differs greatly.

On "Football Night in America", we have a crew at the site of the actual Sunday Night game, plus our crew in the studio, which amounts to a ton of people communicating while were on air.

For Pro Football Talk, that number is much smaller, which makes it a little more intimate. Communication is also much smoother when numbers are smaller. There's an awesome producer and an incredible production staff that all work together each day to plan a great show, and I've been able to work closer with them for the nightly show in ways I wouldn't normally be able to do for the bigger production on Sunday nights.

I wouldn't say that I like one more than the other, they're just two totally different environments.

You're pretty early in your sports career, but take a moment to look back - are there certain things you wish you would have done differently and if so what advice would you give to someone close to graduating and entering the workforce?

Goulding: I try not to have too many regrets, because I feel it was important that I experienced a few jobs and careers that I didn't necessarily like in order to narrow down my interests and lead me to where I am today.

Still, I think if I were to go back I would've been involved more in my school's clubs and programs that were suited to my interests. We had a school paper and radio and television stations that I never totally immersed myself in. I would advise anyone still in school to try to find clubs and activities outside of their classes that can help build a skill-set that they ordinarily wouldn't be able to attain.

If I were talking to someone looking to get in sports, whether they're still in college, just graduating or have just decided to switch careers, the best advice I could give would be to network. Meet, connect, and talk to as many people as you can.

Ask questions, make connections, and try to find something that you're passionate about. It's insane how many people out there are willing to help or can give great advice.

I'd never advocate applying to tons and tons of jobs, but I'd advocate using that technique for networking on LinkedIn. It's not like you can talk to TOO many people, and each person has a unique perspective and can, intentionally or unintentionally, help you figure out what you really love and want to pursue.

I can't tell enough people how helpful networking is, and how crucial it was to me being where I am today. SO many people were there to be advocates for me, or to advise me, that I really don't know where I'd be without them.

I've heard the saying "it's not what you know, but who you know" and I think, in a way, it can be a cop out. I'd say, it's who you know AND what you know. Someone could always help you get your foot in the door somewhere, but you have to actually deliver to be hired and stay in that job or career.

I stress to people in college all the time - work on your writing and learn tangible skills that are needed in the workplace (like video editing etc) - in addition to your work at NBC you also write for a sports blog, why do you believe is it important to be a good writer in today's job marketplace?

Goulding: It's never a bad idea to be a strong writer, regardless of your career path. Every day you're writing emails, memos, proposals, cover letters and 100 other things that require you to be a great writer in order to communicate.

It's incredible how a small grammatical or spelling error can hinder a great email or article. Especially now when you're trying to break into a career that thousands of others are aiming for, you can't always meet someone in person. Connections are made digitally and first interviews are many times screened online now.

Also, there isn't a single job that comes to mind where being a great writer would HURT you, and it's so essential in your daily life. You're main goal in any job pursuit or job interview is to sell yourself, and it's definitely easier to do that if you're a strong, confident writer.

Since making the shift from politics to sports - what would you say are your career goals and how is the experience at NBC Sports helping frame your career ambitions?

Goulding: One of the things that I never would've imagined is how many different avenues and careers there are in the sports industry, especially sports production. My experiences with NBC Sports have opened my eyes, not just to different jobs, but the tasks of each position and how they're both similar and different from what I expected.

Aside from writing, which is a passion I've had since college, these last few years at NBC Sports have helped guide me, not exactly to a specific position, but to certain areas that I want to pursue.

I love research, and using statistics to enhance both my writing and television (in this case, sports) programs. Finding an important stat, or one that someone else might not have thought of, is a great feeling.

Especially when you get to see your work on television.

At this point, my career ambitions center directly around researching and writing. Doing something in sports where I have the ability to focus on those two things is essential for me at this point. But the industry is always evolving, so there's a sense of excitement about my next job being something I had never even thought of as a career position.

Do you have questions for Rory about working at Football Night in America? Or have more questions about how he broke into the sports industry? Ask below in the comments
By Brian Clapp | May 18, 2015
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