Last Wednesday, I had the great fortune of visiting the sports fan’s version of Disneyland, also known as ESPN headquarters. It’s a wonderful place filled with celebrities, athletes, and people that care a lot about broadcasting sports to fans like us. A big thanks goes out to Kristen Hudak, Senior Publicist at ESPN and displaced Nationals fan who organized the day for me. Besides seeing the sights, I wanted to meet some of the Philadelphia-area natives that make the magic happen in Bristol, CT.
Upon entering the ESPN campus, I was immediately impressed by the sheer size the place – dozens buildings, miles of roads, and more satellite dishes than NASA. My first visit of the day was with SportsCenter anchor Kevin Negandhi at the on-site Starbucks. Kevin’s enthusiasm for Philly sports is infectious. As I came to discover throughout day, whenever I told someone that I was from Philly, the first thing they replied was, “have you talked to Negandhi yet?” It’s that obvious. As a West Philly native and Temple grad, Negandhi is constantly talking Philly sports. I spoke with him on camera for a few minutes for this week’s episode of Phillies Nation TV but probably could have continued for hours.
The next stop was a behind-the-scenes viewing of a Baseball Tonight taping. First off, the studio is incredible, every bit as cool as it looks on TV. Adnan Virk was moderating a “baseball’s best lineups” segment with Tim Kurkjian and Curt Schilling. After the taping, I spoke with Adnan and Tim about the NL East race and what kind of roster moves the Phils will make this month. Tim thinks they’ll be buyers – at least as of the All-Star break.
After roaming the halls for a bit, I sat down with Mike Urrunaga, producer for the Mike & Mike show. Mike is another Philly guy who attended Shippensburg, vacations down the shore and has been working at ESPN for 15 years. And it’s not easy work. He arrives by 4am every weekday with an arsenal of story ideas for a show that airs year-round. The news doesn’t stop and if it did, sports fans would probably go nuts. As I was talking to Mike, I noticed the afternoon SportsCenter on one of the many TVs in the background. It was particularly noticeable because Chris McKendry was the anchor and I was about to interview her in a few minutes.
Sure enough, we met Chris outside the SportsCenter studio and I was able to grab her for a quick on-camera segment. Well, it was supposed to be quick. Just as we were sharing stories about growing up in Northeast Philly, she spots none other than Brian Dawkins walking down the hallway. She yells over to him and invites him into the interview. I struggle to overcome the star-struck feeling of standing next to BDawk in addition to knowing this guy has superhuman powers. But that’s the Dawkins on field. The NFL analyst Dawkins was suave and gracious. I somehow managed to politely ask him to leave so I can continue the interview with Chris. Again, you’ll get to see clips from it during this week’s episode of Phillies Nation TV, so be sure to tune in.
We made a quick stop for lunch in the cafeteria – the setting of many hilarious This Is SportsCenter commercials. They must have known I was coming because cheesesteaks were on the menu. I’d have to say, the steak wasn’t bad…for Connecticut. I mean, it was a little light on the cheese, the beef could have used some more seasoning, and of course the rolls were below par. But I certainly ate it!
The final part of the day was an in-depth tour of the headquarters by Leo Fournier Associate Director, Production Operations. Leo has been at ESPN 32 years and I can’t imagine a better person to show you the ins-and-outs of the network. In addition, we saw all 8 studios, controls rooms, master control rooms, hundreds of research cubicles, scores of highlight stations and all the random sports paraphernalia you could imagine. It all comes together thanks to a staff of over 7,000 people to produce some of the highest quality television on air. It’s really an amazing place and puts into perspective everything it takes to keep the sports news flowing. At the same time, it’s comforting to know there is a strong Philly representation in the national sports media.
I didn’t take nearly enough pictures, but here they are:
You can check out my interviews with Kevin, Chris and BDawk on Phillies Nation TV this week at the following times:
- Tuesday at 6 pm on TCN (first run)
- Tuesday at 7:30 pm on CSN
- Wednesday at 4 pm on CSN
- Thursday at 11 am on CSN
- Friday at 12:30 am on CSN