Back in July of 2011 I wrote a personal blog about the trials and tribulations of freelancing in the sports media business after I came across this quote by Scott Woodgate, Vice President of News Information of Sportsnet:
Compounding the problem is the shortage of available sports TV talent. Hence the hiring of newspaper veterans such as Mark Spector and Grange. “A lot of the talent we have and that our counterparts (TSN) have comes out of the West, because the local stations there are still doing sports and junior hockey. Ontario's not. ... The new talent is harder to find in the East.”
I took it a wee bit personally as a guy from Ontario trying cover the same sports and junior hockey, all be it at the community television level. I know that Mr. Woodgate was trying justify the continued hiring of newspaper veterans for his network to appear as both writers and "talking heads" on Sportsnet Connected, Hockey Central and also as intermission guests/panelists on the many live broadcasts that Sportsnet does. He was basically saying that he and TSN cast their eyes out West when seeking new talent, ignoring many of those in Ontario and all parts East. I vividly remember not being really happy with this, because I worked had as a freelance broadcaster in Ontario with an eye on moving up in the sports world if opportunity presented itself and saw myself chasing my tail if an influential sports media member did not even really consider Ontario in terms of on-air sports talent.
Now, while holding down the esteemed position of secondary school teacher (*pause* to duck rotten fruits and vegetables being hurled), I do my due diligence and try to seek out further opportunity. I feel that I have to work harder than most in the sports media industry because I did not come from a broadcasting background, or any sort of journalism school. I literally walked into my university radio station, fell on my face butchering sports broadcasts for a long period of time before finding out that I really liked broadcasting and that falling on my face countless times actually made me be able to string coherent sentences together in a conversational, somewhat broadcast-able way. Alas, broadcasting was not exactly the top of the pay echelon and after a meandering journey through media relations and a disastrous and non-profitable turn in the film industry as a Booking Agent, I decided that teaching provided the safer financial alternative and thought I had left broadcasting behind. That lasted about two months as when the opportunity presented itself to call more games, I jumped at it, and to make a long story short, worked my way from volunteer university radio to the CPSL soccer, to minor hockey tournaments, to Tier II Jr A and eventually to the OHL. Next up, hopefully, is calling the odd AHL game.
While I truly feel that I am self-made, the lack of broadcasting education has hurt me, as I did not do any internships, or get a chance to get a feel for the many other jobs available in broadcasting outside of on-air or play by play. I'm not whining about my lot in life. We all make choices, and decided to go away from the broadcasting route. In fact, I had a chance to apply to journalism school, or Teachers College and chose the latter. Probably should have hedged my bets with both, but that's water under the bridge (holy cow, that was a lot of cliche's and colloquialisms! )
Right now I freelance both for two community television stations, covering the OHL, the OUA, and doing some feature reporting. I have also decided to create, produce and host my own show, in the hopes that may turn into something down the road. Of all the things that I have done in broadcasting, creating and producing four shows of The Broadcast Booth With Steve Clark is one that I wear as a source of pride. It's my name on the show, I put my stamp on it, and it sinks or swims because of me. Hopefully there are many more shows to come. Diversity, it is hoped, will serve me well as I chase the sportscasting dream.
The two things that I cannot change is the fact that I live in Ontario, or whether or not broadcasting executives respond to my rudimentary attempt at self-marketing because on-air positions are not always publicized. Therefore your best hope is to try and catch lightning in a bottle. Guys like Joel Darling, Scott Moore, Rob Corte, Keith Pelley, Chris Hebb and Peter Papulkos are very important people in sports media and all have taken the time to respond to my enquiries, especially Joel Darling and Rob Corte who are patient and forthright with my numerous attempts to glean information or gain an inside edge. I am not criticizing those who do not respond. Cold e-mailing, self-marketing freelancers are not likely to be high on the list of "must respond to e-mail"
The Ontario conundrum was further reinforced when I reached out to a LinkedIn contact from Calgary. My sister-in-law and her family recently moved to Cow-Town, so I decided to cast my eyes Westward to see what opportunity was there. As a family man with a young daughter my wings are a little more clipped when it comes to looking elsewhere for sports broadcasting jobs, but with built in family, and the blessing of my wife, Calgary seemed to be a viable alternative. What my Calgary contact told me was that there was very little movement in sports broadcasting, and they looked to places like Winnipeg, Edmonton and other smaller markets. So really, the Western/Prairie focus remains. I won't call it a Western bias because that disrespects the talent that works in those areas, and are likely fully qualified for on-air sports positions.
Basically, this leaves me at the crossroads of my broadcasting career. I can continue to do what I do with the Niagara IceDogs of the OHL, McMaster University and with my sports show and hope that somehow my work is captured by the right eyes and ears, or I can accept that I have reached my pinnacle, and be happy with the position that I attained because it is a solid level of broadcasting. I am proud of everything I do on-air. Nobody taught me how to call a game, show poise on-camera and develop a personality. I feel that I am a better communicator because of the all the thought and skill that goes into a live broadcast, and truly feel that when it comes to applying myself to a higher level, that it is not fool's gold and I would not pale in comparison. In short, I can look at the guys in the NHL and say that my skill level is comparable, and I would not look out of place. Unfortunately, the skill level of sports broadcasting is high and the competition for those privileged higher positions at the network level is fierce.
That said, I was in a great spot five years ago, as I was 35 years old and a TV play by play man in the OHL. Now I am 40 and, while not in the great spot that I am, I'm still pretty good. Young enough to keep the dream, but savvy and experienced enough to sound credible. The glass half-full part of me sees the next level is the elite level, the one that I strive for, and the one that will fulfill my sports broadcasting dreams. The glass half-empty sees me as stagnant, stuck in the same position for the past five years and the glass ceiling appears somewhat impervious, almost bullet proof.
A third option could present itself. Years ago I The Toronto Star did a feature on me as a teacher/broadcaster chasing the dream (feature is: here. Chris Zelkovich, the fine reporter from the star asked me what I would do if there was no more broadcasting. I paused for a long time before saying that I had not even considered a life without some sort of broadcasting. It was kind of scary. Not broadcasting would be like not having a piece of my soul, or losing a little spark or passion.
That third option would be to push pause on broadcasting, and/or scale back a little bit. I must admit it is getting a little tougher each time I drive to a game to leave the light of my life, my 15 month old daughter and wife and it is also not easy holding a full time job, a part time job, both of which depend on my ability to communicate to an unforgiving audience, while also trying to balance familial responsibilities.
Option number three remains firmly in the rear view mirror right now, but I always assess things on a year to year basis, and will do so at the close of the 2012-2013 OUA, OHL, and hopefully AHL season, but there will come a time in which the third option moves from the rear view mirror to the shotgun position.
That story is to be continued...
September 11 2012
PS I teach Law and on September 11th always step aside from the regular curriculum to focus on that terrible, and tragic day from 11 years ago today. While I try to capture some of the legal issues surrounding 9/11, the human spirit, tragedy and far reaching consequences always shine through. Please take a moment and remember those who perished in 9/11 and those who continue to feel the crippling emotional and physical pain from that day.