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Behind The Scenes: NFL Broadcast Boot Camp

It’s not every day that you get to see world-class athletes out of their natural element, but that’s exactly what two.one.five magazine had a chance to witness at last month’s NFL Broadcast Boot Camp.

The historic NFL Films complex in Mount Laurel, NJ served as the headquarters for the Broadcast Boot Camp – an initiative sponsored by the NFL to introduce both current and former players to the sports broadcast industry. Those accepted into the program go through a rigorous, three-day workshop that ultimately results in a demo reel that participants can use to shop themselves to prospective employers.

With the average NFL career lasting less than four years, it’s never too early for players to decide what they plan to do once they’re no longer on a 53-man roster. But for those who thought that they could walk right into a broadcasting gig with little or no experience, the Broadcast Boot Camp served as a wake-up call of sorts.

“Just because you can make a mean bowl of chili doesn’t mean that you can run a Mexican restaurant,” said Gerry Matalon, Senior Coordinating Producer at ESPN.

The Broadcast Boot Camp isn’t a walk in the park by any means, but the intensive schedule is a small price to pay for the chance to learn from instructors such as James Brown (CBS), Brian Baldinger (NFL Network), and former Philadelphia Eagles’ head coach Dick Vermeil.

“Pay attention to people on the air,” said ESPN’s John Saunders, who served as one of the instructors in the Boot Camp’s Set Taping class. “Pay attention to what makes them good.”

In one session, the players sat with producers to learn how audio clips are spliced with B-roll footage to create compelling highlight packages. Less than an hour later, they were tasked with breaking down game film alongside two of the game’s most respected analysts: ESPN’s Ron Jaworski and Greg Cosell of NFL Films.

As current and former players, Boot Camp attendees have a distinct advantage over most people who choose a career in the sports broadcast industry. They were repeatedly advised to play up their NFL connections whenever possible, whether preparing for an in-studio show or merely trying to land a radio gig in their hometown.

“Personalize things,” suggested Jaworski, who had a stellar 16-year career in the NFL, most notably with the Philadelphia Eagles. “You’re a player: People want to hear what it’s like from your perspective.”

As with any skill, the importance of “getting your reps in” is vital to a successful career in broadcasting. Throughout the course of the Boot Camp, there were numerous references to the “10,000 Hour Rule” referenced in Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers“, and participants were implored to get their experience wherever and whenever possible.

“Everyone wants to be on national TV,” said Howard Deneroff, Executive Producer of Dial Global Sports. “There’s no opportunity too small to work your way to that.”

Television wasn’t the only focus of the Broadcast Boot Camp: Not only did attendees learn the do’s and don’ts of radio, but each was given the opportunity to co-host a live segment on SiriusXM. Chip Kelly’s arrival in Philadelphia was the topic du jour, and there was no shortage of debate as to whether or not Kelly’s Oregon offense would translate well to the professional level.

In all, 24 current and former players participated in this year’s workshop: Among the attendees were former Eagles’ running back Ricky Watters and former St. Louis Rams’ wide receiver Torry Holt.

Each of the participants had varying degrees of broadcasting experience, but the skills they learned over the course of the Broadcast Boot Camp will give them a head start on the rest of their peers. Of the 128 players who have participated in the program since 2007, 48 of them have earned jobs in the broadcast industry.

While three days learning the in-and-outs of sports media clearly isn’t enough time to absorb every aspect of the business, it gave participants a taste of exactly how much work is involved preparing for life on the other side of the microphone.

“This has been an amazing experience,” said Green Bay Packers’ linebacker A.J. Hawk. “I am inspired to pursue a career in this field after learning more than I thought I would.

(Additional reporting on this story was done by Brandyn Muller Campbell.)