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Sports Broadcasting Career Advice

John Little – Founder, The Winners Edge Consulting

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Brian Clapp, SportsTVJobs.com: Hi I’m Brian Clapp founder of SportsTVJobs.com – Prior to founding his company The Winners Edge consulting, John Little spent well over a decade in all facets the Sports Broadcasting industry, including a stint as the Internship coordinator for CNN Sports – John Little thanks for being here.

John Little, The Winners Edge Consulting: Not a problem Brian thanks for having me

SportsTVJobs.com: John, lets talk about your time running the CNN Sports internship program – you’d get a lot of applications and yet only be able to select a choice few, what could someone do to stand out from the pile of resumes?

Little: It was really important to be unique Brian, like you said there were a ton of resumes and everybody who was coming out of college had very little experience, so anything you could do to set yourself apart really made the difference. Anytime you had the opportunity to work for one of the local TV affiliates or Fox Sports Net regional or maybe ESPN comes to your town to do GameDay or are covering a college basketball game, you need to take advantage of that. Even if it’s just running cables or being a runner for stats, anything you can do to gain some real experience and documents it will be huge because it will set you apart from the rest of the sports resumes.

I tell this story often about how when I was in college we didn’t even have a campus television station, so I did everything our radio station had to offer. I did news, I did sports, I had a morning show anything I could do to build up my resume to help me get in the door somewhere. That’s what I liked to see when I was looking at people sports resumes; I wanted to know what did they do to stand apart from the rest. Being a sports fan isn’t enough, you have to have some tangible experience.

SportsTVJobs.com: So what about after you selected the internship crew, were there certain qualities that made for the best and most productive interns?

Little: Absolutely, the most important attribute was the willingness to do whatever it takes. In the sports industry in particular, you just know going in that you’re going to be working until 1, 2 o’clock in the morning, you know that you’re going to be working Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. If you’re not willing to accept that then sports television isn’t the right business for you. It was pretty easy to figure out who was dedicated and who was there because they thought it was a cool internship to have. Once you got your foot in the door it was doing whatever it takes to make yourself known.

There’s a small difference between a good intern and a great intern, a good intern will sit there and do exactly what you ask them to do, a great intern wants to do what they are doing great, as well as learning what your job is so that way they can be even more of an asset to the anchor, the producer or the reporter. They want to be like an employee in training, instead of someone just getting their credit for college or just because they think they are a sports fan.

SportsTVJobs.com: Most of us in the sports industry would agree that you do this because you have a passion for it, it sounds like you could tell who had that true passion and who was just going through the motions, could you get a sense early on for who would be successful in the industry and who wasn’t cut out for it?

Little: Yes, almost immediately Brian, it was always those people who were willing to do anything that it takes. A lot of interns came in with the misconception that just because I love my team, that makes me a sports fan. Working in sports you realize quickly that if you’re going to be successful and have a long career that your team is going to be one of the last things you’re going to be focused on.

As an intern coordinator if I needed you to be watching the Royals and Pirates interleague game in the midst of a 2 hour rain delay while your NBA team is playing in the NBA finals, I need you to be focused on that Royals-Pirates game because you are watching it for a reason. That’s the difference between being a sports fan and a fan of your team. Those are the things that really stood out, somebody who could, regardless of the game you sat them down in front of, remain focused on the job at hand. The willingness to do whatever it takes, if an Anchor asks you to get them coffee…you get them coffee, and you bring the sugar and cream even if they didn’t ask for it.

Those are the things that set you apart, if you need to run scripts, if you need to re-edit games that have been edited, those are the things you need to do to be unique and stand out from the crowd. There are a lot of us out there that are sports fans, there’s a lot of us that are television fans and there are a lot of us that are sports television fans, but there are very few jobs for us, so you really need to be unique to set yourself apart.

SportsTVJobs.com: Full disclosure here, John was my first boss at CNN Sports and I remember whenever I acted up I’d get threatened with covering a few Pirates games or maybe a WMLS game – that was your go to line for a while there (laughter) now I’m a soccer fan so it didn’t work quite as well on me – but there was a definitely a threatening tone there sometimes! (more laughter)… Students do internships to get the hands on experience that is so vital to a career in sports television, but they also want to build their network, and make connections that can help them find an entry level job, did you find that internships often led to jobs at CNN?

Little: Yeah at CNN it was a little bit different because we always had a very large pool of interns and yet not too many job openings because frankly it was a job not many people left. But we would almost always hire from within, I’d say 90% of our new hires would be former CNN Sports interns because we knew we could trust them. The learning curve in sports television is steep, there isn’t really a lot of time from entry level to where you are impacting directly what goes on air. As a producer I need to know that I can trust you, and that from day one you are capable of doing the job right and I don’t have to manage and babysit you. If you come from the outside it’s harder because I may have to teach you not only television but also how we do sports television our way. So it was always key for the interns, not to forget what they learned in school but understand how to adapt to wherever you are and adapt to new expectations and be able to jump right into the action.

The internship to new employee curve was a very quick ramping up. Brian you remember when you started there wasn’t a whole lot of hand holding, it was here it is get it done show starts at 11, let me know if you need anything.

SportsTVJobs.com: Absolutely right – I say to people all the time that going to a major network like ESPN or CNN is like graduate school that you don’t have to pay for, because really you get thrown in and you have to sink or swim – at the same time you’re not getting paid great, you not working the best hours but it doesn’t matter if you have that passion you just power through all that.

Little: Oh yeah – I look back and it has been since 2002 that CNN/Sports Illustrated went off the air and it’s still the best time I had working in sports television. I reconnected with an old colleague in Los Angeles a few weeks back and we both acknowledged that in all the jobs we’ve had since then we’ve never been able to re-create the type of camaraderie, friendships and experiences because we all kind of grew up together in sports television and in our professional careers. We all have so many stories that we can laugh about, because it really is the best industry to be in, the experiences you have are things people dream of doing and they are available to you in a career in sports television, but you have to put the work in. If you’re going to work in sports television if you’re going to be successful and get all the experiences the people dream of you have to be willing to put in the work and you have to be willing to sacrifice the ‘normal life’.

SportsTVJobs.com: That’s great advice John lets talk about your new venture, tell us about The Winners Edge Consulting

Little: I’ve been doing Winners Edge consulting for a few years now, what we’re focused on is personal development and training people how to work better together to get the Winners Edge. When I say the Winners Edge I mean basically to get the most that you want out of life. I do a lot of motivational speaking talking a lot about growing from within, understanding yourself and others and being able to relate one person to another in order to maximize relationships. Because that’s what life is all about, relationships. I still use a lot of the sports concepts that I learned throughout life, my degree is in sports management and administration and I’ve worked in sports television over 10 years. I still talk a lot about things that are sports related, I share stories from the sports world, I share a lot of quotes from the sports worlds and use them to translate how the sports world, business and life are interrelated. There are so many lessons you can learn from sports that you can apply to business and life and all of those things help you develop what I call the Winners Edge.