How to Become a Sports Broadcaster
Discover How to Become a Sports Broadcaster in Four Simple Steps
So you want to know how to become a sports broadcaster? Good choice.
As a former sportscaster and current owner of the award-winning sportscaster broadcasting school, I'm constantly approached by people who want to know the secret to getting their foot in the door to such a cool job. The most important secret to breaking into the sports broadcasting business is:
There are no secrets to learn. There are simply things you don't know—yet.
You'll soon learn them and develop solutions that best suit your individual situation. Unlike doctors or lawyers, who get an undergraduate degree, put in a few more years of post-graduate training, then take tests to become certified in their field, sports broadcasters come from all walks of life.
This is a field where, generally, your networking, communication, writing, and people skills will serve you far better than your college degree will.
Don't get me wrong—I went to college and enjoyed all 12 years of my time there (at least, it seemed like 12 years). However, my ability to network has done far more for me than the degree I haven't set my eyes on since the day I graduated.
Becoming a Sports Broadcaster Requires Having a Strategy
Consider breaking into the sports broadcasting industry much like taking your first trip from Los Angeles to Washington D.C.
You can take a plane, train, bus, bike, or even walk. Presumably, all modes of transportation will lead you to your destination—if you have sound directions, that is (i.e., unless I'm driving.)
Granted, some modes of transportation will lead you to Washington D.C. more quickly than others. A similar principle applies to breaking into the closed fraternity of sports broadcasting.
There are many paths that may lead to a career in sports broadcasting, with some getting you there more quickly than others. The timing often depends upon your unique circumstances, such as budget, availability, educational background, and the degree of your passion for sports broadcasting.
All paths, however, require that you develop a strategy. Your well-thought-out plan should have the golden rule for breaking into any form of broadcasting at its core, which is:
It's not so much what you know, but who you know—and who knows you.
Networking should be at the forefront of your mind and motives, regardless of which path you choose to become a sports broadcaster.
As a matter of fact, the Forrester Group released a study claiming that 64 percent of broadcasting jobs were landed directly through the applicants' own network or a contact developed through his or her network's network.
Did You Know?
According to the Forrester Group, 64 percent of broadcasting jobs are landed through a contact in or developed via the applicants' network.
Translated, 6.4 out of 10 people already working in broadcasting had contacts and used them to get their jobs, while 3.6 of those working broadcasters either didn't have networks or didn't rely on their networks to land their current broadcasting job.
Which group has a better chance of working in broadcasting? Stands to reason that if you want to be successful, then it would be wise to do what successful people do.
The Secret to Becoming a Sports Broadcaster
I've already said that networking is important to becoming a sports broadcaster. But there's a little more to it than that. You could phrase the "secret" to becoming a sports broadcaster like this: Who you know in the broadcasting industry is important, but who knows you is critical to your success.
After all, if nobody currently working in broadcasting knows who you are, how are they going to know about your broadcasting skills, personality, dependability, and passion to improve on a daily basis?
Likewise, people who have the greatest difficulty fulfilling their dream of becoming a sports broadcaster will usually tell you, when asked, that they don't have a network of their own.
If you fit into this group, don't despair. You're about to discover ways that will enable you to develop your own network, which will place you into the 64 percent category of working broadcasters who used their network to get their job.
The Four Most Effective Ways to Become a Sports Broadcaster
Your four most effective options are as follows (in reverse order of effectiveness):
- 4: Teach yourself.
- 3: Attend a traditional broadcasting school.
- 2: Attend a four-year college or university.
- 1: Attend a mentor-apprentice sports broadcasting school.
Keep in mind; my primary criteria for ranking these four options is their networking capabilities.
In other words, do they position you to be one the 6.4 out of 10 who most recently landing a broadcasting job?
4: Teach Yourself Sports Broadcasting
Teaching yourself can involve a number of mediums. Podcasting, public access community radio/television, Internet radio, or buying brokered time from a local commercial radio station to produce your own show are just a handful of the more popular self-taught broadcasting mediums you'll see people using.
Although I personally love podcasting, have hosted shows on public access radio and television stations, and have even purchased brokered time to produce my own programming in Los Angeles and Washington D.C., none enabled me to develop a personal network of industry contacts.
However, your goals may not be to pull a paycheck from sportscasting, and these can be great ways for the sportscasting enthusiast or hobbyist to get started quickly.
It's important to note that all these avenues provide great opportunities to gain valuable experience as a sports broadcaster without waiting to be hired. After all, they provide a solution to the age-old riddle of how to gain experience if no one will hire you, which gives you the necessary experience required to be hired.
There are some free and low-cost platforms available for you to post your own shows:
Note: I have no financial or personal interests in any of these sites. They are simply locations I send my own students for practice.
Networking Effectiveness Rating: Poor. But it is a prudent path to test the waters for those unsure if sports' broadcasting is really for them.
3: Attend a Traditional Broadcasting School
You can also enroll in a traditional broadcasting school such as the Connecticut or Columbia Schools of Broadcasting.
These brick-and-mortar facilities offer broadcasting courses, much like a university. The equipment is often outdated, however, as the industry constantly evolves with more sophisticated technology each passing year. The cost of keeping up with current technology would make the tuition for broadcasting schools cost prohibitive for the average person.
Here's one of the biggest drawbacks to attending a traditional broadcasting school, besides their prohibitive costs: You're not training where the jobs and contacts are. That's important, as you're pretty much on your own after shelling out $10,000 or more.
Also, when you look their curriculums over, you'll notice they usually only devote one chapter to sports broadcasting. The rest may be geared to general broadcasting disciplines such as music DJ, weather, news, or things unrelated to your specific needs.
If you desire to become a play-by-play announcer or host your own sports radio program, your training likely won't be specific enough.
For some, another drawback to traditional broadcasting schools is that they're typically only located in select large cities. If you don't live near a major metropolitan area, you're likely out of luck.
Lastly, you'll want to see tangible proof of the schools' job placement services. Numerous broadcasting school graduates over the years have voiced the same complaint: When they've completed their training, the actual job placement services provided didn't match what the sales brochure stated they could expect to receive.
Networking Effectiveness Rating: Poor. I'd say it's similar to driving yourself from L.A. to Washington D.C. without a roadmap. In many ways, you're on your own since the jobs and your potential network exists inside the TV or radio station—not in a secluded classroom.
Some broadcasting schools offer internships at local stations, but even then, you're one of the dozens vying for the precious few jobs that may open while you're interning.
The main question a person who attends a traditional broadcasting school has to answer for themselves is this:
What is your strategy to transition from being an outsider to the broadcasting industry while attending broadcasting school? How will you start developing insider contacts and landing a job at a real radio or television station?
Most people who have successfully become sports broadcasters out of broadcasting schools, were able to answer those questions before they started.
2: Attend a Four-Year College or University
Your second most effective option to becoming a sports broadcaster is to enroll in a four-year university and do an internship as a part of your course curriculum. This is the most widely traveled path to a career in broadcasting—the operative word being "widely."
Many travel the college road into sports broadcasting, but according to government statistics, only 12 percent reach their destination.
Imagine: Out of 100 students who start the journey, only 12 reach their destination. In all fairness, the blame can't all be placed upon the ineffectiveness of internships. College students sometimes realize the business isn't for them when they actually catch a glimpse, first hand.
As long as students realize what internships are and what they aren't, what they make of the experience is up to them.
An internship is an exchange of your time and talents to a radio or television station in exchange for college credit and exposure to an on-the-job setting.
Things to remember about internships are:
- They are not geared toward giving you on-air training. On the contrary, federal law prohibits interns from replacing employees and performing their job for free.
- Upon completion of an internship, the student still has to devise a plan to acquire actual broadcast training. Networking is important, but the job still requires broadcasting skills. It is not the station's job—or intent—to train any intern to become a sports broadcaster.
I've always felt that a smart intern would recognize this and utilize the resources around him. Observe the air talent during their show prep, taping of the actual show, teasers, liners, intros, outros, and commercial reads.
Take that information and start your own Internet radio show or podcast, implementing the techniques you've observed. You can then take the tapes of your show and ask a sportscaster from the station that you've befriended to critique them.
This not only would help you to develop your on-air skills, but would also demonstrate your initiative and desire to manage.
Lack of actual training, I believe, is the primary reason only 12 percent of college graduates who've done internships actually go on to a sports broadcasting career. You can be one of the successful 12 percent, however, by taking the initiative and developing on-air experience without waiting for someone to give it to you.
By doing that, you're not only getting some valuable free training, but you're also building your ever-valuable network.
Top Sports Broadcasting Colleges
Having said all that about college internship programs, I'm constantly asked my opinion on the top colleges for sports broadcasting. Gauging by the quality of talent produced, my top 10 colleges for sports broadcasting would be:
- Syracuse—Newhouse School is the gold standard.
- University of Southern California
- Arizona State University
- Bowling Green
- Penn State—A "sleeper" that produces quality sportscasters
- Indiana University
Networking Effectiveness Rating: Fair. It will work if you're a strong networker. To continue the analogy, going the college route is much like taking a train to reach your destination. Typically, college sportscasters won't cross paths with professional sportscasters and influential industry contacts—but with a little foresight and strategic planning, some do have success.
1: Attend a Mentor-Apprentice Sportscasting School
Your most effective option—by far—for realizing your dream of becoming a sports broadcaster is to find an already-established professional and become his or her personal student, or apprentice.
You can seek out one of these arrangements on your own, or utilize the services of companies who arrange for you to be trained by a professional sportscaster in your area.
Companies who provide these types of services are typically thought of as non-traditional sports broadcasting schools because your "classroom" is literally inside a local sports radio or television station, while your "professors" are professional sportscasters who earn their paycheck by sportscasting.
These mentor-apprentice schools are the best fit for people who prefer a one-on-one, hands-on learning environment. If you are a classroom learner who does best in a note-taking and lecture environment with lots of classmates, then a four-year college or traditional broadcasting school would be a better fit for you.
Being mentored by another sportscaster will enable you to sound natural behind a microphone, produce a professional demo tape, read copy, develop your own show, and market yourself.
Most importantly, sports broadcasting apprenticeships enable you to develop your network from day one. After all, you're training alongside other sportscasters, while in the midst of influential decision-makers.
Not all broadcasting apprenticeship programs are equal, however. Like traditional broadcasting schools, many will offer a general curriculum that's not sports-centric. Some even offer portions of their training online, cutting down on your networking possibilities.
You'll want to find a sports broadcasting school that utilizes an apprentice/mentor model that specializes in just sports broadcasting in order to have a well-rounded training experience.
You'll also want to closely scrutinize each company's tangible job placement services. Although sports broadcasting apprenticeships naturally place you in a position for consideration when jobs become available, you can never predict when these openings will occur.
In the event a job opening doesn't become available during your apprenticeship, look to see what each company offers in terms of tangible job placement assistance. Questions to ask would be:
- What specifically does their job placement entail?
- Who are some graduates currently working as sports broadcasters?
Networking Effectiveness Rating: Strong. Sports broadcasting apprenticeships are like taking a plane to your destination. This is not to say they're a slam-dunk guarantee, because there is no such thing. They do enable you to control your own destiny in many ways, however. Any time you can make a favorable impression by your work ethic, teachability, punctuality, and ability to work well with others, you increase the likelihood that you'll receive a favorable referral from someone in your newly formed network. After all, they have immediate access to the decision-makers, which is the purpose of leveraging someone else's experience and contacts in the first place.
Using a healthy dose of common sense and thinking strategically about the networking potential of each option you're considering, choose one of the above suggestions that best suits your learning style, budget, and schedule available to train.
Finally, the key to success in anything is to take action. You are the only one who can take yourself off of the sidelines and place yourself into the game of life. Making a life change can be scary. But you know what's scarier? Regret.
About the Author
Michael Madden is the founder of the award-winning Sportscasters Mentoring Group, a sports broadcasting school that places students for training in nearby sports radio stations. Madden is a former college basketball play by play announcer, sports talk radio personality, and radio/television medical and business talk show host.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.