For ESPNers at Wimbledon, it’s home on the road
• “The [former bus] commute into London was horrendous,” said longtime tennis producer Bobby Feller. “You work 10 hours and then spend three hours commuting, including the time waiting for the next bus.”
• Joe Durante, manager, visual technology, in stats and information working his seventh Wimbledon, says the lack of air conditioning in flats (AC is uncommon in British homes, but the lettings agencies had fans delivered for this year’s record heat wave) is balanced by the amenities and atmosphere of SW 19 [zip code]. “It’s like going home,” he says. “You make your own meals when you want, you do your own laundry when you want…it’s quite a change from the usual event.”
• For features producer Cathi Cappas, the best part about living in a flat compared to a hotel is “the kitchen! When you live on the road, ‘restaurant life’ gets old. I have a refrigerator with fresh vegetables. Last night I made chicken with hummus. It’s a little more civilized.”
LONDON – For the ESPNers who travel frequently, the “excitement” quickly fades and life on the road becomes a monotonous stream of look-alike airports, cabs and hotels.
Not at Wimbledon.
When ESPN first acquired Wimbledon rights in 2003, for three years the crew was housed in downtown London hotels, with only two buses per day in each direction. But that’s a 30-to-60 minute drive, with little flexibility for a crew with various schedules.
The solution? Flats in Wimbledon Village.
ESPN rents about 65 properties – houses, er, flats with up to five roommates, plus apartments and bed-and-breakfast units – housing 150 people. At most, it’s a 15-minute walk.
Van rides are available on both a scheduled and upon-request basis.
It is truly a year-round, never-ending project for Caroline Davis, managing producer, working with Vice President, Production, Jamie Reynolds, and the operations group.
“We start the process for next year while we’re still on site the current year because we know which properties we want to lock in, and it’s competitive for good housing, with fans, athletes, sponsors and media all looking for nice properties,” Davis explains.
Davis and Reynolds need to be mindful of people’s shift schedules, their preferred location (close to the venue or near Wimbledon’s restaurants and coffee shops), their preference for roommates or solitude, and their history on the team.
All units have kitchens, Internet and laundry facilities. There’s also the occasional pool, and one creature comfort many enjoy – a barbecue.
It can be a very sensitive process. But once everyone is housed, the difference is refreshing.
“The other day I saw Roger Federer walking with his twin girls,” recalls Davis, part of ESPN’s tennis team since 2008. “You see the athletes all the time; they sit next to you at dinner, and you don’t even think twice about it.”
Sure, there are the occasional roommate squabbles, including deciding who gets the master bedroom with private bath. But, Reynolds explains, the benefits are tangible, if unquantifiable.
“Our housing at Wimbledon is unique, but it builds camaraderie among the team as they spend time away from the pressures of the venue and friendships are formed,” he says.
“It’s one of the many things that make Wimbledon special, and why people enjoy working this event.”