In the latest installment of Front Row’s “Team Player” series — where an ESPN on-air commentator selects a behind-the-scenes colleague to spotlight – Sunday Night Baseball analyst Alex Rodriguez selects PR Director Ben Cafardo.
The timing coincides with a visit the two made to GQ Magazine headquarters in New York City on Thursday for an upcoming story package about “A-Rod,” an example of an ESPN-related PR collaboration that Cafardo typically coordinates.
Rodriguez, who joined ESPN for the 2018 MLB season, calls the weekly Sunday night matchup along with play-by-play commentator Matt Vasgersian analyst Jessica Mendoza and reporter Buster Olney. The 14-time All-Star and 2009 World Series champion hit 696 home runs during his 22-year career with the Mariners, Rangers and Yankees.
A-Rod remains one of the highest-profile sports personalities around, and the resulting demands from a PR perspective are abundant. Rodriguez and Cafardo regularly collaborate on PR opportunities and creative ideas, all with an eye on promoting Sunday Night Baseball and ESPN, while serving the media.
Rodriguez answered these questions regarding Cafardo:
What makes Cafardo successful in his role?
Ben’s a calm, matter-of-fact presence which always makes the difference when you’re talking about PR. He never makes the story about himself, but rather focuses on making sure we as a company and a franchise are getting our message out there. I can trust that Ben’s done his research, thought carefully about his proposals and that he’s looking out for us. Most importantly, Ben is just a great guy — a family man with a real sense of humor and a love for the sport. I love being around him in and out of the booth.
Given your extensive background in team sports, how would you characterize him as a teammate and what specific qualities does he bring to the ESPN team?
You always need that calm voice in the storm and chaos of the game, and Ben’s that guy. He’s also been great at handing off responsibility to his deputy, Katie Hughes, when needed to make sure we always have someone looking out for us. I’d also say he’s a creative thinker — he’s not focused on PR solely through the usual sports outlets or as a way to react to things. He gets ahead of it all and has a broader vision that few people in his position have.
How would you describe working with him to someone who is joining ESPN and about to collaborate with him for the first time?
Ben was one of the very first people who welcomed me to ESPN, and it meant a lot to me that his father, Nick Cafardo, was one of the greatest in the business. I have many fond memories of Nick and the fair coverage he gave me while he was at the Boston Globe. It didn’t surprise me at all how much Ben lived up to his father’s reputation and how like Nick he was in his demeanor, his openness and his readiness to work together. Ben went a long way to making a new place feel like home, from our first meetings in Bristol and NYC to Opening Day and the early weeks of feeling out the dynamics of the show. With Ben, you’re guaranteed no judgment and a friendly ear.
Is there one specific instance when his efforts made a particular impact on you/your work for ESPN?
Walking into Fenway is always a bit of a gauntlet for me, and having Ben there to talk about the dynamics of the press and the team has really been a game-changer. He was also an instrumental part of getting us to do a segment with the Wahlbergs in their restaurant, which was one of the coolest things I’ve done since joining SNB. I really have to commend him for his vision there as I’m still getting asked about that time I lost a bet to Mark Wahlberg and had to work at his restaurant!
I also want to give a shoutout to Sucha Singh, part of ESPN’s excellent security team. He’s been a great presence across the board and I always look forward to seeing him and appreciate his professionalism and ready-to-go attitude. I truly appreciate him and all the other greats who keep an eye out for us.
EDITOR’S NOTE: On the Aug. 11 edition of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball presented by Taco Bell, the Philadelphia Phillies and Bryce Harper will visit the San Francisco Giants and Buster Posey at 7 p.m. ET (ESPN, the ESPN App, ESPN Radio and ESPN Deportes). For more coverage details, visit ESPN PressRoom.