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ESPN’s Talent Producers Quickly Book Newsmakers As Sports News Breaks In COVID-19 Era

Team of 15 has booked 60 guests in past week, including several moments after Tokyo 2020 Olympics news broke Tuesday

ESPN’s talent production group consists of 15 employees who collectively help drive content for ESPN TV, radio, digital and special projects.

Talent Producers are involved in the planning process with each show to help determine the best guests and assure both the shows and guests are prepared to deliver on air. With in-studio appearances at a halt due to COVID-19, the group has been the force behind organizing remote interviews with current and former athletes, coaches, reporters and other professionals in order to keep ESPN’s content fresh, entertaining and informative.

While the impact of the coronavirus has slightly adjusted the team’s typical day-to-day, talent production remains swift in responding to unfolding information and breaking news.

Tuesday morning the International Olympic Committee officially postponed the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, the group secured seven guests close to the Olympic events. Athletes appeared on ESPN’s Golic and Wingo, Get Up, First Take, The Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz moments after the official statement was released (see sidebar below).

According to Ray Necci, director of Talent Production, the team members prepared for the possible cancellation ahead of time by talking with their respective shows to gauge interest in the topic.

“The communication we received from the Coordinating Producers and Producers is essential to the process”, said Necci. From there they began making a list of possible guests and reaching out to their contacts in anticipation of a decision. Once the news broke, the team had their plan in place and was in the position to promptly complete the booking process.

Necci discusses managing the overall group strategy and explains the booking approach during the coronavirus pandemic.

What adjustments did the department have to make?
While I believe the Talent Producers serve an essential function, various technologies allow the group to perform their responsibilities outside the office or control room. Like many other people at ESPN, we established workspace at home and have tried to make sure the adjustments aren’t felt by the shows on the air.

Our strategy remains the same — book newsmakers and guests who enhance our coverage, drive content and encourage communication throughout ESPN. — Ray Necci

What’s the department’s strategy moving forward?
Our strategy remains the same — book newsmakers and guests who enhance our coverage, drive content
and encourage communication throughout ESPN. We won’t have games in the immediate future, but there is still news to report and stories to share with the audience. So many people across ESPN have been doing amazing work under these circumstances and we’re proud of how this team has been able to contribute.

How many guests did the department secure?
Over the past week, our team has booked approximately 60 guests across Get Up, First Take, NFL Live specials and various SportsCenters. COVID-19’s impact across sports has been the dominant topic, but there has also been an enormous amount of traditional sports news. We’ve had Hall of Famers, commissioners, owners, coaches, active players, doctors and even a comedian discussing the NFL, NBA, NHL, NASCAR, college basketball, golf, soccer and horse racing in addition to addressing the coronavirus.

What has been the most efficient way for the group to communicate?
Everyone is working remotely. To be effective, we’ve needed to use various forms of communication; conference calls, email, Slack, text messages, and numerous one-on-one phone calls. Under the best
conditions, we do have members of the team in five different states, but never to these extreme circumstances.

Team At Work: Talent Producers’ Book Newmakers For Their Reactions To Breaking Olympics News

Shortly after the news broke Tuesday morning that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Games were postponed, ESPN Talent Producers lined athletes and authorities on the subject to be guests on ESPN programming.

  • U.S. Olympic hurdler and bobsledder Lolo Jones was live on Get Up and First Take (via phone)
  • U.S. Olympic soccer player Carli Lloyd was live on First Take (via FaceTime)
  • Senior International Olympic Committee official Dick Pound was live on First Take, recorded a segment with ESPN host and reporter Jeremy Schaap for Outside The Lines on SportsCenter (via Facetime)
  • Team Canada Olympic high jumper Derek Drouin was live on Golic and Wingo
  • U.S. Olympic Team pole vaulter Sandi Morris was live on Golic and Wingo (via phone)
  • U.S. Olympic speedskater Dan Jansen was live on Golic and Wingo (via phone)
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