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Journalism Showcase: ‘We realized that there was an opportunity to tell a story that a lot of our listeners wouldn’t know about’

ESPN senior writer Sam Borden details process behind multi-platform “The Game Before” storytelling project

ESPN’s Sam Borden relishes the chance to tell the story of “The Game Before” on multiple platforms. (Sam Borden/ESPN)

In a small city in Italy, ecstatic crowds at a Champions League soccer match gave way to a severe, devastating Covid-19 outbreak. Today, the fandom and loyalty that made the city vulnerable are helping it emerge from crisis.

In a collaborative storytelling venture that connects several ESPN platforms, the saga of Bergamo and its beloved Atalanta soccer team is told in “The Game Before,” which debuted today in audio form in a special edition of the ESPN Daily Podcast and in written form on ESPN.com and ESPNDeportes.com. An additional treatment can be found in ESPN Stories on the ESPN App.

Atalanta’s logo

The method of telling the story was new for Sam Borden, ESPN senior writer.

“Before when I’ve done something with The ESPN Daily, it’s been on a piece that I’d already finished, written, or done for TV,” said Borden. “But in this case, it originated for them, and we did the reporting side-by-side.

“I worked with Eve Troeh [ESPN Daily senior editorial producer] and the terrific producer of the piece Ryan Nantell, and they were part of all of the reporting, all the interviews, and putting the script together. Normally we come to them with a finished text, and they build it into an audio piece, but in this case, we built the product together, and it was a really cool experience.”

Borden said the idea of “The Game Before” was born when he and Troeh and other ESPN storytellers were trying to figure out potential story angles in the aftermath of sports shutting down.

“We realized that there was an opportunity to tell a story that a lot of our listeners wouldn’t know about and do it in a way that was rich and layered,” he said.

In addition to Troeh and Nantell, Borden also gave credit to Eric Neel, ESPN.com Director of Development, and Elaine Teng, general editor, who are people he usually works with on written pieces, for their roles in the project.

“It’s been a goal for ESPN Daily to work this way, with ideas that originate as podcast episodes, since the show began in 2019,” said Troeh. “We’ve done a few original stories with reporters and original topical explorations. But this was a new level of involvement from our team working with a reporter, and we’re excited to do more like this.”

“We’re all storytellers,” said Borden. “It was really cool to be able to do those things on a parallel track and have them help each other.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Can Atalanta recreate its Champions League run from last season? In the video below, the ESPN FC panel previews Atalanta’s Champions League tie versus Real Madrid on Wednesday.

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