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Before Feast Week Begins On ESPN Platforms Thursday, Learn What Goes On Behind The Scenes Of The College Basketball Banquet

Stephanie Grant and her ESPN Events team coordinate so many different elements for various tournaments that occasionally even giant mascots and Oscar-winning filmmakers are caught in the mix

Stephanie Grant, seen here at the Champions Classic, oversees 11 ESPN owned-and-operated college basketball events that include the Champions Classic, the ESPN Events Invitational, Charleston Classic, and the Phil Knight Invitational (PKI).(Phil Ellsworth/ESPN Images)

On the heels of a successful State Farm Champions Classic and the announced extension with the premiere season-opening college basketball event featuring Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, and Michigan State, ESPN is gearing up for its annual Feast Week beginning Thursday, Nov. 18.

Front Row caught up with ESPN Event’s senior events manager Stephanie Grant on her role within the Events Team and her oversight of several owned and operated college basketball events that are a part of Feast Week.

How does ESPN Events collaborate with other areas of ESPN?
We work with many departments to make each event a success. For example, we work closely with our sales team to fulfill all in-arena and TV visible elements for our presenting and associate sponsors, programming on establishing the tip-off times and timing for each game, and production ensuring unique elements are included in the telecast. Overall, there are a ton of individuals involved in making each event successful.

The pandemic made us really think about our business and our current operational process. I am glad it forced us to change how we think about and plan our events. – Senior manager Stephanie Grant regarding how her ESPN Events team adapts to the challenges COVID-19 poses

What ESPN events do you oversee? Do you have a favorite memory?
I currently have oversight of our 11 owned-and-operated college basketball events that include the Champions Classic, ESPN Events Invitational, Charleston Classic, and the Phil Knight Invitational (PKI), to name a few. In my role, I am charged with establishing and developing relationships with our key stakeholders, which include our conference partners, school administrators, and sponsors. I also have oversight of each annual operating budget, and I work with my team as we develop and design all operational plans and experiences for all attendees.

One of the most memorable experiences I had was at the 2019 Champions Classic. We typically include a local experience for either the student-athletes or mascots. That year, we worked with the public relations team at Madison Square Garden to arrange a trip to the New York Stock Exchange, where the four mascots assisted in ringing the bell to open the market for the day.

I did not realize who it was until I turned to apologize. It was embarrassing, but how many people can say they literally ran into Spike Lee? – Grant on running into the filmmaker while in a rush to coordinate an event

Another one that comes to mind is the inaugural Champions Classic in 2011 . . . It was my first time planning this event and our team, along with production, planned a short postgame presentation on the court to honor Coach K [Duke head men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski] on becoming the NCAA’s wins leader.

The game ended, and I was running across the court to get the presentation started and literally almost knocked [filmmaker and actor] Spike Lee to the floor. I did not realize who it was until I turned to apologize. It was embarrassing, but how many people can say they literally ran into Spike Lee?

How did the pandemic change ESPN Events’ approach to hosting tournaments?
The pandemic made us really think about our business and our current operational process. I am glad it forced us to change how we think about and plan our events. We did cancel the majority of our events in 2020, so we placed a big emphasis on reengaging the market, sponsorship sales, ticket sales, and fan experience for 2021. Most all of our venues and events have moved away from printed tickets to digital or mobile-only tickets. We have also found it necessary to build more creative ticketing and marketing strategies.

It has been challenging operating in the “unknown,” but it has also been refreshing to think about the positive operational changes we have implemented. We are excited for our post-event analysis to evaluate these changes.

The New York Stock Exchange in Nov. 2019: (L-R) MSG PR director Larry Torres, ESPN senior manager of events Stephanie Grant and then-ESPN SVP Pete Derzis celebrate the Champions Classic with mascots.
(Phil Ellsworth/ESPN Images)
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