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Masquerading as Sports Reporter

A fan’s experience playing the role of professional sports reporter.

In the Summer of 2015, I moved from Vancouver to San Jose to begin my career (not in technology). While I had to sell off the rest of my 2015 season ticket, a perk of the transition was getting to take in a match at the newly built, and beautiful, Avaya Stadium. Sure enough, I went to my first match there in Fall 2015, when the Whitecaps lost to San Jose. You might remember that match, as Manneh almost tied it up in the dying minutes of the match, with his near breakaway, but was unable to capitalize.

I have now been writing for 86 Forever for three years. During that time, I have had fun, learned a lot, and have been able to write about interesting topics (like watching a match at Barcelona’s Camp Nou). Despite these experiences, I have never considered myself a professional sports writer/reporter. In fact, I barely consider myself an amateur writer/reporter. I am just a fan who is lucky enough to be able to write about a team that I support. On Saturday evening, however, I had the opportunity to play with the big boys and take in a Vancouver Whitecaps match from a professional’s perspective. As a common fan, masquerading as an amateur sports writer, I had no idea what to expect and was quite nervous. I thought I would take this opportunity to share with my fellow common fan what that experience was like. Hopefully I can paint a vivid enough picture.

The process began earlier in the week when I (only half jokingly) asked on Twitter if anyone could get me into the San Jose Earthquakes match as a media correspondent. Our friends over at AFTN suggested we contact the Whitecaps media team. Since they handle media at BC Place primarily, they put us in contact with the Earthquakes media team. After a few emails, we were given a media pass to the match.

I arrived at Avaya Stadium about half an hour before kick-off. As I had been to the stadium before, I knew my way around a little bit, but only from a casual fan’s perspective. The first step of my journey, as a media person, was to obtain my pass. I was informed, via email, that I could acquire my pass at the media will-call booth. Umm…okay…where is that? Luckily, I did not have to walk around clueless for long, as there was a table setup next to the fan will-call line. I walked up to the table and gave them my name. I was then provided with a pass, with some things blacked-out that I was not allowed to do (like go onto the field), and was then directed to a separate entrance, located between the stadium concourse and the locker rooms. After going through the metal detector and flashing the gatekeeper my badge (secret spy style!), I was given entrance. Step 1: Getting into the Stadium accomplished!

Now came the difficult steps. Step 2 was tricky as I needed to figure out where I was supposed to go. There were no signs saying ‘media, go here’, obviously, as the stadium is setup for fans. As a result, I felt awkward, a bit of a lost puppy. However, I wanted to look like I belonged. Thus, I played it safe and simply walked around the stadium concourse, getting my bearings and a few pictures along the way. I saw an elevator behind a gate, with several security people standing there. I figured this was where I was supposed to go, but wasn’t 100% sure. I felt a bit better that I was in the right area, when I saw TSN reporter Perry Solkowski standing near the elevator, eating a hot dog. I wanted to go introduce myself, but felt a bit intimidated (amateur me going to professional Perry). In addition, I had paraphrased (even though I put it in direct quotes) something he had said on the TSN broadcast of the home opener, to which he replied. I was fairly confident his retweet wasn’t ‘umm, that isn’t what I said’, but I was not 100% sure and so I felt it best to leave the meet until later, if at all.

I was eventually brave enough to walk up to the elevator and see what happened. As I approached a fan was standing nearby, being told by security that he could not use the elevator. Upon looking at me and seeing my media pass, one of the security people turned to the other and said I was able to use the elevator as I was media. I think my chest puffed out a bit at that moment. I felt special!

Taking the elevator to the top of the stadium, I was unsure where to go next. Once at the top, I, again, walked around and took some more photos. I passed by several rooms, each with a sign on the door (television, stats, manager, etc.). I finally found the sign that said ‘Press Room’. Still nervous/shy, I walked past the door, to the other side and took more photos. Eventually I felt brave enough to enter the press room.

Upon entering the press room, I saw the large glass window overlooking the field, and two rows of tables. As I approached the table in front of the glass window, I saw a piece of paper that listed my name and association. Feeling like an outsider, I just sat there, waiting for the match to begin, staring at my tablet, as everyone else had their laptops out and were writing away and/or watching other sporting events.

It was quickly found out who I was rooting for, as Erik Hurtado scored 1:30 into the match. It was hard to not show my excitement. With few to no Whitecaps reporters in the room, I finally had an opportunity to feel more comfortable by sharing my Whitecaps knowledge with the Earthquakes reporters. I let them know that it was Ben McKendry’s first match, that Erik Hurtado rarely scores (so this goal and assist were big deals), how Shea fits into the team, and how Paolo Tornaghi would eventually get a yellow card for time-wasting but that it wouldn’t matter because he never plays. The now partly open glass window provided a nice breeze on the warm night, while the crowd noise created a wonderful atmosphere. I was beginning to feel, slightly, more relaxed; even if only with the two or three reporters I was talking with.

During the first half, I saw several reporters had refreshments. I glanced around the room and saw a fridge at the back and assumed that was where they obtained their drinks. However, I didn’t want to look awkward, and potentially be wrong, so I waited until halftime before trying to go open a fridge and having people look at me thinking ‘what is he doing?’. Not only were there drinks, but there was pizza. A nice halftime snack. SCORE!

While chewing down some pizza and getting some thoughts from fans on Twitter, the Earthquakes stats team came into the room and provided us with all the numbers from the first half. This was added to my pre-existing pile of papers that included the Starting XI for both teams, all the MLS stats so far this season, and a very robust ‘Game Guide’. The guide had everything on the all-time series between the two teams, interesting stories (e.g., Earthquakes raise $40,000 for flood victims), and player profiles/bios (e.g., Robinson and Pert have their UEFA Pro License while Ousted has 1 cap with Danish U-19 team).

As the second half began, Solkowski entered the room and sat down a few seats over from me to watch the match. A bit nervous to holler over to him, for the reason I noted earlier, I sat quietly looking for the right moment, if one occurred, to chat with another Whitecaps reporter. My moment came when he vaguely tweeted about the banter between the two head coaches and the 4th referee. Curious, I asked Perry what was being said. He noted that it was from the first half, around the time of the red card, and was your typical manger disagreeing with the calls stuff. Also some good discussions between managers with mutual respect for one another.

I then sat down beside Perry and introduced myself. I also asked him about the tweet from last match, apologizing in case he felt I misquoted him. Of course, he alleviated my fears, noting I was correct and that his quoting of my tweet was ‘glad what I was trying to say came across’ more than anything. We then had a great chat about my move down to the US and my experiences so far, about media cutbacks (he was the only broadcaster from TSN at the match), and about the Whitecaps (apparently Jacobson loves talking politics). It was a great experience and added to me feeling more relaxed and belonging.

After the match, I knew our next step (Step 3) was to head downstairs to conduct interviews; another nervous time for me. I elected to wait until I saw several other reporters grabbing their notepads and heading out the door. Then I stalked…err, followed, them. They quickly filed into the press room, awaiting remarks from San Jose manager Dom Kinnear. Seeing TSN setting up a Whitecaps background in the hallway between the two locker rooms, I suspected this was where I really wanted to be, and exited the media room. Sure enough, Carl Robinson came out of the locker room and Perry asked him several questions about the match. Prior to Carl’s arrival, I tried to think up some questions to ask about the match. It was tough! It was easy to come up with questions, of course, but it was hard to find the correct wording that would get me the response I was looking for without coming across as an ass. I figured asking ‘Hey Carl, what did you think of Scooter doggin’ it on the 2nd goal?’ would not be the best phrasing. I decided to stay quiet and, instead, be impressed by Perry’s fluidity of questions (more on this later).

After Robbo left, we ended up chatting with Erik Hurtado: an obvious choice as he used to play at Santa Clara University (just down the road) and had a goal and an assist on the night. On the conclusion of that interview, the plan was to speak with Kendall Waston; however, that interview was going to take place in the locker room in ‘about 10 minutes’. I could have gone in, but elected not to take that step as I felt weird about going in, just me and Perry, and then standing there while Perry asked Waston some questions. I wish there were more reporters (a sign of the away match times), like the 7-10 that went into the home Earthquakes locker room, as it would have been a nice experience, but I felt too new and out of my element to take that next step. Instead I gathered my stuff and headed for the exit.

In the end, it was a fabulous experience, even if it was a very nerving and confusing experience. I met a few great people and I was able to see, even if only a little, what the experts go through. In fact, the professional aspect was one that Perry and I chatted about during the match. I noted that people have begun to rely more on amateurs such as myself for their news/sports coverage and that is creating problems around validity of claims and knowledge we are acquiring. I am a researcher by trade, and I get frustrated when I have students say how easy research is. Yes, bad research is easy. Good research is hard and takes plenty of practice. I was impressed at how easy Perry made the interviews look while I couldn’t figure out how to word a single question properly. FYI, I found a key to his questions was about his tone rather than the words. It is great to have lots of opinions about the Whitecaps and for fans, such as myself, to have the opportunity to write pieces on the team, but we cannot forget that there are people far more talented and far more experienced in this business than ourselves that we need to fight for and make sure that they remain. There is the adage that you get what you pay for. Guess what, I am paid nothing and I have zero training in broadcasting and reporting. The quality information we obtain about the Whitecaps and other teams comes from those paid to seek out and find the important information and we cannot take them for granted. While it was a fun experience for me, and I enjoy writing for 86 Forever, and I love interacting with other fans through my writings, I am not an expert and we need to make sure that we continue to support those experts because there is a difference between being a sports/media reporter and simply masquerading as one.