Meet Matthew DeBritz. Matthew is an Associate Producer for ESPN, where he has worked for the last eleven and a half years.
His experience at ESPN includes production of Sportscenter, NBA, NCAA Basketball/Football, NFL, MLB, MLS, International Soccer, Tour de France, IndyCar Racing, NASCAR, Golf, and Boxing. Versatile background that includes live and taped studio, remote and digital content programming.
During this video interview, Matthew and I discussed:
- How he landed his first job with ESPN and worked his way up to Associate Producer
- What he likes most about working in the sports industry and for ESPN
- His personal view on how social media is impacting all aspects of sport
- Advice that he would give to others that are looking to land their dream job in sports (possibly with ESPN!)
How To Get A Job In Sports – Matthew DeBritz
Matthew DeBritz Interview Transcript
Kelly: Joined by Matthew DeBritz of ESPN. First of all Matthew, thank you for taking the time, and let’s start off by give us a little bit about your back-story.
Matt: I worked at ESPN 11 ½ years, got the job right out of college, not right out of college but maybe six months later, took a long process to get in, so I graduated in May and started in October of 2000 and been there since then and worked in the international division, been working my way up, and that’s pretty much my story so far.
Did you always know you wanted to go into sports?
Matt: Yeah, I had an idea. I think as kids growing up that you want to play professional and as you get older realize that’s probably not going to happen, so the closest thing I could get to it was be working on it, so I took radio and television in college and also took a sports studies minor, and I thought that was the best way, and I really got interested about that stuff there, more interested, and I said yeah, I want to work in sports.
Kelly: Who would you say as influenced you most along the way? Do you have mentors or people that have helped you out or got you connected with ESPN?
Matt: There was a couple people that are a little older and I don’t want to embarrass them, so I won’t say their names, but when you start working in an environment as big as ESPN, there’s so many people, so many different ways people look at things, you find a couple of people that you latch onto and kind of align with, because you’ll go to battle with them in any sort of production, because you’ve seen what they can do, and those are the people you want to align yourself up with, people you can see yourself being like in a lot of ways and having similar interests and similar work ethic.
Kelly: And you’ve worn a lot of hats for ESPN and worked your way up, if maybe you want to start at the beginning when you first got there and working as a production assistant and just how you have worked your way up the ranks there?
Matt: Well I got in there in the international division which I wasn’t expecting to do that. I met someone at a job fair when I was ending college, actually I was in an elevator with the people, and I didn’t know it at the time. They wanted to know if I was a vendor or actually looking for a job, and I said no, I’m actually looking for a job, so I went over to their table and realized when they dropped the banner, it said ESPN International, but at the time, I had no idea what that meant. I had seen ESPN, but the line for them was around the corner, so I said I’ll go talk to international, and since I had some Spanish skills in my background, they wanted to talk to me, so I got one person’s card and pretty much bothered her for the whole summer and eventually people called me and I got the interview there and got the job. It was pretty fast moving. I had the interview and then they wanted me to start soon, and I said yes of course, and I got there, and I was working soccer division, international soccer, and it’s not like it is now where every game is on TV. Ten, twelve years ago, the games weren’t on as much. There was the World Cup and there was a game on that you really had to pay for if you were a soccer fan, so not a lot of us in this country grew up watching soccer. I did and I played it, so it helped me a little bit, and with the Spanish skills that was the angle they hired me for. To kind of get more acclimated I actually played PlayStation all the time and played it in two different languages to understand the guys names so that when I saw them again, I would understand them. When I first got there, I was just logging games, and it’s kind of a great way to just know players that you don’t know and tactics you’d never see before, so I started doing that and once they were okay with me doing that, I started cutting highlights for games and then eventually I started assistant directing for games and then got a shot at producing/directing games, and from there, other sports opened. You just have to willing to work on different sports at different times.
Kelly: Is there a particular aspect that you like best or a particular sport?
Matt: Yeah, I’m a basketball fan through and through. College basketball—I grew up in Syracuse, NY and that’s where college basketball is huge—it’s like a pro team there. Probably six or seven years into my career, they asked me to start working on NCAA basketball, and I said absolutely I would, because that doesn’t feel like work too much because you just sit there and a lot of the things you know about the history of the game and the players in the game, I already knew them. I didn’t have to be looking up stats or looking up on the computer. I could know that something was right or something was wrong without searching or researching, and that’s a huge advantage, so your question before, ‘did I want to work in sports.’ I guess I did when I was younger, probably before everyone took classes, being a fan.
Kelly: There’s this perception, ESPN’s reputation speaks for itself, and what is it like being on the inside of things because you have the perception from the outside and as a viewer and actually working there, what is it like?
Matt: It’s good. You go in and you’re working on sports, so it’s hard to say to anybody that my job’s not fun, because we’re working on sports, and at the end of the day you have to look at it from that perspective, and you’re working on sports by watching it, and you’re getting paid to watch sports essentially. There’s a little more things than that- you still have to put your work and time in, but it’s a pretty crazy environment at times. You’re walking down the hall and you see the ‘Rock’ or a mascot…you will see those things at times where you’re walking by and you’ll see Magic Johnson. I remember passing him in the hallway or Mike Ditka or Michael Irvin, all these guys that you grew up watching. Then you see them in person and you realize they’re more like normal people like we are.
Kelly: Is there a particular moment or aha moment for you where you went I can’t believe I’m doing this?
Matt: I work in the international division, so celebrities I would know in my division are a little different. I’ll tell this story anyway. There’s this guy that works in international, his name is Mario Kempes and he’s an Argentine soccer player who scored in the World Cup, but if it wasn’t for Diego Maradona, we wouldn’t be talking about him all the time. He’s in the same breath as Maradona and Pele. He’s the most laid back kind of guy and you would never know that, but when I went to Istanbul, Turkey for the championship final in ’05, and all the English fans found out who he was, it was like a swarm of people around him, just everyone crowding him and asking him for autographs and stuff, and to me, he’s just my colleague but outside the world he’s huge.
Kelly: You have a Twitter account, and it’s not affiliated with ESPN, but if you could touch on your perceptions of social media and the role they play in the sports landscape, especially there’s people at ESPN—on-air personalities have Twitter accounts, and a lot of the producers and different people there also have Twitter accounts.
Matt: It’s just the way we’re going. Whole shows are being predicated on Twitter and Facebook now. I don’t know if you watch that show NFL 32, but it’s very interactive, same with SportsNation. It’s just crazy because it’s like another newswire, so news people also have to be searching peoples twitter accounts on top of searching for news and also in some ways, it cuts out the middle man for athletes. Tiger Woods for example—he doesn’t want to hold a press conference, he just wants to be on Twitter, and so it’s changed everything. People are on Facebook and Twitter. I have a Twitter account, mostly for me to just read it. I might tweet stuff every once in a while but I try to stay away from that, because I don’t want someone holding it against me later.
Kelly: You mentioned Tiger Woods and how with athletes it’s their voice now. Has it made your job more challenging as a producer—athletes not wanting to directly talk to the media?
Matt: I’d say no, because they’re still going to be on camera, because they want that exposure on camera. Twitter is good—the other night Amare Stoudemire broke the fire extinguisher, he apologized to the fans, but he still has to make a statement. It gives us a little more instant gratification, but they’re all going to still do stuff. Who knows they might start doing their press conferences like we’re doing our talk right now, so hey, if that’s what they’re going to do, we’re going to find it. Anything that’s on the Internet is found by our people, for example when Stan Van Gundy kind of said he was going to be fired, and Dwight Howard walked in on him, that was on OrlandoMagic.com and as long as they clear us to use it, we can use it. There’s no hiding is what I’m trying to say. We’ll always get the guys on camera and get them to talk.
Kelly: You mentioned earlier how much the sports landscape has changed over the last ten years or so. Do you feel like as a student now coming out of college who wants to go into sports, you have to be in tune with the social media side of things and know how to do that all?
Matt: Absolutely, I think you have to evolve with what’s going on in social media. It’s how people talk now. You walk down the street and people aren’t talking, they’re texting, they’re on their phone, they’re on their IPad, they’re on their computer. Even this conversation ten years ago would have been a little more difficult but in five more years, it could be a whole different game again, so you just have to be able to roll with it. Social media is what rules us right now.
Kelly: Going back to all the different positions you’ve had at ESPN, is there a particular aspect that you enjoy most about your job?
Matt: It may sound kind of strange but it’s that you can walk in and at any moment it could change in an instant, but I’ve only worked in TV. It’s every day that you don’t know what’s coming and may be frustrating for some people but it’s also the fun part where you decide, you’re having troubles but I’m going to make this show great. I just found out that this story broke as we got to air or something like that. The thinking on your feet like that is probably the most fun part.
Kelly: Earlier you talked about knowing Spanish and playing the PlayStation to familiarize yourself with different guys names, what are skills you’ve found the most valuable with all the different positions you’ve had (since you’ve moved around so much)?
Matt: The biggest skill is you have to be flexible. What I mean by that, you have to be deciding that you want to work on a sport and if someone asks you to work on a different sport, you have to kind of say yes. The power of yes…one time in my career and I was talking about soccer. I had traveled in Turkey the year before and it was a really cool event, and the next year the same event was going to be in Paris and I really wanted to go to that. I was told you’re not going to that; you’re going to travel on Indy Car. At the time, I had this reaction, I don’t want to work on Indy Car, I don’t know anything about it, I’m not a gear head, I’m not into motor sports, nothing, but I did do it, and good thing. It was a really good experience for me. I was a field producer there, I was the A.D. (assistant director), I was coordinating with the whole freelance crew, I pretty much ran it, and if I had gone to that event in Paris, one of my colleagues would have done that, and also I made some great contacts and friends for life, just because I was on that circuit for two or three years, so being flexible is number one. You think you may be this one person and working on this one show, and then you could change shows at any instant and make an impact there and make an impact later in your career. It’s come full circle sometimes. Working on Indy Car helped me work on SportsCenter because not that many people knew that much about Indy Car, because there were a lot of foreign guys on the Indy Car circuit that they didn’t know about, but I knew them because I was on the circuit. You never can tell I guess is the point. It’s cliché but you have to be a hard worker, and you have to be passionate. A lot of these guys on the SportNetworker talk about being passionate, and that’s true because if you’re not passionate, people can tell pretty quickly you don’t want to be there, and you don’t want that. You want people to be like, ‘I want to work with that person’ because they’re passionate and no matter what they do, they’re working hard at it.
Kelly: I bet when you started you probably never would have guessed you’d be working on Indy Car and international soccer and all this stuff.
Matt: No, I haven’t. You don’t know and that’s why all skills you may find, or work on or shows, can lead you to something later on. You just have to be open to it
Kelly: I know it’s hard to forecast the future, ten years from now, do you have ideas of where you would like to go at ESPN or what you would like to evolve into there with the network
Matt: No, I don’t honestly and that kind of goes along with what I was saying before how things change so fast. There could be a day where someone approaches me and says I want you to work in programming, which may not be my cup of tea. Working at a desk is a little different than what I’m doing but there might be a time, where I want to get out of that game, because you work nights, you work weekends. You have a crazy schedule sometime, so there might be a time where I want that. As of right now, I’m fine with what I’m doing. I still like production, I still like being in the mix, still like traveling. I know that’s a question everyone asks me, but I really don’t have that answer right now.
Kelly: You kind of touched on it a couple questions ago, being flexible, but what advice would you give to sports business students out there who are looking to land their dream job in sports?
Matt: One way you can focus on what you really want to do is you work in a job that you don’t like or an internship. Before I started working at ESPN, I had a six or eight month time where I wasn’t really working, and I was doing whatever and I got so frustrated, I drove to Washington D.C. and moved in with my brother. I said maybe if I’m here and there’s a job opening I can get it faster than if I’m calling from upstate New York, because they can say come in for the interview, and I can get it. So I did, and I was broke, and I knew someone from one of my classes, who was working there, and they hadn’t told me what they were doing but they said they had an opening. I went down there and it was acupuncture and Chinese medicine certification place, so it was mostly data entry, but they paid well, and I was broke, and I didn’t know what else to do. At that time, I wasn’t sure if I still wanted to make an effort to be in broadcast or TV or anything, so I said I’ll do this, maybe I’m not one of those people that really care about my job. I’ll tell you what—after two weeks of doing that, I was like I hate this, I can’t do this, and luckily ESPN had called me and I pretty much told those people that Friday I’m out of here. They didn’t care—they kind of knew that when I came in. So, it’s always good to take an internship or a job even if you don’t think it’s really what you want to do, because it may focus you to do whatever it is you’re supposed to do. I did a semester…went to Ithaca College, but did a semester at American University in D.C. There was a really cool course load. All we did is go and talk to different journalists, and then I had an internship at a radio station. And it was okay, but I could tell pretty soon that’s really not what I wanted to do because I was like the intern on the morning show at 5 AM one day and I was a promotions person the rest of the time, and it wasn’t my speed. That’s why I say it’s important to try it because you may not know if it’s for you or not, and some people come into the sports production business and they don’t get it or like it and want to get out, and that’s fine. All those things you can do beforehand and try and be in it, and you can work in it for a while and not want to be in it anymore. That’s my best advice for that is to always try those things and talk to nice people in your school or anyone that you know is offering some sort- a journalist is going to be on campus or be nearby—you should go to those events and listen to them talk, and listen to what they have to say because they’ve probably been in the business a while and can, hate to say it, probably tell you better than some of your professors could. Some of my professors at Ithaca did work in the business a long time, and that was valuable to me because they had a little different perspective than people who were just professors.
Kelly: I can definitely relate to that a little bit. I went to Arizona State and I definitely had classes that were extremely valuable but definitely had other ones that…I honestly probably learned the most at my internships for practical stuff I’m using now.
Matt: The school I ended up had a TV station, most schools have something. You got to get involved in those. It will give you a nice dose of what it’s like. I remember doing Saturday mornings and getting up at nine. In college, getting up at nine in the morning on a Saturday was pretty tough, but I did it. You do stuff like that, and you get an idea of what it’s really like with TV or radio or every medium. You’re going to be doing those days you don’t want to get up the crack of dawn, so those are all things that would help.
Kelly: At ESPN, you have internship programs. What are some traits of the interns that really stand out in your mind at ESPN?
Matt: They’re just people you can tell, that want to be there. They never say anything about their days off or their hours and they’re always paying attention when they’re being talked to or shown stuff. They want to be there—it’s evident. The people that are always concerned with their days off or always looking at their phone when you’re looking at them, those people can be weeded out pretty quickly. A few people that I’ve worked with were interns beforehand, and I knew they’d be back because I could tell the way they would work and how they acted and how they carried themselves. And they also weren’t afraid to jump in and make a mistake. You’ve got to be able to do that, if you just hang back, you’re just like a fly on the wall.
Kelly: I know you got connected to ESPN through the whole job fair and elevator experience that you had, but what would be your advice for people, I think ESPN is one of those companies going into TV whether it be behind the scenes or in front of the camera, they aspire to. What would be your advice to work at ESPN?
Matt: I think it goes along with what I was saying before. Be passionate, and just because you didn’t start out right there at ESPN doesn’t mean you can’t get there. I kind of say to younger professionals, move towards your passion, and a lot of the other stuff will fall into place. You will start to meet the right people, you’ll start to talk to the right people, and you’ll do all those things you need to do. I don’t have any specific magic or way to do it because my way was completely different than most peoples. I’ve seen people get jobs off of job postings, by networking with people, I’ve seen them get jobs because of someone they know, who they were in college if they were an athlete or something—people may know them. A good way, I think someone was asking me too—there’s got to be a resource close to you, close-by, whether it’s a team or stadium where you can volunteer or work there, even if it’s not your full-time gig, where people from ESPN will be there for an event. They hire people called runners, that just coil cable, and those aren’t always the easiest to find, but if you’re hanging around the stadium or if you’re in that area, you probably have a better chance of meeting them or if you’re hanging out in the places that do, after the race or game starts. If you’re in those areas, you probably have a better chance, and you can always, and if you’re talking to someone, you might as well strike up those conversations. What’s the worst that’s going to happen? I don’t have an exact formula, I would just say move towards your passion, and try to be around those people as much as you can, and something may break for you.
Kelly: How can people from the SportsNetworker and Sports Executives Association, how can they connect with you online?
Matt: I’m on the SEA on Facebook, and I’m on Linked In, so those two ways are the best way to connect with me. I usually don’t turn too many people down but I’ve listened to Lewis Howes talk a few times, where he’s saying how people contact him and are asking for something. I kind of feel the same way—you’re asking me for advice, that’s one thing, if you’re asking for me for a job, that’s kind of tough for me too, to be like I don’t even know who you are. You have to think about that when you’re approaching people too, their reputation is on the line, when I’m recommending somebody, I’m putting a word in for somebody, I have to make sure they’re valuable and going to help out, because if they don’t, it’s on me, and I don’t want it to be on me.
Kelly: Is there anything else that you want to talk about or other advice that you have, or anything I haven’t asked you that you feel like is important to know, because this is your forum?
Matt: Going back to the power of saying yes, that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned in my career. You have to be flexible and say yes to things, even if it looks bad, even if it seems bad, and especially when you’re a younger professional, and that’s maybe a mistake that I’ve made a little more, some things I would worry about that I shouldn’t have worried about or some things I could have done differently to help me now, but after a while, you have to let those go. Sometimes I’ve seen really high potential people that are working in our company—younger people that come in—and they have a lot of good skills and they have good work ethic but sometimes they do stuff that may anger people that are a little older. You have to keep that in mind. I’m on the cusp. I’m not a Millennium; I’m still a Generation X. A lot of the Millennium’s are on Twitter and Facebook, but you have to realize when you’re going to do it and when it’s appropriate and who’s hiring you, because there are people who are hiring you that may be much older, and they may not be into social media or care about texting or you’re on the phone, so people coming into this profession, that’s one of the biggest things I would say to them. Be careful with your phone and your posts online, because if you have so many great skills and you posted some weird picture on Facebook, someone is going to find it and see it. You’re going to miss out on a job that maybe you were qualified for, so be smart about those things, that’s the best advice I could give. Chill with the Facebook and Twitter and texting while you’re at work.
Kelly: Thank you so much for taking the time. I know you have to go to work but really appreciate you and all the advice and information you’ve offered. Have a great day and really appreciate it.
Matt: Sure, anytime.
I hope you enjoyed the interview with Matthew DeBritz! Let me know if there is anyone else you’d like me to interview and I’ll get your questions answered! Leave your comments below and/or send us a tweet to @sportsnetworker