While They're Watching, You're Working
The opening weekend of March Madness is the greatest four days of the calendar year.
Other people may have different choices and that’s fine, people have incorrect opinions all the time about tons of different things.
The competition, the passion and the drama of the NCAA Tournament are unrivaled. If I could’ve watched all 48 games and all 56 hours, I would. Admittedly, I did get pretty close. I watched about 47 hours of the action this past weekend.
More accurately I was working. I ran the live blogs for the March Madness Live app, which is one of those buttons you saw when you were watching the game on your phone and likely didn’t click on, but thankfully they have no way of measuring how many people were looking.
So yeah, I got paid to watch basketball.
Oh, and did I mention they paid to fly me out there? Did I forget to say they put me up in a hotel? Brought in catering for every meal? I must’ve spaced on that.
At this point, you’ve probably already googled, “how to take Matt’s job”. It’s understandable. I loved it. But I mean this very seriously — working in sports is not for everyone.
The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, March Madness, is responsible for 98 percent of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s annual revenue.
Essentially all 89 championships in 23 different sports are funded by three weeks of basketball games. Millions and millions of advertising dollars are changing hands.
And here I am, some kid sitting behind a laptop, with the ability to ruin corporate partnerships with one keystroke. They brought me here because they thought I was talented, but more importantly because they knew they could trust me.
Am I going to sit here and try to convince you that my job was essential? Heck no. There was an entire army of people working on Turner’s campus this past week. If you ranked them by order of importance, you’d have to scroll down through several hundred names before you saw my mine.
But if you want to be on that list at all, you have to perform. In most other career paths, when you go to college you go sit in class with 50 other people, you do your homework most of the time, you take your tests, you get your B- and you move on.
In sports, if you want to be on “that list,” you have be to be doing A+ work. Every single time. Out in the real world, competing with full-time professionals.
You can’t flip-flop Coca-Cola and Pepsi, have a typo that suddenly makes Wendy’s 4 for $4 deal into 4 for $40, or joke about Greg Gumbel’s acting ability on those AT&T commercials. One strike and you’re basically out.
And as opposed to class work where you can fit into the crowd, screw up in this industry and it’s on you. Just you. The quality of your work is exposed, and you’re judged for it either positively or negatively.
Aside from the responsibility, the second lesson is an obvious one.
When do sports happen? Do the best games ever happen at 9 a.m. on a Tuesday morning? Of course not. Sports happen when most people are home or off work, when they have free time to flip on the television.
So if you want to work in sports, just know when that is. Nights, weekends and even most holidays. Those hours aren’t overtime, they are the norm.
I worked from around 11 a.m. to a little after midnight for four straight days. Obviously it wasn’t back-breaking manual labor, but being mentally sharp for 13 or 14 hours is certainly a challenge.
My day consisted of waking up, walking about a quarter-mile from the hotel to the Turner campus and working for about 13 hours. Then walking the quarter-mile back to the hotel, going to sleep. Rinse, repeat.
It’s really unlike any other job where you can just endure your work, cash your paycheck and go home. If you don’t love sports — like really love the sport you’re covering — it’s going to be tough. This weekend you could see, even on the faces of those who would identify as sports fans, the enthusiasm disappearing as the days went on.
Now I really hate the “woe is me look, how hard I work” style posts floating around on the interwebs. This is not one of those.
This was not torture, this was not “the grind.” This was the job.
And do you think it changes as you move up the ladder?
I had the chance to speak with Seth Davis this weekend, with whom I’ve worked for over two years. He was also in Atlanta working as an analyst on one of CBS and Turner’s studio shows.
His past week consisted of being in New York for Selection Sunday, flying directly to San Francisco to interview Steph Curry for his show on Campus Insiders because it was the only time he could get the interview, then flying directly to Atlanta for six straight days of television (he worked the First Four games). Sleep optional.
Sports are incredible. The benefits of working in sports are unbelievable. Just make sure you know what the commitment is going in.
In the wise words of my former AAU basketball coach, always “make sure your goals and your work ethic line up.”
Because while everyone else is watching, you’ll more than likely be working.