life on the road with ESPN's college gameday
By George Somerville
As we celebrate International Women’s day, George sat down with ESPN’s communications manager Amanda Brooks to find out about her love for sports, life on the road with ESPN, and what College Gameday looks like behind the scenes!
Name a sporting event – especially related to college athletics – and it’s likely you will find Amanda Brooks on the sidelines; organising, cajoling and generally making sure people are in the right place at the right time.
This is not a job for the faint hearted, nor for someone with poor time management skills. Organising to the finest detail and to the individual minute is what an ESPN communications officer does best. So as hectic a schedule that Amanda has, it was no surprise that an expert in time management could find a slot to tell The Touchdown what a day in the life of Amanda Brooks is like……
A Sports Fanatic From The Beginning
Working the crazy hours that comes with the communication managers role, a love for sports is a pre-requisite. Fanatacism needs to be central to a job which can easily stretch close to 20 hours on a gameday.
But where does the love for sports come from? Well it all started at home in Ohio.
“I grew up in a family that always loved sports and I have always loved sports. We grew up big Cleveland Indian fans.”
“Back in the day to get tickets for the games you had to stand in line at the local department store – that was where the ticketmaster office was.
With my Dad we would work out which games we were going to go to that year and then standing in line all day in the parking lot to get them”.
While Amanda grew up in Ohio, Amanda’s family has close roots to the South – her father with Georgia and mother with North Carolina. And with various family in Alabama, the SEC featured prominently.
So it was no great surprise that Amanda would travel south, firstly to Arkansas and then Nashville at Vanderbilt to study. And so the SEC seeds were well and truly planted…
An Early Meeting With Coach Corso
While Amanda would go on to work on College Gameday later in her career, she had an early introduction to the Gameday experience. Amanda tells the story of her first encounter with the Grandfather of college football:
“College Gameday came to visit in my first year (at Vanderbilt), and Vanderbilt was undefeated and so was Auburn – and I got to be part of the planning process of Gameday coming.”
“I remember I was on the sideline and Vanderbilt was about to win this game – and no-one saw this coming – I was near Coach Corso. He leaned over to me and said “look around and take this in – you will remember this forever.”
Said Amanda pointing to the imaginary Vanderbilt stadium:
“And 15 years later here I am working on Gameday with Coach Corso, which is this really cool full circle moment, but that’s the moment when I knew this is what I wanted to do.”
The Power Of ESPN
You don’t have to watch ESPN long to realise – particularly with regards to college sports – that the program makers are keen to delve as much behind the story to get to the personal aspect of a player or history of the event than the actual event itself. Something Amanda is incredibly passionate about.
“our goal at ESPN is storytelling”
“Even on the biggest stage you can find these stories and at ESPN that is our priority. I think the sport lends itself to it but I also think ESPN has done a really good job of highlighting these really special stories – but we can’t do that without the Schools or the Conferences telling us about these stories – there are so many incredible stories. I don’t know how we would find them all without them”.
The Journey To ESPN
Amanda played volleyball in college and was familiar with the role of Sports Information Director, but that wasn’t initially the career choice she had in mind. A religion major with a masters in ethics, Amanda had other career ambitions – however the onset of a recession in the US made Amanda reconsider what was to happen next.
“I had just started working in athletics at Vanderbilt and was looking around and thought maybe this is a sign that this is what I should be doing next. And I loved sports”
Amanda undertook the SID role at Vanderbilt while she was graduating, along with a role with the Nashville Predators in the NHL at the same time.
“SID’s are not paid enough! They are overworked and under appreciated!”
exclaimed a passionate Amanda.
Amanda would go on to work as SID at Florida in Gainesville before spending time with the US Athletics Track and Field team – which involved working at the Rio Olympics.
In early 2017, Amanda found out that the role at ESPN was open – the rest is history, having just completed her 5th football season in college football generally but specifically the SEC, as well as covering all college gymnastics and track and field.
A Role Model For The Next Generation
As a woman working in what has traditionally been a male dominated world, ESPN and Amanda are blazing a trail to a large extent. Amanda tells me:
“It’s a responsibility I take very seriously”
“When I started as an SID, there were only as I remember maybe two or three women who worked with mens sports in the SEC at that time. So I would often look around and ask, “can I really do this? No-one else looks like me”
“I am really glad that I didn’t think, “if I can’t find a female mentor then I should do something else” – I had a really great mentor who was my first boss at Florida. He just really pushed me not for it to be something that stopped me.
So now as I have progressed – I have been doing this almost 15 years now – I feel very strongly about instead of paying it forward, you pull people forward with you. In doing so you are creating a path where they already have someone to guide them”
Amanda spends a lot of time with students and those thinking of a career in sports, or helping those in the early stages of their careers with on the job shadowing, or coffee chats with student groups and young women who reach out. She is passionate about having the ESPN “talent” talking to school groups to advise and to show them what is possible. After all, many if not all of the ESPN team walked the same path that today’s generation are embarking on. Amanda finishes with a strong statement.
“If you can see it, you can be it. It’s a very real thing for women in sports. I feel strongly that paying it forward is a passive act. It’s on us to bring young women forward in this industry. I think sometimes the barrier to working in sports is higher than it should be. Anything that we can do to make it more accessible and make it lower benefits the industry”
Gameday & SEC Nation
It wasn’t long before, somewhat unfairly on Amanda, that I wanted to talk about life on the road with Gameday and SEC Nation. But the good thing was that I had a kindred spirit who was happy to talk about these institutions of the college game.
“As somebody who grew up watching Gameday, I went to my first one in 2017 – it was Championship weekend and I remember being so intimidated and I don’t know why because it’s just one big family – the same with SEC Nation.”
“With Gameday we are in people’s homes and part of people’s Saturday routines. Both shows and particularly Gameday take that responsibility really seriously.”
“It really means a lot to people, so getting back on the road this year and interacting with fans and to get that opportunity again – it’s never been something that I take for granted – I certainly don’t take it for granted now”.
It wouldn’t be an article from me if we didn’t spend time talking about SEC football, and Amanda was happy to oblige. Always keen to understand what the “must not miss” experiences are, I picked Amanda’s brain as to where should I go see.
But Amanda has operated in SEC country for too long – this was not a clear cut answer
” I think if I picked a favourite it would be like picking a favourite child”
The answer of someone who has a beckoning career in politics!
“But I will say this. Arkansas v Texas, week 2 this year is the first time that I have ever had to leave the field to avoid a field storming. That was something else. You can always tell when it’s going to happen – you can see the students and the fans looking for their spots to jump. So I ditched our crew and ran for the parking shuttle! Which I have never done before, but I did not want to be there for that field invasion”
I’m not one to tell tales but Amanda left poor Katie George on the sidelines to experience the invasion on her own…
For the woman who has been to almost every major sporting event, where is on the list of events still high on Amanda’s list of must do?
The World Series might surprise you, but not if you know of Amanda’s love for baseball and her hometown team, the Indians.
“I got to work the MLB All Star game a few years ago which was held in Cleveland, my home town ballpark – and getting to experience all of that, it was really special.
I would love to do the NFL Draft – I might be going this year, which will be a lot of fun”
Amanda has some wise words for anyone attending those bucket list events and a great note to end our chat on.
“When I was first starting out, my mentor Fred would constantly remind me that whenever we worked on something – I worked on a lot of National Championship teams at Florida – he would always say in amongst the chaos ” take a step back, look around and appreciate it”. And I still force myself to do that even now”.
It was a pleasure to spend time talking with Amanda to get a glimpse behind the ESPN velvet curtain. So many thanks to Amanda and the ESPN Communications team for assisting with the interview and this article.
College football writer
A GLASWEGIAN LIVING IN LONDON, GEORGE IS A COLLEGE FOOTBALL FAN WHO FOLLOWS THE ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE. HE PROVIDES CFB CONTENT FOR THE TOUCHDOWN AND IS ONE THIRD OF THE COLLEGE CHAPS PODCAST.