We sports field managers (SFM) prefer to create our fields in the background. We often tell the crew that we are like offensive linemen in football. We only get noticed when we get a penalty, a bad field. At high-profile fields, the SFM sometimes fears the media. They can make you look bad without getting the whole story. We’ve all seen it, they sometimes try to create news. Until we change this posture and start getting the word out, we will never change the dominant perception we fight: the unskilled worker. Whether you manage a professional, collegiate, school or park field, you are in a position to advance our profession, and your career, by using the media to get the message out.
I’ll use my own experiences from 2013, when I hosted two NFL playoff games, as an example. It’s midwinter in Denver, and while all grass sits dormant and brown in frozen soil around town, we are still mowing. It’s spotty-thin down the middle of the field, especially for the AFC championship game. With our soil stabilization system we can’t dig out worn grass and resod.
It’s a wonderful thing to get the challenge to host such big events on your field, but it can be downright frightening sometimes. So much attention, so many requests, you tell yourself and your team not to get distracted. We have a tough and important job to do this week being player safety agents. I got an email from a nice gentleman who wants me to grow my ryegrass field out and let it go to seed. He wants to collect the seed and make “Mile High Rye” whiskey. And here come the media requests.
Some of these requests we expected. We’ve been talking with the media communications group contracted by the STMA to help improve the image of the SFM through targeted media facilitation. Everything has to be approved through our media relations department. First up, a piece with the Denver Post for the home and garden section. I like print media, they’re so much more thorough than TV, which has time constraints. My assistant Chris and I talked about the message we wanted to project during these interviews:
- This is a profession.
- It is a team effort here at the stadium, not just the turf team.
- As SFMs we prioritize field safety and playability over appearance, even though all we ever hear is how good the field looks. We feel that this is probably the biggest misconception about our profession amongst the fans and media.
Susan Clotfelter with the Post did a fantastic job on this piece. She spent most of a day with us, and backed it up with phone calls to get clarification. Posting the link on my Facebook page was a revelation. Non-turfie Facebook friends actually got it! It’s about the players’ safety and performance, not just appearance.
Next up were three local TV station pieces. Local is a bit misleading, as the stations tell us that the story will be sent out to over 200 affiliate stations nationwide. Now we have to go on camera and speak. I want Chris to get some experience at this.
If you’ve ever had them put that wireless mic on you and stepped in front of the camera, you know it can be intimidating. They generally stick that camera right in front of your face. Chris and I talk some more and review the message. Some of my STMA conference education kicks in from a media workshop I attended. Are you dressed professionally? Have something in your hands during on-camera interviews; we never know what to do with our hands. I use a golf club, usually a pitching wedge, it leads to fun questions.
If you mess up an answer, just stop and say, “You know what, that didn’t come out right, could you ask me the question again?” It’s also perfectly appropriate to say, “I’m really not qualified to answer that, you should talk to so-and-so.”
Set up and take control of the interview. “I’d rather not show this part of the field, it looks a bit rough and we are working to improve it.” Talk with the reporter beforehand and give them some background. They will generally be impressed by the technical nature of your work before the cameraman even sets up. Always make sure that your employer is OK with you doing interviews.
I try not to take myself seriously, just my job. Have some fun with the interview. Ask the reporters questions about their jobs. They will become your biggest fans. What would they like to get with this interview? Who is their audience? For example, I spoke differently in a story for the home and garden section than I would have for a story in the sports section.
I have to say it went very well. We came in well prepared, and we got our message out. People now come up to me and the comments are on how the field played, not how it looked. They talk about the good footing, not the appearance. Now I’m the “Don’t tell me how my field looks guy,” and I’m fine with that. I learned that most folks find our work really interesting, and we have a story to tell.
So, why wait for the local paper or TV station to call? Call them with the proverbial “Have I got a story for you!” Plan your message. Give credit to others, and vacuum up all blame. Be humble. It’s not about me, it’s about the athletes and the entire community’s responsibility to them. If we are going to get this craft of ours more prominently stamped on the professional map, then we have to educate the public. And the media will help us do that for free. Let’s get behind this effort and sing our song!