EP04 – Working in live sports with Melissa Ward
In this 4th episode of The Production Channel, Stephen Bowles and Clem Harrod chat with Clem’s longtime friend and co-worker from the Orlando Magic, Melissa Ward. Melissa is a freelancer who mostly works in the live sports industry in various roles, such as audio, labor management, production management and more. She also spreads her talents into the entertainment and corporate world. In this episode Melissa will explain the nuances of working in live sports and how it can be challenging and rewarding.
After suffering an injury as a student athlete, Melissa started working in the sports information office at the University of Central Florida. In the 1980’s sports jobs for females were not plentiful, however, one day she was given the opportunity to become a paid statistician at a basketball tournament. She loved the job, and the TV crew loved her. From there, her career in live sports began, and she was given the stats job for 15 more games. Melissa’s sports industry path stayed in Orlando, and she became a member of the broadcasting crew for the Orlando Magic in 1989. She’s one of over a dozen crew members still working with the Orlando Magic from day one. Her networking skills have led her to partnering with large sports outlets such as ESPN, recently covering the NCAA Football National Championship.
When asked about the difficulty of working in sports, Melissa says that unlike corporate work, there are no rehearsals. There is one shot to get it right in sports. You anticipate or you miss the play. She tries to be proactive when covering a game. She states, “This is my plan A, if everything works and everything goes as it should, we’re golden. But my plan A needs a plan B…I try to have multiple plans and go through the possible scenarios of failure so that I can be prepared.” Melissa says that the crew members working sports develop a special mindset. “I think people who do live sports and do it well have to be some of the smartest, brightest, most reactionary people because you don’t get that second chance, you don’t get that second take…”
Being a woman in a male-dominated field may be intimidating to some, but Melissa is not shaken. “I think I’ve spent my whole career not really thinking of myself as a female in that situation. I don’t want someone thinking ‘that’s the token female so that’s why we are going to hire her.’ That’s never been my aim or goal. I want to be hired because I can get the job done.” She says being a woman as an A2 has advantages, especially when working with female talent. Also, she says that the network of females working professional audio in live sports is very close-knit. “The funniest thing is that we’re all friends…we will dump work back and forth to each other as much as we can, especially because we have to have each other’s backs.” Melissa mentions that women still aren’t always considered for the high-profile events. “At the network level, traveling or big show type of audio person, it is a very, very minimal market for females, legitimately.”
Melissa tries to mentor the next generation of production professionals. She helps them out, male or female, whenever she can because she sees an overall trend in today’s crew structure. “We are a work group that is aging out. If you look on shows and you look around at the average age, you see that age rising and rising as far as broadcast technicians in live remote situations.” She realizes that due to the physical and mental capacity of production work, younger people are not wanting to get into the business of sports and live shows. “The business is changing a lot, so it’s changing how the opportunities are available.”
Listen in this week as Stephen and Clem get a unique perspective from Melissa Ward as she speaks her truth about being a working mom, adapting to the changes in live sports, and prioritizing life along the way.