INTERVIEW WITH PAM CHVOTKIN, ESPN PRODUCTION/OPS ASSISTANT AND BOOTH COORDINATOR
November 12, 2015
ESPN’s Pam Chvotkin, ESPN Production/Ops Assistant and Booth Coordinator
Pam Chvotkin started with ESPN early on in her career, and has learned the ways of making sure things are done perfectly, every time. Chvotkin sat down with the FBA’s Jordan Hendricks to discuss college football bowl games from a broadcast production standpoint.
Jordan Hendricks: How did your previous career opportunities prepare you for your role at ESPN?
Pam Chvotkin: “Since I started early with ESPN, they became the foundation on which to learn. All networks provided that opportunity, but it was up to me to figure out how to use it to my advantage. It was important that with every role I had, I wanted to learn more about it and about the roles of the people I was working with. Whenever and if ever there was downtime or a break to eat, I would pick the brains of those around me. It was extremely helpful in ensuring the broadcast would run smoothly. I felt that by knowing more about each of the roles that it would help me understand what they can use me for and how I can help them accomplish our main goals. Each sport is different, each operations team is different. From a remote/on-site perspective, thinking on your feet is key, as is learning how to trouble-shoot when things go wrong (which they will.) Live television gives us in production zero room for error. We need to get it right perfectly each time. Things are always going to go wrong, so it’s vital to have plans B, C, D, and E in place when it does.“
How has college football’s landscape changed since you started?
“Contrary to popular belief, the landscape of college football is one big carousel fueled by money. Many people feel that with the changes of conferences it has more to do with politics and the extreme hatred between rivalries. Not the case. With the new conferences comes new ways of recruiting. The landscape has also changed from a broadcast perspective since most of the power conferences have their own networks. It allows for more exposure to not only the university from an athletics perspective, but offers a new platform on the academic side as well. In addition to broadcast coverage, social media has changed the landscape almost on an entirely new level. The content networks are now able to provide to an audience is amazing. It’s a great time to be a sports fan. “
How has ESPN’s coverage of the bowls progressed over the years?
“The battle for broadcast rights continue as more sponsorship leads to more opportunities for teams to become “bowl eligible” and play in a game post-season. ESPN Events alone now owns and operates thirteen post-season bowl games in addition to covering other major bowl games including the second year of the College football playoff. Transitioning from the BCS to the College football playoff hasn’t been without challenges. I am looking forward to seeing what each network has in store as the talent from each of the Division-I football programs start to increase.“
What is one of your favorite memories of working at ESPN during a bowl game?
“The agony of defeat, the joy of victory, and the traditions and celebrations that are laced throughout. Bowl games are played on neutral sites to eliminate any type of disadvantage to both teams. It’s really cool to see how athletic departments set up pep rallies, tailgates and have fans travel and support teams, some traveling hundreds of miles away. College football is thriving. The best part of my job is to hear the calls announcers make, and getting to see the behind-the-scenes moments from players, coaches, and families that doesn’t always make a broadcast. The energy you feel in a stadium for events like those are what drive me to want to continue this journey.“
What challenges do you see the transition to a playoff system creating for college football in the future?
“The challenges I see is the unfair advantages one school might gain over another. Undefeated teams will have controversy if they don’t get a coveted spot in the playoffs to a team that has lost one game or two. There are a lot of factors still needed to be worked out, including conference allegiencies. We are just in year two. Expect changes to continue.”
In your opinion, what is the most important thing that people should know about the bowl games?
“Bowl games gives fans opportunities to see them against a team they would not normally face. An awesome match-up between two schools providing fans with a unique experience in a different setting. Not only is it great for the university, it’s great for the title sponsor and the stadium the game is being played. It brings new revenue to a different city as well. One might say there would be too many bowls, but in my opinion, there can never be enough college football.”
What do you believe is the greatest contribution that bowl games give to the communities that they are involved with?
“Revenue opportunities to the cities and stadiums the games are being played in! It’s important to understand that college football is also a business and brands want to get in on success in sports.“
What are some of the challenges for producers and their crews when producing a bowl game?
“Learning a new environment is always a challenge. Operation managers will do site surveys to assess what is needed at certain stadiums to accommodate the needs of a broadcast. Often, the games are played at unique venues that aren’t regularly used during the season, so attention to detail is an important part when getting ready to set up and broadcast a game correctly. This also means having a great crew that is quick-thinking and great at their positions to troubleshoot issues early and as needed to ensure a seamless broadcast.“
What are the bowl system’s strengths? What areas need improvement?
“Again, with the new college football playoff system, the idea is to make it more of a fair advantage to those teams who exhibit the best caliber of football possible. I would personally like to see eight teams in a playoff rather than four, but I agree that this system works more effectively than the BCS system did. Many criticisms include the subjective element of the selection process. This includes basing team rankings on specific metrics like strength of schedule and specific power conference, as opposed to basing rankings on a team’s on-the-field performance recorded by their win-loss record. We are just in year two. I definitely see more changes coming for the college football playoff. I would like to see negotiations made between the college football playoff and the NCAA in the future. Currently, the playoff is not an officially sanctioned championship event by the NCAA, the sport’s governing body. Because of this, Division I FBS football is the only NCAA sport in which a yearly champion is not determined by an NCAA championship event and an official NCAA National Championship is not given. “
Making all bowl games relevant is one of the challenges for the Football Bowl Association. From a branding and recognition standpoint, what can be done so that football fans see all the bowls as being important in the different communities they serve?
“Revenue and help with the local economies will help with this question. Brands see bowl games as golden opportunities to get their message out to a audience who crave something we can all relate to, college football. It doesn’t matter who is necessarily playing, but the opportunities these bowl games provide will continue to help all local businesses from a tourism and hospitality perspective to the university exposure on the athletics side to open the door for its academic programs. Not only does the new city benefit, the school and the athletic program does, too. From a conference perspective, Individual conferences receive large sums of money when their teams appear in post-season bowl games. Within the conferences themselves, most of the post-season conference revenue is usually spread evenly among the conferences’ individual teams – even those teams that did not qualify for bowl games. Bottom line, college football postseason bowl games are great entertainment, and can be a domino effect of who and what those games can benefit. It will only continue to grow. “