I love live sports: the atmosphere, the emotions of the players, the energy of the crowd, free t-shirts, stadium hotdogs, you name it. There’s something special about watching sports in person, a luxury we don’t have right now.
While we all are feeling the impact of life without live sports, let’s take a look at the elements and people that make live sports so much fun.
Depending on the team, league, or organization, this group of people falls into the category called Game Day Presentation, Special Events, Fan Experience, or Sports Presentation. They’re responsible for making the game-day experience for fans something that is fun, enjoyable and most importantly memorable.
These are the people that coordinate the music you hear between points, the videos, ads, and fan cams on the giant screen, the fan games you see on the playing field whether it’s a 3-point contest or relay race. They coordinate the amazing half-time shows from kid jugglers to flying dogs and acrobats.
Their sole purpose is to put on a show around the sport and get the fans involved in the game-day experience. If you’ve ever caught a t-shirt thrown into the crowd, that's game day presentation. If you’ve done the Wave, that’s game day presentation. If you’ve ever been embarrassed by the kiss cam focusing on you and your sibling, that’s game day presentation.
I only discovered this avenue for a career in sports back in 2014, but when I look back at some of my favorite memories watching live sports in person, it usually is because of game day presentation.
I can still recount when my high school team went to watch a women’s basketball game. My dad and my friend’s mom were put up on the big screen with the kiss cam and hilarity ensued as my dad pretended to give her a kiss on the cheek and she was not willing to play along. We were a part of game day presentation.
So let’s meet the team behind the fun, suspense, and drama around a live sporting event.
The Producer/Showcaller — They’re the director of the show, cue-ing everything that happens. Usually, there’s a Run of Show or script that the team will follow, but live sports can always go off script so there’s an element of flexibility. You’ll rarely see the producer, usually sitting up in a booth above the action or down courtside near the scorer’s table. They’ll be on a headset and as the captain of the ship, they’re the ones letting everyone know what is happening and when.
The MC — This is probably one of the more memorable people who are a part of the game day presentation as they’re the person you’ll see the most as a fan. They’ll be featured on the big screen, leading the crowd through different fan activities, cheers, and chants. They’re adding color commentary to the game or getting the crowd pumped and excited at the right moment.
The DJ — They keep the energy high at the competition, timing the right music to the breaks in play while also managing the crowd’s energy. They play the classic sports songs you expect like Sweet Caroline and YMCA while also adding in their personal flair to keep you dancing and singing along.
The Talent — This can include everything from musical guests to acrobats to almost any kind of half-time act. It also includes cheer and dance teams that entertain fans at timeouts and breaks along with the breath-taking national anthem singers. We’ve seen everything from dogs and their trainers to a woman unicycling with bowls on her head. You want something that will surprise and delight and it feels like every year the bar is raised for what that means.
The Mascot — The usual fan-favorite of the bunch, the mascot is the face for the team or competition. Kids of all ages (and adults) usually want photos when they meet the team’s mascot. They are also my personal favorite of the game day presentation team because they are just so entertaining. Each mascot has a personality and quirks and there’s nothing funnier than watching the Oregon Duck play with his Buzz Lightyear and Woody toys on the sideline of a high stakes basketball game or the Philadelphia Phanatic shake his belly in time to the music.
The Stage Managers— This is the team that acts as the extra hands of the producer. Usually staged off to the sides of the playing field, they’re helping pick fans from the crowd, staging props to use in fan games on the field, and wrangling the mascots. They also work to prep prizes for fans (the fun part if you’re a fan). You’ll see them just outside the camera shot on the court or field, wearing large headsets and clipboards.
Jumbotron/Giant Screen Operator — There’s usually a person or multiple people controlling the huge screen you see above or near the field of play. The screen showcases live shots of the game, videos from sponsors, and my personal favorite, fan cams. They’re making sure you have something visually appealing no matter if you’re in the front row or the nosebleeds.
LED Board Operator — LED boards often surround competition fields, in soccer, basketball, volleyball, and even gymnastics. Frequently used for a rotation of sponsor advertisements, they can also be used in fan engagement — displaying chants for the crowd or national flags during anthems or post-game celebrations. There is someone who’s controlling the different graphics and making sure they’re shown in the right order and at the right time.
Light Operator — During most sports competitions, the lights have to all be on and static. But when there are breaks in the play or pre or post-game, the light operator gets to have some fun. This is one of my favorite ways to elevate an in-game experience. A well-used blackout and spotlights paired with dramatic music in a pre-game introduction always give me chills.
Cameramen — Often the unsung heroes of the team, cameramen for the in-house entertainment are focused on capturing the MC and talent in action, while also bringing in the fans for fan cams or real-time reactions. They’re constantly looking for engaging and fun fans to showcase on the big screen. Everyone loves their moment in the spotlight and these are the men and women who make it happen.
I’ve worked as a stage manager and a producer on various game day presentation teams in China, the US, and the Phillippines. It takes a village to put on an entertaining game-day experience but I can’t wait until we’re able to celebrate the joy of live sports again. In the meantime, let’s all practice our dance cam skills from home so we can be like this guy at our next game:
Logan is a freelance event manager and to-do list maker. She loves reading and listening to podcasts, which she credits for her interest in writing and telling stories. After five years in China, she relocated to Seattle, WA where she continues to drink too many cups of coffee, explore becoming a bobsled driver, and search for the best local food (in Shanghai, it’s jianbing — a Chinese breakfast pancake — yum). Connect with Logan on Instagram and LinkedIn.