Want to work in sports media? Here’s how to make a start

BBC Sports' Ben Gallop shares some top tips.

Ben Gallop, Head of Radio and Digital at BBC Sport, is speaking at NME’s next #Lifehacks event with University of Salford. Titled ‘The Future of Storytelling’, his one-on-one conversation with NME’s Nick Levine will take place at Constellations in Liverpool on Monday (March 5). Ahead of the event, we spoke to Ben to find out more about working in sports media.

You’re Head of Radio and Digital at BBC Sport. What does your day-to-day job actually involve?
“I oversee the bits of BBC Sport that I suppose are the ‘always on’ services. If you think of what we do on TV, that comes and goes depending on what rights we have. There’ll be Match of the Day, there’ll be things like the Winter Olympics popping up. But our radio and digital services are always there 24/7. Our website is our first point of contact with the audience, and we also have continuous sports coverage on BBC Radio 5 Live. I oversee those two areas and manage the teams that produce that content, whether they’re commentators out in the field reporting on matches, or people in the office producing the website. Working with the team around me I set the strategy for what we’re trying to achieve in these areas, and understanding the audience is key to that because we’re a public service broadcaster and we’re non-commercial. The key thing for us is to be as relevant to our audience as we can possibly be.”

BBC Sport produces so much content, and obviously there are always so many different sporting events going on. Do you have to have really on-point organisational skills to do your job?
“Yes, but obviously I don’t have to do it all on my own! Having on-point organisational skills is definitely a skill set that’s shared around a very large and effective team. I’m not going to pretend I’m sitting there pulling all the strings on how it all works! My job is very much about trusting brilliant people to get on and do amazing work. The privilege of working for a big organisation like the BBC is you have a great support system, so you can focus on really doing the job properly.”

What do you look for in young people who want to do work experience or some kind of internship with you?
“I’d want to see people that are definitely enthused and passionate about working in the sports media. It’s surprising actually that we sometimes see people who don’t really give off that vibe. Maybe it’s a presentational point, actually. It’s important for people to really sell themselves and give off that sense of keenness to get on and do great things. We’re also looking for people who are media-literate and who really understand where the industry is going and have a very sure sense of what the audience wants. It’s surprising how many people in the media see things through their own perspective rather than the wider audience. It’s important to think, ‘I’m not just doing this for me and people like me, this is about how we can reach as broad an audience as we possibly can.’

How can someone improve their understanding of what a broader audience wants?
“I’m not expecting people to be experts in audience research, obviously. It’s just about being open-minded to the way that other people are consuming media and the kind of things that interest them. So, spending time looking around and seeing what else is out there is important. The people that I think will really get on [in the media] are the ones who can step away from their own content bubble and see what’s going on around them. It’s about a mindset. If like me you’re a Tottenham fan, don’t just communicate with other Tottenham fans, because you know what, you’re going to get a particular set of views that way. Go and see what the Arsenal things are thinking. Being open-minded is so important in the media.

If someone wants to work in the media, but isn’t sure what area they’re interested, what advice would you give them when it comes to picking a university course?
“You know, it’s not a particularly vocational industry. It’s not like law or medicine where if you don’t have the right qualifications, you can’t get in the door. Someone could study Law or Biology but still have all the skills needed to get into the media. However, I do think in recent years the quality of the media courses is getting better and better. So people are developing the right kind of skills and experience on their courses. I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen close at hand at Salford University; they’re been doing great things on their media and journalism courses. But I didn’t do a course like that, I did a Politics and History degree. It’s not directly relevant to the sports media, but the skills I picked up there were relevant: the ability to take on a lot of information and distill it, and tell stories succinctly, and make it engaging to the reader or listener, are the same kind of skills you need in the media. The key thing is to show that you’re keen and you care, which involves a lot of extra-curricular activity. The joy of the digital world is that this kind of technology is at people’s fingertips now, so I’m always encouraging people to experiment, really.”

‘The Future of Storytelling’ panel takes place Monday, March 5 at Constellations in Liverpool. Check back on NME.com afterwards for edited content from the event.

#LifeHacks is on tour with University of Salford. After bringing The Business of Music event to The Lowry in Salford, we’ll be hosting further events in different cities around the UK, all aimed at helping young people to pursue careers in the creative industries. For further information about NME #Lifehacks in partnership with University of Salford, visit NME.com/Lifehacks.