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Gary Striewski in front of a SportsCenter logo

So you want to host SportsCenter?

ESPN's Gary Striewski shares his strategy for capitalizing on opportunity before it’s back-back-back ... gone.

January 21, 2019

By Cory Phare

The set lights go up.

The theme song culminates in its familiar refrain: Da-Da-Da, Da-Da-Da.

Gary Striewski is live.

“Hosting ESPN’s ‘SportsCenter’ has been my dream since sixth grade,” he said. “And though I’ve never been so nervous, it’s something I’ve prepared my whole life for.”

Gary Striewski (left) grew up watching ESPN
Gary Striewski (left) grew up watching ESPN's "SportsCenter" on television; on Nov. 24, 2018, he hosted it for the first time. He sits here behind the legendary desk with co-host Jay Harris to his right. Photo courtesy ESPN.

Snapchat springboard 

Two million views per episode. Over a quarter billion total last year.

Those are some of the stratospheric stats from ESPN’s Snapchat channel, one of several platforms Striewski has a hand in steering for the international sports-media company – and his springboard to "SportsCenter" this past holiday season.

“The (Snapchat) numbers are incredible; the engagement is on a whole other level,” said the 2010 graduate of Metropolitan State University of Denver. “I still try to make it a point to interact with everyone, though.”

Going the extra mile has served Striewski well throughout his career, whether responding to fans on Snapchat or flying 3,300 miles round-trip to work weekends at The Worldwide Leader in Sports.

In 2018, he was co-hosting a morning show in the Dallas-Fort Worth market when ESPN came calling, looking for help with their newly launched Snapchat channel. Eager for the challenge, he flew to ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut, every Friday to work weekends, jetting back to Texas in time to be on air Monday morning.

That’s how he got his foot in the door. Now he’s ESPN’s most familiar face on Snapchat.

His rise via social media is one example of how the media industry continues to evolve ever faster, almost unrecognizable to what it looked like just recently.

“If you asked me even one or two years ago, I would’ve scoffed if you said I’d be here now – I was a TV guy,” Striewski said. “But this is the way the viewership of the future consumes content. Every outlet and employee needs to be able to roll with it.”

Striewski interviews Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray. Photo courtesy ESPN
Striewski interviews Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray. Photo courtesy ESPN

Real-world connection

The two-way nature of contemporary digital distribution has flattened structures for how people access and make media.

“Content creation is a lot more egalitarian,” said Sam Jay, Ph.D., assistant professor of communication at MSU Denver. “If you’ve got a smartphone, there’s the potential to do so much you weren’t able to do before.

“That’s the beauty – if you’re talented, there’s more potential than ever to get recognized for it today.”

For Striewski, the real-world education at MSU Denver was "... a heck of a start – and one of the best decisions of my life."

The imperative shifts to critical analysis of information, Jay said, noting that such analysis is an arena in which the University is well-positioned to add value. Interactive platforms afford opportunities for an audience to provide immediate feedback to what used to be monolithic institutions. That rapid-fire feedback helps fuel analytic-driven and -delivered programming in an increasingly global broadcast arena: Are you a cricket fan in Craig? If you’ve got an internet connection, you can follow along.

Platforms such as Snapchat differ from television, where “you can’t hear when they yell at you,” Striewski said. He credited his ability to react to the interactive elements of such media in part to his education at MSU Denver, where in 2008 one of his professors had students sign up for a just-launched platform called Twitter.

“My experience there gave me a great real-world connection to set up my career,” he said. “That’s a heck of a start – and one of the best decisions of my life.”

But Snapchat is just the tip of the interactive iceberg, Striewski said. Other modern technological advancements in sports coverage he's watching include Twitter’s introduction of iso-cams that will allow viewers to focus coverage on individual players of their choosing. Or Fenway Park’s virtual-reality dugout and batting cage where you can step up to the plate to see if you can recapture your Little League form.

“Never say no to an opportunity." ESPN Sports Center host Striewski has followed opportunity from Thornton Middle School to MSU Denver to The Worldwide Leader in Sports. Photo by Sara Hertwig.
“Never say no to an opportunity." ESPN Sports Center host Striewski has followed opportunity from Thornton Middle School to MSU Denver to The Worldwide Leader in Sports. Photo by Sara Hertwig.

Opportunity knocks

So, how does one get from the Denver suburb of Thornton to the big show?

Reading helped him become more well-spoken, Striewski said, and being open to opinions and coaching were key factors in growing as an on-air personality. Honing one’s own unique voice is key, he added, and in today’s always-on environment, it’s more important than ever to not do something that might come back to haunt you later.

Above all else: “Never say no to an opportunity.

“If you do, there’s always 150 people behind you just waiting to take their shot at it. It’s up to you to take that break and turn it into something big.”

The path to ESPN was a long and winding one for the former Roadrunner.

Striewski launched his broadcast career making public-address announcements at Thornton Middle School. At MSU Denver, he worked with Met Media and interned at local Fox affiliate KDVR with sports anchor Chris Tanaka, a mentor he stays in touch with to this day. Postgraduation, Striewski cut his TV teeth at a CBS affiliate in Cheyenne, Wyoming; earned an Emmy for his work as a Red Sox sideline reporter at New England Sports Network; and woke up at 2:30 a.m. to co-host "Morning Dose" on Dallas-Ft. Worth CW affiliate KDAF

Looking back, though, it’s a road that makes sense when you know where you’ve come from – and trust that you have what it takes to get where you're going.

Who knows? It might even lead you to hosting “SportsCenter,” following in the footsteps of luminaries such as Stuart Scott, Kenny Mayne and Scott Van Pelt, people that you grew up watching on a screen as a kid. 

And you’ll be ready for it.

“Once those lights came up and the music was playing, those nerves were gone,” Striewski said. “It was a moment that was 20 years in the making.”

 


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