They have had a pretty amazing two year run, those Super Bowl bound Seattle Seahawks. One of the things that has made the run so impressive has been the change of culture on and off the field, starting with owner Paul Allen through to head coach Pete Carroll. That change is also seen in the management team, which always seems to be innovative, fun loving, creative and hard working. We caught up with a front office member we know, Assistant Director of Broadcasting Brian O’Connell, to ask about life in Seattle after an interesting career that went from being a student at Villanova to an intern and ticket employee at the 76ers, to stops with the Flyers, Arizona Cardinals and Sounders, to his role on the broadcast side of the Seahawks, where he sits in the amazing position of being around the world’s biggest event for a second straight year.
We asked Brian about the Seahawks innovative brand, the culture, and life with the Champions.
The Seahawks and Sounders have built a sports culture in Seattle that is very unique, what is it like being part of it?
It was a very unique situation for the 5 ½ years that the clubs were together with their JOA (Joint Operating Agreement). There are so few opportunities in sports where you can look at something and say everything that it has become is because of this small group of people. We were there from the start and we’ve made it what it is. The Sounders chose to not renew the JOA this past May, so I imagine this off-season will feel a little odd since I’ve been pulling double-duty for the better part of my children’s (2 & 6) lives. It will be nice to have an off-season and get to spend some extra time with them. I will miss being part of both clubs and look forward to taking in some matches this upcoming season.
How much time do you devote to each team and what are the different tasks you have for each?
While the clubs were together it was pretty much a 50/50 split. I oversaw the TV productions as the Executive Producer for both clubs as well as managing their respective budgets. With all of the NFL’s regular season games on Network television, I had the opportunity to sink my teeth into more TV game production with Sounders FC. Between August and November, when the clubs overlapped, it made for some interesting times as I could be on the road with the Seahawks but watching a Sounders broadcast in my hotel room online.
How is each teams approach to their fans through media different in regard to your work?
Many of the Seahawks philosophies were applied to Sounders FC. We never looked at the Sounders as a MLS franchise, we approached them as a global brand and applied that outlook to everything we did. We wanted viewers in Europe and South America to watch our broadcasts and feel they were up to standard. Also, starting a franchise from scratch we never “broadcasted down” to new viewers. I remember Larry Tiscornia (MLS’ VP of Broadcasting) saying at the MLS TV seminar a year before we launched that “you never hear a golf announcer explain what a birdie is”, so we shouldn’t do the comparable in our shows. That stuck with me and helped shape how we did things. The Sounders went after the European soccer fans in Seattle prior to its launch and had to deliver a product that they would embrace.
You have a pretty unique role yourself come Super Bowl time. Tell us your role during the Super Bowl and how it came about?
I’ve had an incredible opportunity to work six (6) Super Bowls for the NFL, in addition to the three (3) that the Seahawks have participated. Those Super Bowls which I worked for the NFL, I helped coordinate Radio Row. My first Super Bowl, SB 39 in Jacksonville, was the 1st where Radio Row started to grow beyond just a “Radio” area. In addition to Mike and the Mad Dog’s simulcast, websites started doing video webcasts as well as it being the first year that NFL Network has a presence in Radio Row. Over the next ten Super Bowls it has become a true multi-media area. It’s an environment that is unique to itself; there are celebrities and athletes promoting their sponsors in “tonight show-type interviews” and over 100 radio stations chasing and stalking those athletes/celebrities to get them on their air. It can be really entertaining at times to watch as a bystander…
What is the biggest challenge you face in your daily job and how do you handle it?
When both clubs were together it was time management and prioritization. Last year after the Seahawks victory parade, I quickly switched gears with a soccer match just 3 weeks away. It was a great problem to have, but was a clear example of the workload we had with both clubs. There were times that I had to force myself to take time away because if you didn’t you could easily miss those opportunities.
How integrated is social media into all the broadcast components you oversee?
I’ve always had the philosophy that anything you incorporate to your broadcast should add to the viewer’s experience. I’ve gone around and around as to how to integrate Social Media while truly adding to the experience. Social Media is an incredible promotional vehicle and we use it extensively to promote our shows & broadcasts. We can give the viewer a behind the scenes look into what we do and some of our highest fan engagement comes from TV show promotions. Due to the production timetable of our Seahawks TV shows I find it difficult to fully integrate social media without it being forced, so we ask Coach Carroll a fan question, solicited from Twitter, in each of our Seahawks Saturday Night broadcasts. Ultimately, if you can’t do something right, leave it out…
Taking the Super Bowl win out of the equation, what is your best memory this far with the Sounders and the Seahawks?
My Seahawks non-Super Bowl memory has to be the day Warren Moon was elected into the Hall of Fame. One of my responsibilities leading up to Super Bowl 40 in Detroit was getting Warren, who was then and still is our radio analyst, in front of as many Hall of Fame voters during the club’s media sessions as possible. So when it was announced that he was voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, I could not be happier for my co-worker and friend.
Opening night for Sounders FC in 2009 was unlike anything I’ve experienced in sports. We were aware of how many people were going to be in the stands, but had no idea how incredible the atmosphere was going to be that Opening Night. I’ve heard people say that was as close to a European environment they’ve seen in America.