The following summary was compiled by Columbia student Kelly Carroll, timely given the end of Copa America and the growth of soccer into what promises to be another landmark summer for the sport in the United States…
This post is another in a series from the Columbia University Sports Podcast, a 360-degree view of the sports business from the people leading it. Each podcast is approximately 35–45 minutes in length, and features industry insiders from all aspects of the business—from brand executives to startup founders to former MLB players—all talking about their work, the current state of the sports industry, and, more importantly, the future of the field.
Tina Cervasio, a jack-of-all-trades sports journalist currently working for ESPN, CBS Sports, the Big Ten Network, and more, recently sat down to talk with us about her career. She shared her greatest influences, her start in the business, and her perspective on what has (and hasn’t) changed in sports journalism during the past two decades.
New Jersey Night Lights: Cervasio’s love of sports came early in life. Her father, a former Cornell football player, lit the first spark; an extended family of coaches and educators set fuel to the fire. As a kid, Cervasio would travel up and down the East Coast with her family to catch football games: Friday nights were set aside for high school football, Saturdays for college football, and Sundays for the New York Giants. “It created conversation and built familial relationships,” she says. A gymnast, cheerleader, and runner in high school (Cervasio continues to pursue marathon running), she stayed close to sports in college as a student manager for the University of Maryland’s women’s soccer team. She set up their summer camps, managed player progress, and travelled with the team. Cervasio also gained insights from head coach April Heinrichs and assistant coach Jill Ellis, who both went on to coach the U.S. Women’s National Team. “While I didn’t compete at a Division I collegiate level obviously in sports, I really lived the life as a college athlete,” Cervasio says. “I saw what it took to be that and become great.”
Too New York: After graduating from the University of Maryland, Cervasio put that athlete mentality to good use, kick-starting her career through hustle, drive, and determination. “The thing about graduating with a journalism degree,” she says, “you don’t walk out of college and come off campus with your diploma and you’re a sports broadcaster. It doesn’t happen like that.” In an effort to “pay the bills and become an adult,” Cervasio worked for the local news in New Jersey, became a teacher, and earned a production job that required a 40-miles-one-way commute to Long Island. She quickly moved from logging games to coordinating highlights to writing scripts…and then her station closed down. Cervasio lost her job, but the experience she gained proved invaluable in a field that requires multitaskers. Another asset? Being a New Jersey native. When applying for broadcast jobs in small markets, Cervasio was constantly told she was “too New York.” That New York-ness later helped her land jobs in the country’s largest media market. “That’s a compliment,” she says.
Observe. Learn. Network: For Cervasio, firsthand knowledge and observation is essential to becoming successful in one’s chosen field. Despite already having a job working the overnight shift at WFAN radio in the early 2000s, she also served as a runner at both Giants Stadium and Yankee Stadium, putting her right in the thick of major sports broadcast productions. For $50 a day, Cervasio would leave the radio station at 6 a.m. and head straight to her runner job, a move many others thought was crazy. “I want to see how a live game broadcast is produced and what your talent does,” she would tell her naysayers. It was as a runner that Cervasio gained access to two of her career mentors: former NFL players turned broadcasters Brian Baldinger and Spencer Tillman.
Covering bad seasons: For many New Englanders, being a Red Sox reporter on NESN is the ultimate dream job, and Cervasio had it in the mid-2000s. She covered a World Series, Clay Buchholz’s no-hitter, and the fevered arrival of Daisuke Matsuzaka. As a native of the New York metro area, however, Cervasio longed to return to her roots. The opportunity to do so required a drastic change from covering what was, at the time, an extremely successful Red Sox organization—serving as a sideline reporter for the New York Knicks. Through a period of ups and downs, Cervasio eventually found herself covering the Knicks’ dreadful 17-win season. But as she has learned throughout her career, good reporting doesn’t arise from triumphs only. “You find ways to cover stories,” Cervasio says. “I looked for the positive because that’s who I am.”
Constantly evolving: Cervasio’s career has spanned 20 years, and she has been a witness to drastic changes in the media landscape, particularly in the job market and in social media. Where once full-time jobs seemed common, she says, freelancers make up a lot of the sports journalism workforce today. Cervasio herself carries six freelancing jobs at one time—for ESPN2 and CBS Sports Network broadcasts of the Arena Football League, for FOX 5 New York, for the Big Ten Network’s college football games, for the New York Red Bulls, and for ONE World Sports, where she hosts New York Cosmos broadcasts and NASL This Week. Social media, she adds, has given so much power to athletes and teams to portray their brands and tell their stories, once the sole purview of sports journalism outlets. Ever the adapter, Cervasio has molded herself to the times, focusing on the fundamental aspects of her job that do not change. “The teams and the players and the games never go away,” she says.
These were just some of the topics we discussed with Cervasio. The entire podcast, number 13 in the series, can be heard here.