Getting a job on the telly is a dream job, but an incredibly tough one to land. Getting a job talking about sport on the telly, meanwhile, is much, much harder. And if you want to be a woman on TV, talking about sport, you’re basically out of luck.
Well, that’s not quite true. Nearly 10 years ago, a 21-year-old Rebecca Lowe entered a major BBC talent search on the off-chance. She beat the odds to score a sixth-month presenting gig, and a decade later she’s the face of ESPN’s football coverage in this country. How did she come so far so fast?
“I’d planned on being an actress,” she admits. “My mother was an actress, and that was all I was going to do. Then a friend of mine gave me a leaflet for the BBC talent search. I just thought ‘Oh, I’ll apply for this’ and didn’t think anything of it.”
She makes what must have been a gruelling process sound so simple – she filled in a (12-page!) form and got through to the next few rounds, and then the final, where ‘it was suddenly getting a bit serious!’. She got the job after a day of practical trials at Television Centre, and stayed with the BBC for four-and-a-half years, before moving to Setanta and finally stopping at ESPN.
A typical day’s work doesn’t exist; football moves so fast that a presenter’s job is rarely office-bound. For instance, on the day of the interview, Rebecca was on her way to Wembley to cover a glamour clash between Wembley and Uxbridge in the preliminary round of the FA Cup. Her work for that was mostly preparatory research, which means a lot of time spent in the car.
“I spent a lot of yesterday reading statistics for both teams, so I’m fully knowledgeable about the stories of the game – players’ backgrounds, what’s at stake and all of that,” she says.
“We’ve only got a 15-minute build-up, so I haven’t got a huge amount to do, but I’m with Chris Waddle this evening, so I’ve had a think about my questions and what topics I want to cover.”
That day’s coverage was hard work; a morning of intensive preparation, followed by a two-hour car journey. The broadcast didn’t finish until past 10pm, and that was followed by a long trip home. But even this pales into comparison with the work she’ll have to do for a big game up north. Friday night will be spent in a hotel room with a laptop: “I have to make sure I know absolutely every last statistic about all the players. I get a stats pack from our researchers – it’s about 100 pages long.”
Despite the workload, she loves the job: “every day is different,” she says. “The variety [of teams she sees] keeps me on my toes – so I need to know about a lot of different subjects.”
“The other thing with football is that people love it,” she adds. “I’m really lucky to work in an industry that people see as something so special.”
How to get the job
So the big question is – how should a budding young sports reporter go about getting into such a tricky industry?
“I would say ‘be prepared to start from the bottom’ – because you have to learn everything,” she says. “There’s no doing it quickly. The thing about sports broadcasting is that you are learning all the time. I’m still learning loads, and I’m ten years in!”
“When I won the competition I had a lot of shadowing and following and listening.”
She values work experience, too: “Before the competition, I actually worked for TalkSport radio, literally making tea and answering the phone. That was work experience – which was supposed to be two weeks long, but it lasted two months and then it turned into a job.”
Unfortunately though, work experience usually means working for free.
“If you can possibly, possibly find a way that you can work for free – maybe do an evening job as well, because that’s what you have to do these days – you should do that,” she says. “It gets your foot in the door, and it shows you’ve got a work ethic, which is really important. If you work for free and you’re good enough, then they’re not going to want to let you go and they will start paying you.”
“I also advise you to try and contact as many people as you can. Send your CV, send your showreel, send your audio tape, whatever it is, and follow it up. Be persistent. A good friend of mine sent a showreel to a producer every day for a week, with a different chocolate bar in the envelope. It made her look unique, and it made the guy laugh, and she ended up getting a job. You’ve got to do something different to get noticed, because it is so competitive.”
“The last thing I would say is: know your subject as best you can. Knowledge and research is crucial in an industry like this. Everyone knows a lot, and you’ve got to know a lot as well.”
ESPN football TV presenter Rebecca Lowe is a judge on the broadcaster’s and FA Women’s Super League search for a new sports TV reporter. The winner will present their own TV report for ESPN. For more information on how to enter the competition, please visit www.FAWSL.com