By Sean Sanbeg (Email Sean at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
SC Staff Writer
Every journalist thinks about the big picture, and there’s no bigger picture than getting press credentials for a major sporting event. After getting the go ahead from The Stroud Courier and members of the New Jersey Devils’ public relations department, I finally had my shot. However, this wasn’t just the local sports team looking for some publicity. I may have found myself in pretty high over my head, but the experience was something I’ll likely never forget.
Two days before the New Jersey Devils and St. Louis Blues squared off at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ, the idea was proposed to me that I try to get press credentials for the game. I figured what is there to lose? I already bought a ticket, as I was following up on another story at the time, but I didn’t think I’d be able to get full press access.
Let’s face it; the articles I’ve written so far have been confidence builders – cans of corn in the sporting world. Local stories are easy to write because if you put the work i n, there’s almost always someone willing to talk to you. But what I quickly found out was that the press isn’t a friendly face behind the scenes. Public Relations spokesmen smelled blood in the water, and they took advantage of it.
Now I had already bought a ticket to the Devils/Blues game because, while I’m not a fan of either team, a hockey fan can’t turn down $30 tickets. So I went wearing my business best, hoping the credentials lived up to my expectations. And they did.
When I walked in the press entrance on Mulberry Street, a welcoming face told me, “You can’t come in here. You have to go in the front entrance with everyone else.” But once I told them I was there for press credentials and had that oh-so-powerful lanyard around my neck, an actual welcoming person gave me a tour of the press area and showed me where to go. I grabbed stat sheets and depth charts and started familiarizing myself with the teams in an attempt to look like I knew what I was doing. I knew a lot of the information already, but since I don’t really follow the Devils that much, there was some new information. Martin Brodeur, the Devils’ goaltender who I had hoped to see for my article, was not playing.
Once the reporters made their way up into press row, I started to see how I stood out. I felt excited and nervous while still feeling like a fan seeing a good hockey game. As I looked around at everyone else, they were acting like this was the millionth hockey game they’ve seen. Most were working with laptops and eyeing up the TV monitors while some engaged each other in conversation. The excitement seemed to evade them, like watching hockey was now a chore.
During the first period, I scribbled down statistics like a mad man. None were really relevant to my original story, but I did it anyway.
When the first intermission came around, a member of the arena’s staff handed out first period stat sheets, continuing to prove that I had a lot to learn. The rest of the game went by with continuing enthusiasm from my fellow reporters, who seemed more interested in their free popcorn than the game that just went into overtime.
When the game finally ended (T.J. Oshie won the game for the Blues in a shootout), I got up to follow the parade of reporters to the Devils’ locker room. I could only help thinking, “I bet I’ll get lost and miss everything.” Five minutes later, I was on the wrong floor of the Prudential Center and had no idea where I was.
Flashing my lanyard, I walked wherever I pleased. I figured the worst thing they could do was tell me to leave, which I’d be doing anyway. I found the room of the post-game press conference, the Blues’ locker room, and the door to the ice before finding my way, but I eventually got to the Devils’ locker room.
The image was surreal. Not many hockey fans get to say they stood in a team’s locker room, but there I was. Before I could get too excited, I noticed the room was empty aside from a few lingering reporters and a member of the equipment personnel. After surveying the lockers, I confirmed that Brodeur was not there.
Turning to the equipment worker, I tried to get his attention. After three tries, he finally turned to face me. When asked for Brodeur’s location, he promptly responded, “I don’t know, and I don’t know anything else either.”
Then the PR representative came over to me, looking me over like I’m about to rob him. “Can I help you?” When I told him I was looking for Brodeur, he quickly informed me that he wasn’t there, wasn’t available, and wasn’t an option. When I asked to speak to a trainer, he looked at me like I asked a tyrant for world peace. “Trainers don’t talk to the press,” he chuckled, amused by my lack of experience. I put my foot down and rose to meet his intensity. Seeing I was serious, he informed me that I should be trying to come to a practice for my story, not asking about it on game day. I took one last look around the locker room and left.
I may not have got my original story out of that night, but it was probably the best learning experience of my young career. Reporters need a tough skin, and I learned that I had one. I earned knowledgeable experience throughout the night, and got to see things many fans would be jealous of. But most importantly, I know that unlike the reporters dripping with boredom, I found something worth doing. I encourage every one of you to do the same.