The Sports Demo Reel

"How can I produce the elements necessary for a good demo?"

 As high school and college students prepare for careers as sportscasters, whether in front of or behind the camera, this should be one of the central questions you ask yourself daily

Demo is short for demonstration—that is, a brief sampling of your abilities as a sportscaster. If you don't have a demo, how can you show a news director, sports executive, station manager, production manager, or other potential employer you can do the job? Aspiring television and radio sportscasters of all types need a demo. Certain "above the line" production personnel such as directors, producers, and some technical directors or editors occasionally require demos, while "below the line" personnel such as camera persons, audio technicians, and others often do not (more on demos for production folks later).

Generating Demo Material

The eternal paradox for those trying to break into sportscasting is generating examples of good work, even though you might have little or no professional experience. There are a02 Sports-Broadcasting number of ways to produce material for a demo at the high school or college level. They include, but are not limited to:

projects from regular coursework
student or community radio and television productions
any self-produced materials
work that is produced during internships

The projects you produce for college coursework or for television or radio stations that are student or community run could supply you with enough material for your demo. That material would include standups, reporter packages, anchor, play-by-play, sideline and/or sports talk segments. If not, you may have to improvise and produce demo-worthy material on your own. Aspiring reporters for both television and radio might attend certain events open to the public such as news conferences or "cover" hard news. In that case, be sure you are properly credentialed and that you inform all concerned—from club, school, or other personnel to the principals you are "covering"—that you're just doing this for your own demo. The same is true if you're generating material for a feature story or "covering" a sporting event.

Interns at local radio or television stations are often given the opportunity to produce work themselves, either for the station's air product or offline. Offline opportunities can come any number of ways. For example, if you're in the field with a station's reporter, see if you can't record a standup after the reporter is finished. Oftentimes before, after, or between news shows, interns will be allowed in a studio to record anchor segments. Production folks often have the opportunity to perform a whole host of hands-on duties.

Aspiring sports anchors and reporters will need access to equipment, including some combination of a camera, tripod, portable lights, microphone, digital recorder, audio/video editing software, and a studio to produce either audio or video work. High school or college undergrads should be able to use the equipment normally available to them for school or student station projects. Graduates might be able to go back to their alma maters and utilize their resources at little or no cost. Purchasing some or all of this equipment and studio time is always possible, but finances are often an understandable issue. Borrowing a camera from a friend might be a solution, although new and used so-called "prosumer" high definition cameras are available for reasonable prices. Local cable affiliates in your town, community or school district might be in a position to offer the use of their equipment and studio at little or no cost. If you can't get a studio, an anchor segment can be recorded in a basement with reasonable soundproofing in front of a green screen. Just add a "news set" in post-production using available software. Radio anchor/reporters can do the same thing, creating small studios at home with some well-placed soundproofing, a microphone, and editing software. Radio "sportscasts" can be scripted and recorded onto a computer.

Play-by-play broadcasters, with the permission of high school or college athletic directors or the public relations folks from sports teams, can take a digital recorder to an event and "broadcast it." And if you're denied a seat in the media area, just buy a cheap seat and sit somewhere in the stands where you hope you're not bothering other fans. Hey, in some cases, they might even like hearing your commentary!

Aspiring sports talk show hosts can create a program from scratch. Try to access studio time through your college radio station, (unless they already have a talk show that you can host), a station where you are an intern, or the local public or community radio station. Schedule times with friends and family to "call in" and ask a question or make a comment. If you don't have access to a studio, record a podcast with an in- home studio that can be created with a microphone, a little soundproofing, and a phone patch into your computer.

For those in production, much of what we've told the performance folks is true for you. Examples of your craft will come from coursework, student or community television and radio stations, or other material you can somehow generate on your own. To that end, finding opportunities to get experience other than school or internships is as simple as looking all around you. You can approach a little league, church league, or even the intramural program at your school. There are events happening virtually every night of the week at ball fields, gyms, or pools. Once you get permission from the right people and they know it's simply an internal, learning experience for you, just shoot and edit. You will only be limited by your imagination. Pick up the weekly paper in town and find the roller derby team or ballroom dancers or martial arts studio. The list of people who would welcome some form of production utilizing their content is virtually unlimited, although be sure to remind them this is just a teaching tool for you. For them, it will be like getting a haircut at a barber school. In some cases you might get a great haircut, while in other cases, well, you might not.

Once you have one of these volunteer projects in place, you will need to figure out what you are producing. Something small and manageable would probably work best. If you are working alone or with one or two other people, you should be very realistic about how much you can take on. This means you might try to produce highlights or a game story for one or two games, not an entire season of highlights. Use the opportunity to work whatever skill you are trying to improve. This might be camerawork, audio design, graphics, or a combination of several areas. Some examples of work produced would be an interview with B-roll of one of the players, an audio-only piece with sounds of the game, or a mini-documentary that follows a player or coach throughout their day of preparation for the big game and the game itself and short interview after the game. Again, the advice here is to be ambitious but realistic about what you can produce.

Your Work Must be Your Work

Whatever demo you decide to produce, whether you're talent or production, you personally need to be responsible for as much of the material as possible. Of course on a substantial television or radio production, others are expected to be involved. However, if you're an aspiring television or radio anchor/reporter, you should shoot all interviews and footage as well as script and edit any packages yourself That goes for the editing of the actual demo reel as well. News directors might ask you if you indeed did the shooting, scripting, and editing yourself because you will probably have to perform the same duties once you get the job. It's the same for play-by-play announcers who might have shooting or editing as attendant responsibilities.

While you're urged to produce demo material that is of the highest possible quality, do not use any material that is misrepresentative of your work. For example, if you're an intern at a station, don't take someone else's reporter package, add your voice or standup, and try to present it as your work. This is a form of plagiarism. If you're an intern and you use that station's studio set or microphone flag, make it clear you did the work as an intern and nothing more. Anything else is called lying.

All Demos

Regardless of what you want to highlight, whether you're on-camera or have behind-the-camera skills, tere are several aspects that relate to all demo reels:

If there is a glaring mistake on a particular element, even if the mistake was someone else's responsibility, you should leave the entire element out of your demo. While the mistake may not be yours, it may prove distracting. Furthermore, the prospective employer might infer that if you allow a sub-par element on your demo, your judgment might not be the best; that you might be willing to allow mistakes like the one in your demo to go out over the air

Speaking of other people, your demo is meant to highlight you and no one else. So, say you have a segment where you have a co-anchor, try to keep the on-camera segments to yours only (unless you have some interaction with your co-anchor where you have a starring role). Also, if you're an anchor leading into someone else's reporter package, just include the first few seconds and the last few seconds of that package before editing the next element in your demo

In the case of other demos—such as those for play-by-play, host, or sports talk—interaction with a partner or guest might be critical to displaying your skills in that area and should probably be included

Be ready at all times with individual demo elements filed in computer folders so you can custom-make a demo "on-demand" depending on the job description

Include a video slate with your pertinent contact information (name, email address, and phone number) at the front and end of your demo

If you don't have a .mov, mp3, or similar file, you can email a link to your demo from an online video service such as YouTube or Vimeo an online audio service such as Sound Cloud your own webpage 

While links are the recommended format, if you are producing a demo CD or DVD, neatly label both the disc and the box with your pertinent
contact information (there are plenty of CD/DVD labeling programs available)

Don't "over-do" the demo with enhancements like animated introductions, special effects between segments, or music beds. Let your work be
judged on its own merits

Again, don't use someone else's work—that's called plagiarism

Again, don't try to impress prospective employers with microphone flags or CD! DVD labels from commercials stations, sports teams, etc. This is misrepresentation at its worst and experienced professionals will see through it

Get a few people you trust (industry professionals, professors) to give you feedback on the demo

When in doubt, leave it out