I haven’t been to the Kentucky Derby in ten years. It was chosen as the site of my bachelor party. This weekend will be the first time I’m there in a working capacity so hopefully I’ll head back with a little more maturity.
This is the greatest spectacle in American sports. Combine the pageantry of an iconic tradition, the industry’s most prestigious race with unusual fashion and copious amounts of bourbon and the cocktail is something truly indescribable. It’s the best party in sports, bar none.
So why I am writing about this in a space where I’m typically telling you about the things I’ve learned along the the path of climbing the broadcasting ladder? Because this event is easy to cover and find something interesting to talk about. If you can’t, you probably either lack the passion for the job or just don’t know what you are actually looking at. It’s all those other events that lead you to being fortunate to be asked to cover something as majestic as the Kentucky Derby where you have to solve your own personal mystery: How do I discuss this in a way that is different and memorable?
The Kentucky Derby offers an array of possibilities. There is a fashion play that rivals the Oscars Red Carpet. There is a lifestyle play, as in, which new Bourbons are hoping exposure at the Derby launches them into shelf space at your local liquor store. There is a the race itself which will propel one lucky group of connections into the only level of fame that matters by those outside the industry bubble and it also leaves you the opportunity to discuss a slice of life unlike any other day of any calendar year. So which way will I go this weekend? The best part about the Derby is I don’t know until I get there.
This is about paying attention to your surroundings. At Churchill Downs, if you can’t come up with original thought or new and interesting storylines, you are going to have an nearly impossible time finding the stories that matter in the standard run of the mill events. Covering the Derby ultimately should be validation that you have graduated to storyteller and not news reader.
So forget the Derby for a moment, lets say your first assignment is at a division one college basketball program. How do you turn that canvas into your own personal art? The larger question here is have you opened your eyes to see things beyond what’s happening on the court? When I return from Louisville and you were to ask me the simple question, “How was it?,” I better have an answer that is more expansive then “Good.” What did I see that was different and memorable?
The exercise here is to never go to anything you are covering with blinders on (horse racing reference for those of you in the know). Don’t go in expecting things to happen. These are humans (or sometimes horses) and their actions are supposed to be human which equates to unpredictability. Look around. Listen to your surroundings. Feel the energy of the place you are at. And let your emotions dictate what to follow. The greatest part of this new emerging digital world is originality is once again being coveted. This is a golden age for those of us who think there is art in this business. Content providers need new original work, different viewpoints on those same games that have been covered for years. So embrace that.
And now I’m off to Louisville this weekend to cover the Kentucky Derby and I don’t know where that will lead me, but I’m anticipating whatever experiences I will encounter, horse or no horse.