From the Stands at Playoff Media Day 2017
Observations and Musings from Attending What Most Only See on Screen
This type of event is new to the fan in person. Yes, you know the teams all too well. You may even know some of the media. But what is it like watching the two interact in person?
A casual glance before the first team introduced reveals your one-man bands filming their own taped shot, a few reunions of old friends and colleagues, and even some impromptu networking. The PA system chirps in every few minutes reminding members of the media that the tables and chairs are for the “student-athletes” even though no one everyone is standing.
We are seated in Amalie Arena, from red line to red line, watching the action on the covered ice rink. There’s a giant 2017 sculpture to make sure everyone gets a photo op. In the back are seven booths with seven audio challenges. Strangely enough, the temperature dropped like a rock outside while the event was taking place, so the hockey rink details seemed fitting… Regardless, those seven channels are available to the fan on their personal souvenir headset — branded with the Playoff logo, of course. There’s Nick Saban on Channel 4. Maybe you prefer Steve Sarkisian on Channel 7? Draft prospect Jonathan Allen on Channel 2? The possibilities are, well, you get it…
The teams each enter in to their hype video followed by music. Alabama walks in like it’s the dawn of a new era under John Williams’ “Fanfare For The Common Man.” Clemson is a little more subdued walking in “Where The Streets Have No Name” as U2 can attest.
These lucky seven at their own podiums are the recipients of rapid fire media questions for the full hour. You get to hear the responses, but not the questions. The monotone of Saban paints like a beige wall over the hour. The audience gossips when Sark is asked about his undoing at USC. Meanwhile, the rest of the players fight for scraps, and some are left to find any means to entertain themselves.
Marty Smith of ESPN picks a player at the start of each session to take on in the water bottle challenge with a bottle colored for each team’s occasion. Laura Rutledge of the SEC Network attempts to arm wrestle a Tide defender who plays along as long as he can. Jerry Palm of CBS walks the room listening to conversations in a highly identifiable, purple shirt. Looking around you see an ESPN desk to the left featuring Tim Tebow, who attracts a lot of photo requests. To the right is an SEC Network and a Facebook Live desk. Even pageant royalty from South Carolina makes an appearance as a former runner up at Miss American is an alumnus of Clemson and staff member of one of the bowls. An executive with the Playoff committee holds court in between the two sessions.
The oldest trick in the book is on display all over the floor as reporters resort to having players interview each other and see if hilarity ensues. Bored players focus on taking selfies with teammates to pass the time. A few break away to sign autographs and take pictures with fans in the first row (note to fans that the drawback to choosing the first few rows is that you will be standing for the entire event as you’re effectively at sea level).
Did I mention this was free, though? While the Playoff continues to grow, this is a great way for school fans or unaligned fans to get fired up for the game and build memories. The Playoff committee put on a first class show for the fans during Media Day in Tampa.
At the end, Clemson players gathered for group photos. Sam Ponder and the family celebrity, Scout, snuck on the floor to talk with colleagues. Young girls recognized their pageant hero and coaxed a few selfies out of the experience. Finally, everyone realized shorts weather became coat weather outside!
What does this mean for Atlanta in 2018? You’ll definitely want to attend this event which was not overly publicized. Make sure to get that radio, and know your players and media personalities for the most enjoyment. Watching members of the press at work at their craft while creating news and excitement for the title game was well worth it, and only a few cupcakes were tossed to the players in the process.