ESPN's Kris Budden on Being a Sidelined Reporter

Kyle Koster
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Kris Budden is an ESPN reporter usually found on the sidelines of baseball, basketball, and football games. Like the rest of us, though, she's been spending a lot more time at home. She spoke to The Big Lead about the impeccably named Sidelined Reporters, an online show she's been doing with colleagues Molly McGrath and Allison Williams, how much of her job is unplanned, and her initiative to feed frontline health workers.

KK: You recently started a GoFund Me to raise money to buy meals for doctors and nurses as they treated COVID-19 patients. What drove you to do that?

KB: I kind of stole the idea from Bob Wischusen, who I work with during basketball season. He started raising money for people on the frontlines in New Jersey. I was looking at my emotions day-to-day. They were like a roller coaster, especially at the beginning of this. I was trying to figure out what the positive days had in common and it was productivity. I was doing something positive. So I thought, 'I have a social media following, let's use it for some good.' Doing something positive for people also made me feel good.

We did four different stops to hospitals. It was nice because we're close with some restaurants here so it was twofold. We were able to help those restaurants who really needed support at the time while also being able to give back to the doctors and nurses who were working in the ICU.

KK: I think there are a lot of people who feel the urge to give back right now but the whole thing is so daunting.

KB: It was more my friends and family who donated than it was complete strangers. It started to add up really quickly. Some people gave $100, some people gave $5. It took four days to reach our goal. The hardest part was coordinating with someone at the hospital to make sure everyone was safe for the delivery. Once we had all that arranged, it was a lot easier than I thought it'd be.

KK: What type of reaction did you get and what did you get out of it?

KB: It was wonderful. The looks on the faces of the doctors and nurses. We have a friend who is a trauma surgeon and she helped coordinate some of the drop-offs. Seeing their reactions was great. They were thanking us but I was like, 'No, thank you."

It was also something I could share with my kids. My four-year-old kind of started to get it. He would get excited about it. I wasn't being the greatest homeschool mom so I thought if I could teach him some kindness, that goes a long way too.

KK: It's very difficult to maintain a sense of community right now. How are you approaching that?

KB: Everyone who works in our business has a similar personality. We're all very used to being out on the road, being around people and working all the time. It's just maintaining the routine of talking to people. I spoke to a few of my work friends this morning. We're all in that boat of uncertainty. It's all very foreign and strange. The Sidelined Reporters thing is nice because it gives us something to work on and keeps us busy during the week.

KK: The job of a sideline reporter, from what I can tell, means creating a lot of material that never sees the light of day. Can you break down how much stuff comes out of preparation compared to reacting on the fly?

KB: Of all the stuff that I study and prep for, about 10 percent of it makes it on air. You have to be prepared, though, in case you need that nugget. Holly Rowe once gave me advice on pre-planned features versus things you're seeing on the sidelines. She says she tries to go 90 to 10 percent. Ninety percent she didn't pre-plan. I've tried to follow that approach. I could find an interesting nugget talking to a player and make a good story out of it but that's also something anyone in the booth can do so if you're going to pay for my position, what can I provide that no one else can? I'm the eyes and ears down there.

When we were doing the show, Allison brought up a good point. It's easy to be a sideline reporter, but it's really hard to be a good sideline reporter. I can come up with pre-planned ideas and fit them into 20 seconds here or there. But the really great ones find moments that no one else saw.

KK: How do you learn how to strike the right tone when you're dealing with a coach or player who has just suffered a tough loss?

KB: It's all about reading people, which is another thing I really like about my job. It's fascinating to learn what motivates people, how they process things. We could be interviewing a coach that just won but he's crying even out of some sort of sadness. It's learning to read their emotions and follow their lead. Tone plays a big part of it. Sometimes it can be awkward.

KK: Like when?

KB: You can be doing a feature interview, sitting down with someone and they start crying. In that moment saying nothing is the best thing for the product but it's so awkward. You want to reach out and give them a hug but in that moment you're supposed to say nothing. That nothing can feel so long and so rude too. At the end of the day, though, it's about their reaction.

KK: How did the idea for Sidelined Reporters come about?

KB: It was a text from Allison Williams at midnight one night. We get a lot of people who want feedback or advice or ask how we got to where we are. We're busy all the time so we don't necessarily have time to email all those people. It can become daunting when your email is full. So what if we did a show where we could address these?

I think she included me and Molly [McGrath] because we've had different journeys in terms of how we got to where we are. We're different ages, some of us have families, some of us don't. It was originally just the three of us talking about our journeys. Then we would get questions about analysts and play-by-play. We thought we should have people come on and ask them about their stories. It's been a lot of fun. I've learned things I never knew about my colleagues.

KK: Is your audience largely students?

KB: I think so based on the feedback we're getting. It's a lot of people just starting out in their careers or people in college. Or our colleagues who are bored and waiting for us to say something stupid.

I say we all have the same personality, there's a creativity that's in our brain as reporters or on-air personalities that needs to be used in some way. For instance, Jason Benetti and other play-by-play people are acting out famous movie scenes and he's doing these video messages to people. Mike Hall was doing something else for the Big Ten Network. It shows there's this part of our brain that still needs to be consumed by some sort of creativity and that's how we've chosen to go about it.

KK: What's one of your most powerful moments you've experienced while working?

KB: Doing the College World Series last year was a big deal for me. It was a really big stage and baseball is one of my passions. Vanderbilt won and they had a player who passed away and would have been a senior on that team. The family came with the team and say with coach [Tim] Corbin's wife the whole series and they were on the field celebrating. Those are the things that stick out. That was one of those moments that sunk in.

KK: Now I have to ask about your worst on-air moment.

KB: This past year I was working with Dick Vitale in basketball. He had just received an award from the NCAA and I was supposed to do a read about it. I had also worked with Dick Enberg for a long time. For whatever reason I said Dick Enberg instead of Dick Vitale. My producer told me in my ear I'd done that. I then thought, 'How do I play this off as a joke?' I ended up saying, 'Sorry, there are a lot of Dicks in the Hall of Fame.'

KK: Oh no.

KB: He does have a great sense of humor though because for the next several days I would get articles from him about being inducted into the Hall of Fame so I would never forget it was him.

KK: What are your thoughts about getting back to the fields and potentially working games with no fans?

KB: almost think my job becomes more significant because of the information you'd hear and and see on the field. If a player would get sick, you need someone down there as a resource for information. I did get a text from a producer with a picture of someone with a really long boom mic on CNN saying this was my future. I'm sure if it goes on, everyone will get tested, I'll get tested. I know some people might not be comfortable with an extra reporter and body down there, but in my opinion, reporters would be needed more than ever.

KK: That's a good point. You may be able to hear stuff you never could have before.

KB: Think about the things you'd learn in a game. It's coming out now that at the UFC fight they could hear the announcers. Imagine if I'm on a football field and I can hear a coach tell his team we heard what the other team is going to do. That changes the entire landscape of the game. That kind of information would be really valuable.

Who knows, though? You could have coaches who say we don't feel comfortable with an outsider on the field. We'll have to see how that plays out.

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