As I reached the city of Bristol, Connecticut, and took the left off of route 72 onto Middle Road, I saw the large, beautiful building staring into my eyes.
Facing the road was a gray and red sign. Four letters were printed on the front. I got out of my car to find the visitor’s center, but a very helpful employee gave me the shocking news. I was not even at the main campus.
A couple miles further down Middle Road was where all the magic happens. Accompanied by numerous buildings and plenty of satellites, I reached the 87-acre ESPN Bristol Campus, home to 4,000 employees. One of them, a Castleton graduate from the Class of 1988, has worked there for almost 30 years.
On September 7, 1979, Jay Sullivan watched the first ever television broadcast of Sportscenter. His love for ESPN began there, and now he will reach the 30-year milestone at ESPN in July of 2018.
Through those years, he has had quite the experience, meeting countless stars, watching the ESPN corporation grow, and building his career off of an entry level job in the mailroom.
Deeming himself a “sportsaholic,” the current member of an ESPN marketing/promotion group summed up his love for sports with a strong and passionate statement, one that all huge sports fans can relate to.
“Sometimes fantasy [sports], like when I get on the computer and I start looking at fantasy, I literally think I get high.”
Sullivan majored in communication at Castleton University. He wrote for the Spartan, which looked much different back then, and he even had his own radio show on WIUV. With a goal of being a sportscaster on camera, he did everything he needed at Castleton to prepare himself for television.
He credits his strong preparations to his old communications professor, Bob Gershon, who retired last year. Sullivan praised Gershon for his dedication to the program.
“He was in charge of all the TV work, he maintained the equipment, he did everything in terms of that TV studio, and basically he was like a genius, he was brilliant. I couldn’t have had a better person to learn from on things like that.
He was definitely hard on you, he expected the most, he was really preparing us. We didn’t really know it at the time, but he was preparing us for what it was going to be when we went to get those jobs in the field of TV.”
Gershon had similar praise about Sullivan as a student. “Jay was a … great student in the kinds of work we did in production classes. He was a good producer, director and ‘shooter,’” he said. “Jay was a great guy — always there for the other guy, always with a supporting comment, and particularly with a kind of sideways sense of humor.”
“I’m so happy he’s at ESPN,” Gershon said.
Sullivan networked his way into his career. His mother, who worked at a hospital, had worked with a woman whose son worked at ESPN.
After years of waiting, Sullivan was finally able to meet with the ESPN employee, Ray Stenso, in Meriden, Connecticut while he was doing a radio show. After the show, Sullivan was able to give his resume to Stenso, who then forwarded it to hiring. About a month later, the phone rang.
ESPN called his house to inform him of two interview opportunities for entry-level positions: either a productions assistant or a driver messenger in the mailroom. Sullivan was shocked, “I was like beside myself, like ‘what?’” He was convinced that he would get the productions assistant opening, but a week later, he was offered a new job, a driver messenger for ESPN.
Sullivan’s job was to shuttle people to and from the campus, as well as driving to airports around the area to pick up tapes, with video from all over the country, that were being sent to ESPN. Packages were flown in, and he had to go pick them up and bring it back.
On his first day of work, he picked up a man named Jim Kaat. At the time, he was one of the few people to play baseball in four different decades. He was a baseball announcer and analyst for ESPN.
Sullivan was appalled. “Here I am, I’m driving with this guy next to me in the car! We’re talking baseball, I’m like this is the greatest job ever.”
From there, he eventually became a production assistant working on SportsCenter. After that, he transitioned to a remote productions assistant working on the NFL draft, PGA and senior PGA Tour, kickboxing, soccer, the College World Series, and other college sports. Then, he began working in a marketing/promotion group. But not just any group, the same group that was responsible for the famous “This is SportsCenter” commercials.
Now, Sullivan is in the promotions department. “I write all the copy for all the talent, whether it’s a game on the road, an event, or in-studio, for every game we have on our air,” he explained. In other words, for example, whenever ESPN is airing an event, such as an MLB playoff game, and an anchor reads a promotion during a show for that game, Sullivan is responsible for writing those mini promotions. He also maintains a website that has information about those games or events.
Over a 29-year period of working there, Sullivan discussed how teamwork is an important part of working behind the scenes at ESPN. “It’s literally like a baseball team or a football team, where everybody has to work really closely together.” As he took me on a tour of the ESPN campus, I was able to witness what he was talking about. We watched a live show that was currently on-air, NFL Live, and all of the productions workers were very in-sync.
Everything was smooth, relaxed, and scripted perfectly right to the second.
Sullivan has worked with, and developed friendships, with some notable people, as well.
He writes his promotions for anchors like Trey Wingo, Bob Ley, Lisa Kearney, Sage Steele, and about 50 others. He was once close with Dan Patrick back in the day, going to dinner with him after work. He used to play hockey with Mike Tirico, Chris Myers, and of course, Barry Melrose.
Then, there’s the athletes and coaches. Jay Sullivan has met so many athletes and coaches in his time at ESPN. David Ortiz, Roger Clemens, Peyton and Eli Manning, Drew Brees, Tony Romo, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Gordie Howe, Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade, Breanna Stewart, Pat Summitt, and Geno Auriemma were all included on his list. He’s also met some notable actors, including Dwayne Johnson, Samuel L. Jackson, Will Ferrell, and Ben Stiller. Imagine having a job where meeting famous people becomes normal.
He even has a memorable story with Chris Berman. When Sullivan became a production assistant working on SportsCenter, he was operating the teleprompter. At that time, everything was copied on paper, and taped down to the conveyer belt.
About five minutes away from air, Chris Berman realized he left his copy in the newsroom. Sullivan flew up two flights of stairs, grabbed his papers, and ran it back down. To this day, Chris Berman remembers that day clearly.
As a person who would watch ESPN all day, it was a surreal experience touring the ESPN campus. At one point, I was sitting in the ESPN parking lot, while listening to ESPN radio, and watching ESPN’s snapchat story. It was insane. For Jay Sullivan, this is his career.