How I Bluffed ESPN and Became a SportsCenter Anchor

That’s me, sitting behind the iconic SportsCenter desk in the ESPN studios.

James Swanwick sitting at the ESPN SportsCenter anchor desk after bluffing his way there.

James Swanwick bluffed his way to anchor ESPN SportsCenter

Three cameras, two sound-men, and a teleprompter operator are all staring at me. Then I hear a director in my ear start to count down, “5 … 4 … 3 … 2 …”

This has been my dream for 20 years. But I have a problem:

I don’t have a clue what I’m doing.

I have NEVER hosted a TV show before. How did I end up here?

My story will show you how to take action, advance your goals with a well placed bluff, overcome your fear of failure, and realize your dream.

Only two months earlier, I was in Los Angeles with no job and no direction. I was a print journalist earlier in my career, but I had taken a year off. I was now back and in need of work.

Out of the blue, my friend, Craig Hutchison, phoned to tell me that ESPN was looking for an Australian anchor for its local version of its sports TV show, SportsCenter. The program was produced at ESPN’s global headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut.

Hutchison asked me,

Are you interested?”

I replied:

Absolutely!”

After all, this had been my dream for over 20 years.

Click play below to see a 1990 home video of me pretending I was a news anchor.

Hutchison introduced me to an ESPN producer via email and after a few exchanges the producer suggested that,

“…maybe we can meet in person in the next few months,”

This was not the concrete job interview I was hoping for.

Two weeks later, the producer was going to Las Vegas for a sports conference, and I realized that was my chance to make this happen.

Take Action

I was inspired by two quotes from the New York Times best-selling book, Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi.

“People do business with people they know and like” and “there is genius in being bold”

I contacted the producer and suggested we meet in Vegas for lunch. He agreed, and I booked a flight for $120. The very next morning I was on a plane to Vegas, took a taxi to the Hard Rock Café, and met the producer in person. We agreed that because I had absolutely zero television hosting experience, I should do a screen test.

“Maybe we’ll get you over to ESPN for a screen test in the next few months,”

We parted ways with a promise to speak again “in a few months” and I flew back to Los Angeles. For a week I kept thinking, “How can I make this happen NOW? How can I push this thing along without coming off as pushy and desperate?”

I needed to follow up with the ESPN producer quickly. Ferrazzi writes:

“Good follow up alone elevates you above 95 percent of your peers.”

(If you would like my personal notes on Ferrazzi’s book, Never Eat Alone, so you can cover the entire book in just 15 minutes – AND – get my personal notes on two other great books – enter your email below now and I’ll send them to you.)

 

Then it came to me…

It Pays To Bluff Sometimes

I told him I would be in New York City – close enough to Bristol, Connecticut, the following week “for business”. In truth, I had no valid reason to be in New York. I suggested that since I would already be in New York, maybe that would be an appropriate time for me to simply “pop on over” to ESPN in nearby Bristol for the screen test. The producer mulled it over before agreeing. Only then, did I book my trip to New York.

“Worldwide Leader in Sports” ESPN Headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut

“Worldwide Leader in Sports” ESPN Headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut

Two weeks later, I marched into the ESPN studio for my audition, sat behind the SportsCenter desk, looked at the script in the teleprompter, and … had a panic attack. “What the hell am I doing here?” I thought to myself. Fear gripped me. As the ESPN director counted down in my ear, I became a nervous wreck. When his voice said, “Go!”, I started to read the words on the screen. “Welcome to SportsCenter. I’m James Swanwick.” It was so bad the ESPN producer continues to mock me about it to this day. The following morning we viewed the train wreck that was my first screen test. He told me:

“Yeah, you look too nervous, you’re too wooden.. What’s with the overemphasis on the ‘I’m James Swanwick’?! … The beard HAS to go! … You look like Don Johnson from Miami Vice!”

James Swanwick with his beard of three years

I didn’t look the part with my beard of three years

We agreed to try again. I had one final shot. That afternoon, I returned to my hotel and reluctantly shaved off my beard. I felt like I was executing a friend.

Not too happy about shaving off the beard I’d had for three years

Not too happy about shaving off the beard I’d had for three years

I practiced my, “Welcome to SportsCenter. I’m James Swanwick” in front of the mirror dozens of times in a bid to gain some confidence.

Overcoming Fear Of failure

Later that night, I returned to ESPN for my second and final chance to impress. Once again, I had a panic attack. The self-doubt crashed over me, but this time I called on all my inner power. “Come on, James,” I told myself.

“This is it..Stop being scared! Just do it like you did in the home video from 20 years ago.”

The words on the teleprompter started to roll, the director said, “Go!”.

“Welcome to SportsCenter. I’m James Swanwick. Lots to get through tonight but let’s start with the NFL.”

James Swanwick behind the ESPN SportsCenter anchor desk.

I just bluffed my way behind the ESPN anchor desk

This time I nailed it! The following morning, the producer and I watched my second screen test. He told me:

“Much, much better! You look much more comfortable, relaxed. OK, I’m going to put you on the air. Be ready in July.”

What?! Just like that? I’d done one terrible and one good screen test and I was hired? Amazing! I couldn’t believe it. I was ecstatic. I’d never hosted any TV show before and I was going to make my debut on ESPN. As if that wasn’t enough, the producer told me he had organized a limousine to drive me back to New York.

Moments after being hired, ESPN gives me a limo back to New York

Moments after being hired, ESPN gives me a limo back to New York

On Sunday night, July 25, 2010, I made my debut hosting SportsCenter. I spent the whole day thinking about it.

“What if I mess up? What if I say the wrong thing on air? What if I’m too nervous and I look like a quivering mess? What if ESPN fires me after my first show?”

When I started down to the studio 10 minutes before going live, it felt like I was walking to the gallows to be executed. I sat at the iconic SportsCenter desk, with the lights and the cameras and the directors and the producers, and knowing hundreds of thousands of people would be staring at me shortly. I wanted to get up and leave. But in that moment, I said to myself, “Keep moving forward!” I made a decision to just push through the fear. I heard the director say, “5-4-3-2-1…” …and I was on. Press play below to see the video clip of my SportsCenter debut I did it. I got through my first SportsCenter. Was it perfect? No. But the bottom line is I did it. I faced my fear and pushed through it. After the show that night, I walked out into the ESPN parking lot, relieved, proud, ecstatic, exhausted, overwhelmed. I’d just realized a 20-year-dream.

Realize Your Dream

Take a look at a video I shot from my iPhone in the ESPN parking lot late at night


I went on to host SportsCenter for the next two years, working alongside some amazingly talented ESPN producers, directors and co-anchors. ESPN really is a first-class organization. Along the way, I interviewed many professional athletes.

Pictured left-to-right, basketball star Metta World Peace and NFL players Tim Tebow and Reggie Bush

Left-to-right, basketball star Metta World Peace and NFL players Tim Tebow and Reggie Bush

Some nights in the ESPN cafeteria, I would run into NBA legend, Magic Johnson.

James Swanwick with Magic Johnson in the ESPN cafeteria

Magic Johnson and I in the ESPN cafeteria

And on one especially memorable show, I got to interview my childhood hero, Jon Bon Jovi, and convinced him to look into the camera and say,

“Hey, this is Jon Bon Jovi and THIS is SportsCenter!”

James Swanwick sitting with Jon Bon Jovi

James Swanwick and Jon Bon Jovi

And I got to walk the red carpet at the ESPY awards in Los Angeles.

That's me walking down the red carpet at the Espy Awards in Los Angeles

That’s me on the red carpet at the Espy Awards in Los Angeles

Incredible opportunities have come my way because of my time at ESPN, including writing two books on how to become a journalist; Insider Journalism Secrets and Become a Celebrity Journalist. I’ve been a guest speaker at events including Entrepreneurs Organization in Shanghai, China and master of ceremonies for events including the American Women’s Club in Bogota, Colombia. I coach thousands of people how to overcome their own fear of failure and achieve their life goals via JamesSwanwick.com.

Action Plan

Now it’s your turn to realize your goals and dreams. The formula for success is so simple:

 

  • Take action. Any action is better than no action.
  •  Bluff a little (only if you have to)
  • Overcome your fear of failure – just say to yourself, “Keep moving forward”
  •  Realize your dream

 

In short, I’m reaping the reward because I took action and pushed through the fear. Overcoming your fear of failure can reward you in ways you couldn’t even imagine. If you don’t go there, you’ll never know and, you’ll always feel mediocre. So…don’t be afraid to go for it.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill

 

(If you would like my personal notes on Ferrazzi’s book, Never Eat Alone, so you can cover the entire book in just 15 minutes – AND – get my personal notes on two other great books – enter your email below now and I’ll send them to you.)

  • Blanksie

    Top story James. You were super creative in your thinking at critical times here to create your opportunity and make the folk at ESPN take you into their fold. Well executed story of self-fulfilling success.

    • http://www.jamesswanwick.com/ James Swanwick

      Thanks, Brad. Create opportunity, don’t wait for opportunity. Works every time.

  • Jay

    I have participated in a number of your webinars and I have to say, no matter what platform you give your information on, it is always jam packed with value.

    • http://www.jamesswanwick.com/ James Swanwick

      Thanks, Jay!

  • Trevor Boyson

    Great story James. We have to remember to push through even if we’re nervous.

    I was terrified when looking for an internship. What if I’m not good enough to get one? What if I DO get one and blow it? But I realized that my fear shouldn’t be suppressed or ignored. I knew it indicated I was on the right path to challenging myself to grow and do something awesome and fun. I saw Gary Vaynerchuk online and thought he was doing some great stuff in marketing, my interest, so I emailed the company and got an interview. Before I knew it, I was working for him in NYC.

    Good things don’t come easily, or comfortably, or without taking a chance with a risk of failure.

    • http://www.jamesswanwick.com/ James Swanwick

      Trevor, thanks for sharing your story! Great example of feeling the fear and pushing through it anyway. And Gary V is a legend! Awesome story. Thanks, again.

  • Natalie Everett

    James is right. Just get started! My first interview with a retired newspaper journalist yielded a second interview with a writer in NYC who is working in my area of specialty. The five people I’ve interviewed so far have all made efforts to be helpful.

    • http://www.jamesswanwick.com/ James Swanwick

      Nice, Natalie!

  • Erin Marie

    James, thank you for sharing your inspiring personal story. Your webinars are always valuable and inspirationa! It is fantastic having you there as a mentor, especially when you selflessly made the extra effort to connect with me when i needed it during my recent freelance journalism work in Kenya. Thank you.

    • http://www.jamesswanwick.com/ James Swanwick

      You’re welcome, Erin. Happy to help you!

  • Alex Heffron

    Great story James and good on you for just going out there and grabbing it. Enjoyed reading it, and has inspired me to push harder. As one of my favourite comedy actors (Del Boy from only fools and horses) says “he who dares wins”.

    • http://www.jamesswanwick.com/ James Swanwick

      Alex, thank you for your positive and encouraging words. I love Only Fools and Horses, too! James

  • Pooja

    I took your advice james…i took the plunge and took that job offer..im joining tomorrow…I am so so happy that my dream of becoming a journalist is coming true…

    • http://www.jamesswanwick.com/ James Swanwick

      Great work! Keep me posted as to how you go!

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