Concacaf, HBS Broadcast Academy Opens Doors for New Talent, Allows Next-Gen to Hone Skills
Developing next-generation talent is an important goal of every sports organization and the efforts undertaken by Concacaf, with assistance from the HBS Broadcast Academy, lay clear the benefits for not only the organization itself but for society as a whole as women like Laura McDonald, a director and producer with Phase Three Productions in Jamaica, can take the next step in career development.
The Live Football Direction courses given by Concacaf have given her access to priceless guidance and industry knowledge, tangible directing experience and – most importantly – self-confidence and belief in her abilities.
“Every time I am doing a live game for Concacaf, Oscar Sanchez [Concacaf Director of Broadcast Operations & Executive Producer] picks up the phone and calls me,” says McDonald. “We just have a chitchat and he reminds me to have fun. Those little calls mean so much, there is somebody with so many responsibilities and I’m just doing my one game, but knowing there is someone belonging to a large confederation believing in my talent and choosing me to do a particular job means so much.”
Concacaf have been running the Live Football Direction courses, assisted by the Broadcast Academy, at their Miami headquarters since 2018. Over that period, they have trained 32 participants from 7 countries in areas such as Guatemala, Haiti and Costa Rica. Industry experts such as John Watts and Sebastian von Freyberg have helped Concacaf raise broadcast production standards and develop skills within the North America, Central America and Caribbean regions.
For McDonald the Concacaf courses have broadened her repertoire and opened directing football up as an avenue she never imagined taking in her career. “I was doing a lot of entertainment shows, and I love track and field so I had started doing a lot of track meets – that was my comfort zone,” she says. “I directed Usain Bolt’s last race in Jamaica and some pretty big gigs, but I’d never ventured into football. When Concacaf introduced these training courses I thought ‘This is perfect’. I’d always wanted to direct football but my confidence wasn’t there, it didn’t feel like my safe space. Concacaf gave me the opportunity.”
McDonald began working with Concacaf when Phase Three Productions were contracted to cover matched for the confederation in Jamaica. “I started as a venue producer, which was basically managing the communication between Concacaf, the stadium operators and the TV production crew,” she says. “I would be reporting back to Oscar at Concacaf, and he said to me one day ‘You are technical, you direct boxing and all these other sports, come and do this directing course’.”
Since then McDonald has gone on to direct matches for Concacaf in Jamaica, Cayman Islands and Anguilla, becoming the first female football director in the region. “It didn’t sink in until I went to Concacaf to participate on their course. I was looking at the wall that showed everything they cover and I realised ‘Hey, this a big deal’… Canada, Mexico, the USA, and all throughout the Caribbean,” she adds.
Importantly for McDonald, her participation in Concacaf’s courses does not just boost her skills, but she is also able to share that knowledge with her colleagues and teams. “Before one of the matches I directed I took some of the information I had gathered from the course and used it as an example in my camera meetings to show the crew what I wanted,” she says. “After the game I got some real high praise for my Camera 1 operator and I could explain that this was his first time doing it, but he got it perfectly right. I feel it is my duty to impart that knowledge and showcase the skills that are here in the islands.”
Coming from a company whose co-founder and Executive Chairman is female and has advocated for McDonald to be given opportunities to progress all through her career, her desire to help the next generation step up is strong – but it has to be a two-way street. “I’m an advocate for inspiring other women, and young people, who want to work in live sports coverage, but at the same time you can’t just be passionate about it – you have to show me that are willing to put in the work,” she adds.
Having her own intern at Phase Three has seen McDonald’s journey go from mentee to mentor. “I took on an intern eight years ago and she loved sports, she knew all the teams and players and I saw that she worked very hard. I’ve now passed on my knowledge and the confidence as a woman to say ‘Hey, you can do this’. I can give her jobs in the same way I got the opportunity from my chairman. Now on most football matches I’ve done since taking the course she has been my assistant. When the Concacaf Gold Cup came to Jamaica in 2019, I made sure to introduce the directors and producers to her so she could take some tips from them and understand the ways they do certain things so she can get that knowledge for herself as well.”
With Concacaf’s commitment to broadening the talent pool within its region, it can be sure that in the future when major events take place within the territory that they can call upon their own local experts. “The major takeaway from the course was that I picked up confidence,” says McDonald. “Being a director and calling the shots is one thing, but believing in yourself and knowing that you are doing the right thing and are able to communicate that to your team so they will follow the same path is so important.
“Concacaf has really stepped up by offering these courses, by giving us the opportunity that we wouldn’t normally get in the islands. These kind of programmes are not available to us, or, if they were, people cannot afford them and would not invest in themselves. We can say now, ‘Hey, you don’t need to just import international staff, you can call on your own Caribbean people and highlight the skills of the islands’.”
For McDonald, that future is what excites her. Full of ambition her goals are now clear. “My dream now is one day to direct a Concacaf Gold Cup match. One day I want to see women not just working in production but directing regularly at a high level. The Concacaf course has whet my palette with live directing – now I want more!”