Think your job gets a little hectic sometimes?
Try being Matt Edwards for the month of February.
After a week of rubbing elbows with pro football players in Minneapolis during the Super Bowl, the 1994 UW-Eau Claire marketing graduate flew straight to South Korea, where he spent the rest of February mingling with Olympians during the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.
Not a bad way to spend a month if you are a sports fan.
For Edwards, it was all in a day’s — or, in this case, month’s — work.
As the sports director for the NBC News Channel, the feed service for all the NBC stations, Edwards and his team provides content to more than 200 NBC affiliates, and works with NBC News, CNBC and NBC Sports and other NBC entities.
That means he often has a front-row seat at the biggest sports events in the world.
Still, February was something special even by his standards.
“There has never been a month like February 2018 for me,” says Edwards, who is based in Charlotte, North Carolina. “It was an amazing month and I’m still digesting all that happened.
“However, because there is no timeout in this industry, we are jumping right into March Madness and, oh yeah, Major League Baseball is here now.”
A lifelong sports lover, Edwards could not be happier with where his career with NBC News Channel has taken him over the last two-plus decades.
“As a kid, I loved to play sports, watch sports and talk sports,” Edwards says. “I still do. From memorizing the stats on the back of baseball cards to reading books about the players and the games, sports was everything. I do count myself as lucky to do something I am truly passionate about.”
Thanks, in part to ESPN, sports now is a 24-hour-a-day industry, Edwards says.
As a result, there is more opportunity than ever to tell stories about the games but also the athletes.
“Stations want the best highlights but also stories that make you laugh, cry and think,” Edwards says. “The best part of sports remains the games and people who play them — the rivalries, passion and competition. Sports is still the best ‘reality TV’ out there.”
A self-described “rare bird” who has stayed with the same company for 25 years, Edwards began his career while still a student at UW-Eau Claire, when a summer internship took him to NBC News Channel’s sports department.
After graduating, he took a position as a freelancer, meaning he could work from zero to 40 hours per week based on need.
“During those slow weeks, I would pick up temporary work because I knew I wanted to be full time with NBC,” Edwards says. “I loved the fast-paced feel where learning and acquiring knowledge was an everyday endeavor. I had caught the news bug.”
About a year into his freelance assignment, the sports department closed in Charlotte. He moved to a position on the national desk and worked as a writer.
“A short time later, I was offered a staff position and my news journey really started,” Edwards says. “I worked in many roles and on many shifts — overnight, days, nights and everything in between — in the newsroom. News is a 24/7/365 commitment.
“I went from a news writer to assignment desk to being a regional producer covering news out of the Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma region, before returning to sports six years ago, this time as the sports director.”
During his career, Edwards has covered numerous high-profile news events, including the John Glenn shuttle launch, election nights in Washington, D.C., inaugurations, the Oklahoma City Memorial, and hurricanes, including Katrina.
He also has covered seven Super Bowls and four Olympics, though 2018 was the first time he covered those two events in the same month.
“It keeps you sharp when you know that the entire world is watching,” Edwards says of covering sports on the world’s biggest stages. “You want to make sure you provide the best stories and best elements.”
In his current position, Edwards spends much of his time managing his staff, making sure a team is in a place to cover the sports news and highlights of the day.
Since there are only one or two days a year when a game is not played, he has a lot of people to organize so each station gets what it needs, he says.
“While each game producer has their assigned games, it takes a team for us to succeed,” Edwards says. “There are a lot of moving parts each and every day. We want to be accurate with our information and offer our stations the best video on deadline. There are very few hours in a day where an affiliate or one of our clients is not on the air.”
The changing nature of the sports industry creates both opportunities and challenges for the media, he says.
“The sports cycle is 24 hours a day,” Edwards says. “There used to be a line between news and sports but that line is broader now and less distinct. We now cover everything from social issues in sports, to the Patriots Deflategate, to Serena Williams returning to the court after becoming a mother for the first time.
“Sports is not just runs, hits and errors, but a microcosm of our society.”
Events like the Super Bowl are exciting but keep him busy as his team works to gather numerous stories to share with the many NBC affiliates.
“We find athletes with ties to the affiliates’ areas because nothing is better for a local station than hearing from an athlete who attended high school or college there and is now on the biggest stage in professional football,” Edwards says.
Along with all the player and coach availabilities, they cover the commissioner’s and halftime entertainment news conferences.
They also work to give viewers a flavor of the host city and the many events that take place throughout the week leading up to the actual football game.
“This year, it was all about the ‘Bold North’ and sharing the scene along Nicollet Mall with the ski hills and being one with the cold,” he says of the 2018 Super Bowl in Minneapolis.
A Twin Cities native, Edwards says the highlight of this year’s Super Bowl for him was being home in Minnesota.
The Super Bowl game ended Sunday evening; early Monday morning he was on plane heading to South Korea to cover the 2018 Winter Olympics.
While his Olympic experiences involve showcasing incredible athletic achievements and inspiring athletes, there also always are meaningful moments away from the competitions that stick with him after the games are over.
“This time, mine was being in an elevator at the hockey arena when two people were speaking Russian, one person was texting in Korean and two people were talking in English,” Edwards says. “It’s a reminder that this is the ultimate melting pot of sports under the umbrella of peace.
“This year, I also really enjoyed talking to Lindsey Vonn because at my first Olympics (and hers, too), in Salt Lake City, she was a little-known downhill skier. Go figure she would become such a name and accomplish so much in her sport.”
How does a Blugold prepare for a career that takes them around the world to chat with gold medal-winning superstars like Lindsey Vonn?
You take advantage of all that UW-Eau Claire offers, Edward says.
“UWEC always challenged me,” Edwards says. “It kept me motivated.”
He credits TV-10, a student-run media outlet housed in the residence halls, with helping him launch his career in broadcast media.
The student-run studio introduced him to the basics of broadcast journalism and convinced him he could build a career around his love of sports.
“TV-10 allowed me to learn about television production and to talk sports on a weekly basis on the show ‘Sports Week,’” Edwards says, noting he was part of TV-10 for three years during his time on campus.
He also credits his relationships with peers and professors with helping prepare him to be successful in and after college, he says.
“I was lucky enough to meet and have to this day, friends from my time at UWEC,” Edwards says. “I’m a firm believer if you surround yourself with good people, you will rise. They may never know how much they impacted my life but they kept me motivated by their focus, and their personal and professional successes, and continue to do so today.”
What advice would he give to current and future Blugolds?
“Be open to learning,” Edwards says. “You don’t gain knowledge and experience from Google. You get an answer and that is it.
“Be patient and keep asking questions. It is okay to say, ‘I don’t know,’ and it is well worth your time searching and researching to get that answer.”
And, of course, he says, be sure to have fun along the way.
Photo caption: Matt Edwards celebrates with Team USA Olympian skier Jamie Anderson, who won gold in slopestyle and silver in big air in PyeongChang, South Korea.