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How Kris Budden Balances Life as a Mom and an ESPN Reporter

Thanks to immense talent and a strong work ethic, Kris Budden leans into every aspect of her life, from her job at ESPN to her role at home.

Bailey Knecht

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Photo credit: Kris Budden

This November, college football fans were treated to an epic seven-overtime game between LSU and Texas A&M, and ESPN’s Kris Budden was on sideline duty for all four hours and 53 minutes of it.

There was an added catch, though — she was nearly six months into her pregnancy with her second child at that time. On top of being on her feet for hours, she had to be surrounded by four security guards as fans rushed the field after the game.

Despite the extra obstacles that come with working in the sports industry while pregnant, Budden hasn’t missed a step.

“She’s been comfortable with traveling and preparing each week,” said Steve Ackels, coordinating producer at ESPN. “She hasn’t skipped a beat with her preparation. She’s been on top of getting her storylines and her in-game interviews.”

“One of the hardest things about being pregnant is sometimes what I pack on Wednesday for the weekend no longer fits by the time I have to wear it a few days later,” Budden added with a laugh. “I have to bring three outfits because I’m wondering if I’ll fit in what I brought.”

READ MORE: How Katy Winge Blazed Her Way to an Analyst Position with the Nuggets

Budden hasn’t always been this open about her pregnancy journey. Although she has spent much of her professional life in front of the camera, Budden kept her first pregnancy under wraps back in 2015, while she was with FOX Sports San Diego.

“I think there is an image — whether I put that expectation on myself or not — that people have of women in sports,” she said. “They’re supposed to be young, beautiful and thin, and when you’re pregnant, you feel anything but that. I thought my pregnancy would change people’s perception of me… Pregnancy is a very personal thing, with your health and your family, and you live your life in the public so much that part of me wanted to keep that between me and my husband.”

Beyond public perception, she was concerned about how her pregnancy might affect her ability to do her job.

“I also had a fear of how that would change my career — not just the beauty and age aspect, but before, when I had to travel, I could just pick up my suitcase and go,” she said. “Now I’d have to get a babysitter and plan everything.”

Budden and her husband then moved to Los Angeles and, having finished out the college football season with FOX, she found herself between jobs and concerned that companies wouldn’t want to hire a new mom.

That’s where ESPN came in, where she was hired just a few weeks after her son was born.

“I wondered, ‘How would management see my priorities changing? Would that hurt me?’” she said. “I came to the realization with ESPN that that couldn’t be farther from the truth… I realized my fears were maybe more insecurities I had with myself. The people that make decisions care more about the talent than anything.”

Ackels explained that ESPN makes it a point to not only encourage its employees to lead lives outside of work, but to support them in their endeavors.

“It’s extremely important that we have that work-life balance, whether you’re male, female, married or not, with or without kids,” he said. “We’re very sensitive to that, and we try to take care of their needs and help with preparation.”

Despite the flexibility and backing of ESPN, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Budden and her husband, who had his own busy schedule as a tennis coach at Pepperdine.

“For the first year of our son’s life, if my husband was out of town recruiting or for a match, I would bring my son on a flight where we would have a layover in DSW,” she said. “I’d drop him off on the other side of TSA with my parents and then make the flight to my game and pick him up on the way back. It was basically impossible.”

Budden and her husband later moved to Dallas to be closer to family, but the struggles continued, as she had a miscarriage while she was headed to an assignment.

But despite dealing with her first pregnancy and her miscarriage in private, Budden has since begun documenting her experiences on her personal blog.

“With my miscarriage, I felt like I had a platform to share my experience and help people,” she said. “When I went through my miscarriage, I knew one person who also had one that I could lean on. But then, I was open with it, and I realized how many other women go through it, and you would never know. It made me want to talk about it more.”

“There are other women that have been vocal about it too, like Sara Walsh, and it helps women who think they’re all alone, and men as well,” she added. “It’s a different experience for the woman as for the man, but I think knowing there are other people going through what you are is the reason I wanted to get it out there.”

Sharing her experiences hasn’t just helped her cope — now that she’s pregnant again, Budden has been more open about it than ever before. She is expecting a baby girl in March, and she feels as though it’s helped her connect with both viewers and interview subjects.

“I realized how much more relatable I am to coaches and players,” she said. “They ask about my son, and I ask coaches about their families. I work with all men, and all of them have families, so to talk about our kids, there’s a level of respect for how you’re all juggling all of this. There’s an extra level of respect that you’re able to still have a career and build that and be a mom.”

“A lot of women watching have been where you are, and they understand, and you’re a little more relatable to them,” she added.

That doesn’t mean this pregnancy has been easy for her. She still grapples with the expectations that come with being a woman in the television industry.

READ MORE: WNBA Star Sue Bird Makes Leap to NBA Front Office 

“Some people may feel beautiful while pregnant — I’m not one of those people,” she said. “It’s something I constantly manage. Do I wear an oversized coat or something tight that shows that I’m pregnant? There’s a stigma in this job to always look and feel the best, and social media has made that tougher.”

She’s also had to come to terms with the difficult balance of working while raising a child.

“The thing I learned through having a son and a career is that before you have kids, you can give 100 percent to your job,” she said. “With both, you have to manage that, and you constantly feel like you’re letting one part of your life down, whether it’s your job or your family. I’m used to giving everything that I have, and you have to be okay with saying, ‘This is all I have.’ You can’t be there for every moment.”

With that sense of acceptance, Budden plans to lean into every aspect of her life, from her job at ESPN to her role at home.

“I want to stay at ESPN and keep doing more games, bigger events, and still manage my family life,” she said. “I would love to write a children’s book one day. It’s been a goal of mine, especially as I’m having a daughter, and being in this male-dominated industry. I never thought, ‘I want to retire and be a stay-at-home mom.’ I want to show my daughter what women can do.”

Bailey Knecht is a Northeastern University graduate and has worked for New Balance, the Boston Bruins and the Northeastern and UMass Lowell athletic departments. She covers media and marketing for Front Office Sports, with an emphasis on women's sports and basketball. She can be contacted at bailey@frntofficesport.com.

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NBA, Instagram and New Era Deliver Shoppable Championship Moment

As Instagram expands into e-commerce, it’s teaming up with the NBA and New Era to offer fans the opportunity to buy officially licensed championship gear.

Michael McCarthy

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Photo Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Sports fans are most likely to open their wallets and make an impulse purchase after their team wins a championship. As Instagram expands into e-commerce, it’s teaming up with the NBA and New Era to offer either Golden State Warriors or Toronto Raptors fans the opportunity to buy officially licensed championship gear as they’re popping champagne.

Here’s how the digital “tap to shop” promotion will work: The minute the buzzer sounds ending the 2019 NBA Finals, Instagram will instantly offer a $50 cap/t-shirt bundle for the winning team via New Era. The combo will be exclusively available on Instagram for 24 hours after the game’s conclusion. After that, the gear may go on sale at NewEraCap.com.

The 37.7 million followers of Instagram’s NBA account just have to tap on the post for details, then tap again to buy. Instead of being sent elsewhere they can handle the entire purchase within the app.

As the “authentic cap” of the NBA, New Era is currently selling Warriors/Raptors hats emblazoned with the gold “2019 NBA Finals” logo. The NBA, Instagram and Fanatics offered a similar “shoppable moment” after the Warriors won the Western Conference Finals.

“As the Authentic Cap of the NBA, we’re excited to honor the championship team with the official New Era Authentics: Championship Series Cap and Team Celebratory Tee Bundle exclusively available through the NBA’s Instagram,” says John Connors, New Era’s director of basketball. “This partnership gives us an opportunity to reach fans and provide them with product that helps them celebrate their team’s NBA championship.”

Paige Cohen, a spokeswoman for Instagram’s tech communications, notes fans “want to be part of” the winning team’s celebration. “They shop the gear, they get all decked out,” Cohen says. 

Cohen has a point, according to sports retail expert Mike May. Capitalizing on the thrill of victory can create a “financial windfall for those who have the right product at the right time.”

It can even inspire couch potatoes to put down the clicker and play the sport they’re watching on TV.

“When (fans) emotions are high there’s often a disconnect between common sense and spending — and spending just takes over,” says May, who consults for PHIT America. “It’s an interesting day and age that we live in. It gets faster. The immediacy of Instagram just adds to the festivities — and the spending.”

READ MORE: Canadian Craze Carrying NBA Finals Viewership

Instagram and New Era previously partnered with the NFL to offer a digital shopping experience during the 2019 Draft in Nashville.

The ceremonial act of young college football stars putting on the cap of their new NFL teams has become part of the NFL Draft day ritual. A photographer shot photos of the players in their New Era caps. The photos were shared to the NFL’s Instagram account, complete with shopping tags, driving fans to NFLShop.com. The caps sold for $30 to $38.

The NBA can tap into a huge pool of hoops fans on social media. The NBA’s Instagram account boasts the most followers of any pro league account. The account has drawn 11.8 billion views, and 1.3 billion engagements, this season alone. And Instagram’s new role as a digital mall keeps growing.

In March, the social media giant launched a “Checkout on Instagram” button that enables users to shop and buy products without leaving the app. Users enter their name, email, billing information and shipping address.

Over 1 billion people use Instagram every month, according to Hootsuite, with 500 million on the platform every day. Roughly 60% utilize Instagram to discover new products.

READ MORE: NBA and Twitter Team Up to Bring “Virtual Sports Bar” to Life

Sam Farber, the NBA’s vice president of digital media, said the Finals offer the league an opportunity to “test innovative initiatives” during its biggest event of the year.

With the Raptors leading the Warriors 3-2 in the NBA Finals, the series returns to Oakland for Game 6 Thursday night. If the Warriors survive, the Finals moves to Toronto for Game 7 Sunday night.

“We’re excited to partner with both Instagram and New Era to bring exclusive merchandise to fans in a new way.”

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Stanley Pup Correspondent Fetches New Fans for NBC Sports & NHL

According to NBC Sports, the Stanley Pup campaign has had more than 18 million impressions this postseason.

Ian Thomas

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Photo Credit: NHL

The multiple-month grueling road to the Stanley Cup Final annually catches the attention of the sports world. This year, one of the most dogged chroniclers of that journey has helped the league gain even more traction – Sunny, the Stanley Pup correspondent.

The idea for a Stanley Pup correspondent was the brainchild of Matt Ziance, manager of consumer engagement at NBC Sports. After seeing the way that Sunny, a labrador and guide dog in training, had captivated audiences as the official Today Show puppy, the idea of having a dog being a continued part of the network’s coverage of the NHL playoffs was spawned.

“Each year during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, we’re always searching for new, organic ways to stand out in our overall marketing messaging,” Ziance said. “While looking at successful campaigns across our properties, we saw a strong connection between our fan base and utilizing puppies in our campaigns.”

That led NBC Sports to incorporate the Stanley Pup across its broadcasts and social posts on a weekly basis. Across the playoffs, Sunny traveled more than 10,000 miles across the country while attending games in Boston, Denver, San Jose and St. Louis, as well as appearing at the network’s studios in Stamford, Connecticut – creating unique content while also finalizing his guide dog training by working in high-volume areas and new surroundings.

That content has been a boon for NBC Sports, the NHL and the reach of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. According to NBC Sports, the Stanley Pup campaign has had more than 18 million impressions this postseason across collaborations with The TODAY Show, the NHL, the We Rate Dogs Twitter account and the Guide Dog Foundation – an audience that includes many who are connecting to the Stanley Cup and the NHL in a new way.

Dan Palla, director of consumer engagement marketing at NBC Sports, said the network spends significant time in the build up to the launch of the playoffs each year thinking of “every single way we can make the Stanley Cup Playoffs bigger than it has been before.”

“The tagline we use is ‘there is nothing like playoff hockey’ – there is an inherent truth to that and every hockey fan knows that,” Palla said. “It’s also about growing the game and making the Stanley Cup Playoffs resonate off the ice, and thinking of new ways to draw people into the compelling games and the culture.”

Palla said when he first heard of the idea of bringing Sunny onto the hockey team, he said “it’s hard not to smile when you think of a Stanley Pup correspondent – we knew it was an opportunity to bring hockey to audiences in a different way that felt like a shot worth taking.”

The NBC Sports team worked with the Today Show staff to understand what worked well with Sunny in terms of content, as well as with the Guide Dog Foundation to ensure that the experience would also be beneficial to Sunny’s training.

READ MORE: Like Novak Djokovic’s Outfit? NBCUniversal Wants To Help You Buy It

The ability to capture hockey-related content with Sunny has allowed the two NBCUniversal programs to have cross-company promotion on-air as well as on social media, while also having hockey content reach new audiences. For example, the Stanley Pup correspondent was featured on the popular We Rate Dogs Twitter account, which has more than eight million followers. That also helped spark user-generated content coming from hockey fans and dog lovers alike on how their own ‘Stanley Pups’ were enjoying the playoffs.

Palla said NBC Sports has made it “mission critical” to help raise awareness of the sport and the NHL outside of the traditional ways of marketing hockey, something that he thinks has helped viewership. The NHL 2018-2019 regular season averaged 424,000 viewers across NBC Sports’ TV and digital platforms, up 2% from the previous year.

Both Palla and Ziance said the network has been thrilled with Sunny’s contribution to this year’s playoffs. While Sunny is now leaving the NBCUniversal family to become a full-time guide dog, Ziance said the idea of another future Stanley Pup Correspondent is something the network will consider not only for the 2020 playoffs, but potentially for the regular season as well.

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Twitter Doesn’t Want Sports Rights

Front Office Sports

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*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else.

You can count out at least one social media company from the TV sports rights game. 

According to Max Mason of The Australian Financial Review, the company is not interested in battling for major sports rights, but wants to partner with rights holders, such as TV broadcasters, to extend their audiences and bring in more money.

Friend, not foe…

While Twitter does have deals to broadcast games on its platform with leagues like the WNBA, NWHL and more, the goal for the platform is not to be a linear TV broadcaster.

“The way that we’re approaching our business and our partnerships in the space is not to compete with rights holders. I don’t want to be a linear television broadcaster.” – Kay Madati, Twitter’s vice-president and global head of content partnerships

Bigger together…

Instead of competing with one another, Madati and Twitter want to serve as a way for traditional linear broadcasters to be able to amplify their content and drive new revenue.

“We’re here to make those events bigger by marrying the conversation that happens on our platform around those things. We’re here to actually come to them and say ‘we can make your event, your investment in this property that much bigger and that much better’.” – Kay Madati

More video is good for Twitter…

According to Mason, video has become the dominant source of revenue for Twitter, comprising 50% of money coming in.

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