Since Mike Hall began his job at ESPN, he’s interviewed sports heroes and met Olympic athletes he’s admired since he was a boy.
But just how big of a deal his instant success was didn’t hit him until he returned to his alma mater.
While attending an MU basketball game, Hall was introduced on the scoreboard screen and the crowd gave him a standing ovation.
“That was a huge career highlight for me,” he said.
Hall graduated from MU last May, two months after he beat 10,000 competitors on ESPN’s reality TV show, “Dream Job,” for a SportsCenter anchor spot.
He recently relocated to Charlotte, N.C., for a new gig.
Hall will be the main studio personality for ESPNU, a new 24-hour television network devoted entirely to college sports. The network launch, at 6 tonight, will be simulcast on ESPN2.
Burke Magnus, ESPNU vice president and general manager, said a network dedicated to college sports has been in the works for about five years.
“College sports has been part of the fabric of ESPN for the past 25 years,” Magnus said. “It’s part of our DNA.”
Hall will anchor all ESPNU games and events, starting with tonight’s launch party.
“He’s going to be the face and the voice of the network,” Magnus said. “It sounds kind of hokey that the Dream Job winner gets a second big break, but Mike has earned it. Not only did he win the original chance, but he capitalized on it.”
ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz said Hall, 23, was selected for his strong on-air presence, clean delivery, sports knowledge and age.
“He’s got the whole package,” Krulewitz said.
A solid background
Hall’s success comes as no surprise to those who knew him in his pre-ESPN days.
Stacey Woelfel, an MU broadcast professor and news director for KOMU-TV, said Hall was a stand-out in his classes.
“He was so comfortable with everything that television is,” Woelfel said. “He came into it as a good reporter, a good performer and a good team player, but he also had some star quality.”
Steve Lippo met Hall in their first broadcast course at MU. The two went through the Journalism School, did improvisational comedy and auditioned for Dream Job together.
Lippo said it’s hard to point to the exact reasons of his friend’s success.
“He’s so many good things,” Lippo said. “Mike is very much Mike. He’s got that quality, that little something that puts him over the top.”
Hall’s success hasn’t changed his personality, Lippo said. “He’s the same Mike, he just has a really awesome job.”
Hall said the recognition he received when he came back to Columbia and the compliments he receives when he returns home to Glen Ellyn, Ill., are always nice, but he doesn’t feel any different.
“I’m just same old dorky me,” he said. “I’m nothing special.”
Hall said his skills have improved since he won Dream Job, thanks to the on-air experience and coaching from ESPN veterans at the company’s headquarters in Bristol, Conn.
Hall attributes his on-air talent to his work with Comedy Wars, an improv comedy group at MU that he performed with weekly for four years.
“In live national TV for two hours you need a certain amount of — if I were Jewish I would say ‘chutzpah,’” he said. “You need to adapt quickly to things and make it seem as if nothing has gone wrong.”
Entering an anchor position with little experience in the field, Hall wasn’t sure what to expect from ESPN employees who had spent time paying their dues.
“The people I might have passed along the way — for lack of a better word — they’ve been respectful and nice people,” he said.
Hall said some people came up to him and said they thought Dream Job was a joke and “a disgrace to their profession,” but his co-workers would give him the chance to prove himself.
“That’s basically all I would have asked for and all I needed,” he said.
Krulewitz said Hall came in admitting he didn’t know everything and was eager to learn.
“He’s confident but not in a way that would turn anybody off,” Krulewitz said.
The New Station
ESPNU will debut inabout 3 million homes tonight.
Krulewitz said the network will feature a combination of mass-appeal college sports, such as football and basketball, and more up-and-coming popular sports like lacrosse, volleyball and ice hockey.
As the television business has grown and changed, viewers have become used to channels that cater to their specific interests, Magnus said.
“College sports is not a niche,” he said. “It’s a massive category that goes way beyond football and basketball.”
While ESPNU will initially be limited to DirecTV in this area, the network is working with cable companies, including Mediacom, in hopes of expanding its audience.
For the network’s debut, Hall will host a live two-hour party in Stillwater, Okla. The channel will cover its first game, Texas at Oklahoma State, Saturday.
Magnus said it was important that ESPNU air for the first time on a college campus.
“That’s going to be a hallmark of ESPNU,” he said.
The programs on ESPN and ESPN2 will remain, Magnus said. The new network will supplement these lineups.
“The network will develop over time, but for now it will be a lot of games,” Hall said.
Krulewitz said ESPNU, an event-driven network, will broadcast 300 live events in its first year. Some events will be broadcast live and replayed in different time zones.
“When it comes down to it, people can’t get enough,” he said.
Along with live games, Krulewitz said Hall will anchor studio programming like specials around big events and national signing days.
Hall said the new position will be challenging, especially since the anchor has to be an expert in nearly every college sport and team. He said the challenge is both exciting and scary.
“Everything is going to be brand new,” he said. “It’s an opportunity—a blank canvas — and that’s pretty cool.”
Those who know Hall are confident that both the network and its anchor will be a success.
“It is a monumental challenge they have put on his shoulders,” Lippo said. “But if there’s anybody who can handle it, he’s the guy.”