ESPN’s Samantha Ponder (Allen Kee / ESPN Images)
Snapshot of ESPN’s Regularly Assigned Sideline Reporters
Dr. Jerry Punch
“Let’s go to the third member of our team today. . .”
It’s a “throw” like that, from the play-by-play announcer to the sideline reporter, that has become a staple of game coverage on ESPN and throughout the industry.
At ESPN, the roster of sideline reporters is deep, diverse and talented. Whether it’s Lisa Salters on the Monday Night Football sideline, Jeannine Edwards at a college basketball game or Quint Kessenich at a college football game, the network’s sideline patrollers have become the gold standard for sideline reporting, regardless of sport.
With a mix of experienced, familiar faces and up and coming reporters, ESPN is uniquely positioned to develop sideline reporters who add important perspective, information and interviews to game telecasts.
Samantha Ponder has been with ESPN for two years, starting as a reporter at Longhorn Network and then reporting from the sidelines for the Thursday Night College Football game package and debuting on College Football GameDay.
When football season ended, Ponder transitioned to the hardwood working courtside with some of the most recognizable voices in college basketball — Jay Bilas, Dan Dakich, Mike Tirico and Dick Vitale — on the Super Tuesday and Saturday primetime college basketball games.
She will be reporting from courtside at Rupp Arena for Missouri at Kentucky this Saturday at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Front Row spoke with Ponder to get a recap of her time at ESPN and a look ahead to her bright future.
Is there a sideline reporter mission statement or an ultimate goal regardless of the sport?
Everyone is different. My goal is to give the viewer information they couldn’t get if they weren’t on the sideline. I don’t pre-plan stories. In my opinion, those are best told by the booth, from someone who has more than 20 seconds to explain.
I want to get timely, relevant information from observations on the field/court that a fan at home couldn’t know unless they were right there with me. What is the point of field/court access if it doesn’t provide new insight?
My focus is always injuries first, coach instruction/demeanor/commentary and player communication/demeanor second. Anything else needs to be interesting and not distract from the flow of the game.
What advice have you gotten from other female reporters?
First, I’d like people to know that the vast majority of us get along great and support each other. I’ve had great experiences with other reporters at ESPN. I’ve gotten advice from Shelley Smith about staying true to myself. Jenn Brown and I became friends when I was at LHN and often compare notes on things we experience. Holly Rowe does an amazing job of giving valuable information all while looking like she enjoys her job. It’s such a huge industry now. There’s plenty of room to be yourself and support other people at the same time.
Did you come into ESPN with any goals or expectations?
This all happened very quickly. I’ve said before that I didn’t have cable growing up, so I didn’t get to watch ESPN as a kid. If someone told me I would be covering the Phoenix Suns for my hometown station I would have thought I had the coolest job ever, so doing what I do now is so far beyond my expectations.
My goal is cheesy but I like to keep it simple: I want to do the best with what God gave me and make the people around me feel important along the way. If I ever master that perfectly, I’ll find a new goal.
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