It was the mid 1980s. Rod Murray had just gotten married. Besides a bride, he had two things going for him. Well, make it three. He had a degree in telecommunications. He owned a Pinto. And he had goals. So he climbed into his car (with his bride by his side and his goals swimming around his head) and pointed it toward California, the land of dreams.
“I had no prospects,” Murray says. “And I anticipated a career in media advertising. I loved playing sports but never thought about a sports-based career.”
Then he ran smack dab into a sobering realization.
“I found out quickly that ad agencies weren’t beating down my door,” he says. “So I worked multi-media and some interesting computer-graphics jobs for the first few years. I only got involved in sports out of need for a second job. I took a part-time position in a new "Jumbotron" control room at Anaheim Stadium in 1988.”
Taking that job was one of Murray’s best decisions.
“The job provided plenty of hands-on opportunities during events,” he says. “Angels, Rams, CIF football, off-road racing.”
It’s funny how a person finds his passion in the strangest of places. Murray found his in the control room at Anaheim Stadium. Like many successful individuals who stumble into a hidden talent stitched into their DNA, Murray discovered his ability to make stadium magic.
“While many of our staff focused on making the jump to the broadcast trucks,” Murray says. “I found a good niche editing videos and building DVE packages for in-park entertainment.”
In other words, somebody had to figure out what was going to appear on that Jumbotron. Murray was the man behind the curtain. The sports wizard of an Orange County Oz.
“The need for content was there and I guess I really liked the creative programming freedom of this new medium.”
The Angels weren’t stupid. They knew they had a talented guy on their hands.
“The part-time gig led to a full-time opportunity with the Angels as their in-game entertainment manager in 1989, where I stayed until 1994. My primary focus was creating and producing in-game video and matrix content for Angels games.”
During that time, Murray says he got involved with IDEA -- information display and entertainment association. “I won some industry "golden matrix awards" for in-venue production excellence and was elected IDEA president in 1994.
By now the Angels couldn’t keep Murray a secret. Word of his talent moved across the country faster than the Montreal Expos unload talent.
“Shortly thereafter I was recruited and hired by the Cleveland Cavs in 1994 to launch and manage their new in-game production and entertainment department as part of their team's move to new downtown Gund Arena.”
Okay, when NBA franchises are calling you to do their whole “in-game entertainment” system, we’re talking about a damn cool job. Murray won’t argue with that.
After working for the Cavs through 1998, “Disney contacted me to return to SoCal and oversee joint Angels and Mighty Ducks production and entertainment operations. The Angels were eventually sold and my role evolved from department head over two teams to Ducks-only department management and gameday entertainment operations.”
So, you may be wondering. All this sounds fantastic, but what exactly does Murray do? Turns out, a little bit of everything.
“Basically, this job is about creating and executing a turn key event presentation for the franchise.”
Murray breaks it down into two groups. The administrative side and the game day side.
“The administrative side includes standard business responsibilities like budget and business plan development, staff management (including Entertainment Coordinator, Production Manager, part-time event and production staff, Wild Wing (mascot) and Power Players interactive group), submitting business reports and proposals, and maintaining daily communication with front office staff, building management, vendors, business partners, fans, league office, and other teams.
That sounds like a job in and of itself. But it doesn’t even include the games.
“Game responsibilities include pre-event planning, script-writing, creative development and approval of all visual and audio elements, and ultimately, live event direction.”
Murray says his goal is to make a “connection with our fans that enhances their event experience.”
That’s where the talent comes in. How does somebody make that connection at a sporting event?
“Strategies to achieve this may vary by team based on, among other things, team philosophies, budgets, and facility resources,” Murray says. “We focus on creative programming, content development, brand-building, and timing timing timing -- much like an on-air broadcast. People are surprised when they realize how much content is actually involved in an in-arena presentation, yet the ability to be spontaneous and react effectively to the game means everything. Our goal's are two-fold: One is to engage our fans with applicable entertainment and information, and the other is to fulfill our team messaging and partner fulfillment obligations. If all goes well, it's a seamless marriage of the two.”
A perfect example of this was during the spring of 2003. Out of nowhere, the Mighty Ducks stormed through the playoffs (beating the favored Detroit Red Wings along the way) and came within one game of winning Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Murray, in his wizard role, was there for all the magic.
“One of the greatest career experiences I've had was the Ducks' Stanley Cup run this past season. Everything just came together; the team, the fans, an electric in-game atmosphere.”
As far as advice, Rod Murray suggests this:
“For someone starting out, my greatest suggestions are to treat people well, work hard, stay humble, and be willing to start anywhere you can and work up from there. In this field there's nothing better than real hands-on experience, so look for internships or any other way to get in the door and help. Listen, pay attention and learn -- and jump at the chance to get your hands dirty on projects. Be patient...these jobs aren't plentiful but are worth the wait. Interestingly, I didn't seek out a professional sports career. In all honesty, I wasn't even aware of this field as a career option until I took the part-time job with Anaheim Stadium in '88. In many respects, I was just in the right place at the right time. But once I did know, I worked hard at making the extra effort to get noticed and get my foot in the door, and I guess that's what it will always come down to. Bottom line, I love my job and look forward to coming to work every day. You can't ask for much more than that.”