Our first guest is Sports Broadcaster Journalist and current Football Presenter at LaLiga TV, Semra Hunter.
Tell us about yourself, what you currently do and how did you end up where you are right now?
I’m originally from the US, born and raised in Los Angeles. My journey with sports, more specifically football, started when I was three years old and picked up a soccer ball for the first time. My path in sports broadcast journalism, however, began in 2012 when I started my Masters program in Sports Journalism and Communication in Madrid, Spain.
During my studies, I landed an internship with Al-Jazeera Sport at the same time that BeIN SPORTS was created, and did work for both. But within a few months, I joined Real Madrid TV, the club’s official channel, to work as a reporter and eventually presenter in both English and Spanish. After two and a half years of pitch side reporting, studio hosting and traveling the globe with the team, I moved to Istanbul, Turkey, to work as a Sports Anchor and Correspondent for the international network, TRT World. During my time there, I was either in the studio hosting our daily sports show, or on a plane headed somewhere to cover a major sporting event, feature story or interview.
At the start of 2018, two years into my time with TRT World, I decided to move back to Spain. It was there that the stars aligned and LaLiga TV was created, my absolute dream job at the time, and I was brought in as the match day presenter. Now, I’m in my third season and loving it. I’ve done everything from hosting all the match day coverage of all the games on weekends, to traveling across Spain to conduct in-depth interviews with players, to hosting Galas and other various media events for LaLiga — all in either English or Spanish.
When did you know you wanted to work in sports broadcasting?
Growing up, I had two very simple passions in life: sports and travel. I had wanted to become a professional soccer player and worked for years towards that goal, but for a series of reasons I wasn’t able to make that dream come to fruition. After the very painful acceptance that I wouldn’t be able to pursue a career as a professional athlete, it took me years to come up with an alternative. My parents are both avid sports fans, and it wasn’t until a couple years after I graduated from University that my mom one day made the comment that I would make a great sideline reporter. It was a total ‘eureka’ moment, but also one of those ‘why hadn’t I thought of that myself!?’ moments. And that was that!
As the host of LaLiga TV, what does a normal week look like for you?
Every season has evolved for me in a different way, and this season with the pandemic in the foreground things have changed quite a lot. This season I’m anchoring our flagship program ‘Viva LaLiga’ from Tuesdays to Fridays. It’s an hour and a half, and every day has a different theme to it. To make it more fun, I came up with taglines for each day — Tuesday Tactics (a break down of the previous match day tactics), Wednesday Wisdom (a debate show), Thursday Throwback (a focus on players, teams and stories from the past), and Fútbol Fridays (a preview of the upcoming match day plus pre- and post- game coverage of the Friday night game).
My days start early as I prepare every individual show on my own, in agreement of the topics with the program editor. As I don’t use a prompter, I make sure to always have notes and topics of discussion prepared! So typically I’ll spend most of the day working on that as our shows are in the evenings, starting at 7pm CET.
What is the most enjoyable part of your role?
Working with wonderful colleagues — both behind and in front of camera. I feel very fortunate to work with people from all walks, who bring their own unique experience to the party. I have colleagues from Spain, South America and the UK — it’s a really nice mix of cultures, languages and ways of doing things. I’m learning something new all the time. When it comes to the studio guests, I work alongside some of the very best in the biz. Former players, managers and journalists who all have a deep passion and great understanding of Spanish football (as well as football in general) with decades of experience. Plus, they’re all so down to earth, easy going and incredibly fun to be around.
Not a day goes by without some kind of fit of laughter! I’ve grown so much thanks to everyone and I couldn’t be more grateful.
What is the most difficult part of your role?
If you had asked me before this season, I would have said the long hours and intensity of the work day. In Spain the matches are stacked, so no two matches ever overlap (in normal circumstances). I had a more normal schedule of shows on Thursdays and Fridays, but my weekends consisted of working from noon to midnight every Saturday and Sunday, in the studio for all the pre-match, halftime and post-match coverage. While thoroughly enjoyable (I have such a blast covering live games!), it was a killer mentally, especially by the end of the season. To be honest, nothing seems quite as difficult after that!
You have covered some of the biggest sporting events in the world, what’s been your favourite moments/highlights?
That’s a tough one! Every experience was so unique it’s difficult to compare. One for sure would be traveling with the team on their preseason tour to Australia and China when I was working for Real Madrid TV. It lasted for three weeks and was full-on in terms of working 16–17 hour days, but the adrenaline kept you going. It was such an amazing time — from following the team around to cover their every move, to discovering new places and meeting all sorts of new people. From trying new foods, to learning about other cultures and traditions to exploring cities so vast and complex it boggles the mind. It was a one-of-a-kind adventure, and one I will definitely cherish forever.
Another highlight would be when I went to Qatar to create a 30-min special on the five year build-up to the World Cup 2022. It’s a story I often share about interviewing Xavi Hernández. He’s my favorite player of all time. I was a midfielder, so I naturally gravitated toward him when I first moved to Barcelona and started watching Barça. I was hooked. I used to make the joke that I could retire whenever I had the chance to interview him, but luckily for me that happened almost immediately into my career. And several times at that! So no retirement in the end, ha ha. I interviewed him three times in Doha, and even had the chance to play some football with him on two occasions. I never could have imagined that. A real dream come true.
What do you think are the key skills to being a successful sports broadcaster?
One of the most important things is to listen. You learn so much from listening. My role is as a facilitator of a conversation, not to be the center of the conversation. So for me the focus is on hearing what those around me are saying — be it the studio guests, player or manager interviews, reporters, etc. — and to try and build an interesting and entertaining discussion around that. That way you can both help the conversation flow in a natural way, building on what someone says, or use what they say to make a change of direction. What helps me to achieve that objective is to play to everyone’s strengths, to get the best out of them. It’s crucial to really get to know each person — their personalities, the way they think, what they like to talk about, what they’re most knowledgeable about, what makes them tick and so on — so that you can figure out how to get the most interesting answers possible.
Another thing I would say is to be as natural as possible. It can be extremely difficult and take quite some time to develop (which is perfectly normal), but for me it’s a crucial element of how I like to come across while broadcasting. I think for one thing, it helps you to relax more and not stress as much, which is hard but very useful! Also, on the one hand, I think it helps you to enjoy so much more what you are doing. On the other, I find that the people who are most natural on camera are the ones who best engage with their audience. And at the end of the day, that’s what we’re trying to do, right!?
What general advice would you give to those individuals looking to pursue a career in sports broadcasting?
The important thing is to just start. Social media is a very powerful tool. We live in a time now where anyone can take advantage to have a voice and create their own content. Start up a sports writers blog, a Youtube channel, a podcast or whatever else is of interest to you. Use them to help build your brand as a sports journalist. You can then use platforms like Twitter / Instagram / Facebook / etc. to promote your work and created content.
Another great thing to do is to analyze professionals that you admire. Whether it’s TV presenters, radio hosts, print journalists — whomever it may be — watch / listen / read what they have to say, determine why you think they are so good at what they do and then try to emulate it.
Thirdly, keep going. Everyone has a unique path that will take them to where they want to go. Which is why, difficult as it may be, it’s so important to not compare yourself to others. What works for them may not work for you, and vice versa. It’s never a straight line from A to Z, and the road can be quick rocky on the way to fulfilling your goals. There can be really tough moments when you feel like you aren’t making progress, or as though you’ve taken a step backward. But the truth is, you are. Plus, the good news is that there’s always something to be learned from every experience, no matter how good or disappointing it may be as long as you’re willing to see it that way.
Where do you see your career in the future? Are there any specific objectives you hope to achieve?
Ideally, I want to take my career as far as I possibly can. As to what that looks like, to be honest that’s something I’m still working on! However, there are two clear objectives I can say for sure that I would like to achieve. One is to host a major event — a Ballon d’Or, The Best FIFA Awards, UCL draw kind of event. The second, and probably my biggest goal of all right now, is to host World Cup coverage. It’s something that I’ve yet had the opportunity to do. And just as it’s the greatest dream for many footballers to win one, to host one has been mine since I started my career!
And finally Semra, where can people find you on social media?
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