So, what’s a nice girl from Van Wert, Ohio doing in a place like this? And by “this” I mean, outside of the Thrashers locker room interviewing players as well as other on air activities for the team.
Well, if you’re Natalie Taylor, what you are doing is providing Thrashers fans with updates and information about the team and the players. And it’s something she really enjoys doing.
Raised in a small town, she grew up knowing just about everyone there was to meet in the community. Her father is a county manager for the Ohio Department of Transportation…responsible for snow removal… and her mom was a homemaker.
“My younger brother and I kept my mom pretty busy with after-school activities and staying involved with us”, Natalie told me when discussing her family. “Thank goodness because that’s a big reason why we have the confidence and relationship with our parents that we do. In fact, when it’s not in the middle of an Ohio winter, they love to come down to Atlanta and make it to as many Thrashers’ games as possible. And you can spot a lot of my family wearing Thrasher-gear up in Van Wert”.
Taylor attended Bowling Green State University where she studied broadcast journalism. “I always wanted to be a reporter, an anchor”, She recalls. “Not necessarily sports, per se, but I got involved with our athletic department…started working with our football program, our basketball program and, ironically enough, Urban Meyer was our football coach at the time”.
Urban Meyer? Hey, that’s not going to sit well with our UGA fans around here, Natalie.
“Oops…sorry”, she replied with a chuckle.
Truth be told, Natalie is a Buckeye at heart but really enjoys the SEC and especially Mississippi State Football these days. “I became friends with Dan and Megan Mullen while he was one of Urban’s assistants at BGSU and Megan was the first sports anchor I interned with in Toledo, OH. In fact, I was even in their Wedding almost 5 years ago and they want to make it to one of the Thrashers’ games in the next few weeks. It’s funny how my alliances with teams continue to change and grow based on my relationships…just another great aspect to covering and working in sports”.
And the sports business kind of found her as much as she found it.
“[Sports] was just such a fun atmosphere that I thought this is just what I want to be a part of…I want to be able to share in something that people are so passionate about, away from their jobs, away from their families…what people go to for enjoyment”.
As she began to get more involved with college athletics, including BGSU’s hockey team, it became clear to her that her original passion of television journalism could be combined with her newly found interest…sports.
“I knew I wanted to be in television…even if I wasn’t in front of the camera I would still have a job behind the camera. I love television… I think it’s just a fascinating business. To be able to inform people of something they care about is something I’ve always wanted to do”.
And when it came to opportunities in the field of sports… “The doors just started opening”.
Natalie got one of her first taste in the business when she interned with Fox Sports Pittsburgh. There, she was able experience the NHL behind the scenes from a pretty good source. “I had the pleasure of spending time with Mario Lemieux and the Penguins and was able to get my first professional introduction to hockey that way”.
She then moved back to Bowling Green to complete her degree. Upon graduation, figured that since there weren’t a lot of media openings in northwestern Ohio, she would need to take her act on the road.
“I had my resume in hand…from the work at Bowling Green, the Mid American Conference, and while I was in Pittsburgh and decided to move to Atlanta [in 2004]. Atlanta has a lot of professional sports teams, CNN, FS South/SportSouth, Comcast”.
Her first gig here was working behind the scenes at a production house, “Great opportunity…learned everything from audio to editing, was really able to sharpen my skills on air as well…I started doing SEC gymnastics and track and field…doing bits and piece of events here and there. But my ‘full time’ job was producing and doing production work”.
“I actually then started doing stuff with NASCAR…got involved at Charlotte, their Legends Series…things on stage and on air for them…and for NASCAR.com”.
Then came her break with FS South/SportSouth, whom she had done some work for as well.
“They came to me in 2006 and offered me my first contract”. At first, Natalie reported on SEC sports during a weekly show they did for the conference’s athletics.
For the first two years, Taylor reported for the show. Then she was promoted to co-host with Dave Neal. “I had a great time doing that show. We covered everything from football to basketball…we still did the Olympics sports and women’s sports…it was great and I love studio work”.
“And so I was just plugging away doing that, when I got called into my boss’ office. I honestly thought it was about [doing] sideline for southern conference football”.
But instead, she was asked how she felt about hockey, specifically the Atlanta Thrashers…and her arm didn’t need any twisting.
“I said…yes, let’s do it”!
She then met with the people from the Atlanta Spirit, “And they decided to move forward with having me do stuff for their in-house show, then Fox signed me on to do all of their home games”.
She’s now in her second year with the Thrashers, and she couldn’t be happier with what she’s doing.
“I love meeting the people…and not just the players and the on air personalities I get the opportunities to work with, which I’ve been so spoiled in that area. But also the coaches, the trainers, the people behind the scenes in the control room at Philips Arena…great group of people that I’ve been able to work and become friends with. But to be able to cover Thrashers hockey…I really have such an appreciation for this sport now and have completely fallen for this sport”.
“And when people ask me ‘what’s your favorite sport’, they always assume I’ll say NASCAR because I had done pit reporting for three years…or football because of my work in the SEC”.
“Nope”, she says smiling and shaking her head, “It’s really hockey because I think there is a raw element to hockey…and the speed…and I have a chance to go behind the scenes and see how it all works, to see the training, to see everything that goes into it, to see the dedication and the time these players and coaches put in [to succeed]…and plus I get to stand right on the boards and watch the games”.
That’s got to be a blast, eh Natalie?
“It is”, she replied with the look of someone who still genuinely gets a thrill out of being so close to such a fast and exciting game. “Like with NASCAR, when I’m down in the pits, it’s really something for all of the senses…to feel the speed, you can feel it in your chest, you can feel the noise. Same thing with hockey…you can experience the speed, you can see what these players are able to do and see what athletes they really are… I’ve really been blessed to be able to cover these sports and have such a respect for them”.
Another aspect Natalie loves about her job with the Thrashers is the fact that, even though she is working in the “sports business”, hockey and the NHL still seems to put the “sports” part above the “business” part. The players are so much more accessible and personable and that makes her job just that much more fun and enjoyable.
But by focusing on the part of the job she enjoys so much…the sports side…also affords her the ability to also deal with the business side.
Part of her job, as she puts it, is that… although she is a reporter…she is also a promoter of the sport and the team in this market. “Yes we are journalist and we tell the story, but it’s a great position that I’m in, which is why I always put a positive spin it. And so I think that’s allowed me to have the positive interaction with Don Waddell and people from the business side that wants this to succeed as a franchise and a corporation. They know I’m not there to dig and find the negative dirt. I’m there to try and promote [the team]…and so that’s the best part, that I get to put that positive spin and have fun talking to these players and get their stories out there and be able to interact with everyone else”.
As for player interviews during intermission, the subject matter discussed all comes from her observations and thoughts regarding the game.
”Basically, I go to every morning skate. At that time, I’m able to talk with the players afterwards, find out any story lines, like tonight [January12] we have all the lines shuffled around. After talking to the players we then talked to coach Anderson about it”…As I talk to the coach I take notes and bullet point what his ideas are for the game, what needs to happen…like today, he said ‘play tougher in front of both nets’…so I’m going to keep that in the back of my mind”.
“Then I go home in between morning skate and the game, go through my notes, do any more research that I need for the game…find any stats that really stand out that I can formulate to a question earlier…come back, we have meetings and we figure out what story lines we’re going to follow. Then when it’s game time I able to follow it, listening to Darin Elliot and Matt McConnell in my ear if it’s televised or Dan Kamal if it’s on radio…that’s the reason for the earpiece”.
So even though the job is fun, it’s also a great deal of work and effort. It’s just that it never appears that way when one watches her go about her business.
As for the interviews, “If there’s a goal scorer then obviously we are going to want to talk to him…or if it was somebody with a great assists…or if was somebody that fits in with what we were talking about before the game we’ll want to talk to him. So I put the questions together, run it by my producer, run it by PR and make sure everyone is happy where we’re going”.
“There are some go-to players who you know you can get some good answers from…not just those who will give you the ‘business corporate speak’ answers”. And there are some that the camera “simply loves”…among those are Ron Hainsey, Zach Bogosian, Jim Slater and Eric Boulton.
Ever been turned down by a player or the organization to chat with them during breaks?
“Yes…if fans don’t see a player interview, [outside of a technical difficulty], it’s most likely because it’s been declined because they wanted the players to focus on the game during intermission”.
“Goalies are never an option. They are very superstitious players and we never request them. [If we need to discuss goaltending] I’ll normally talk to coach Steve Weeks”.
As for the Thrashers themselves… Natalie feels that, while still a work in progress, they are capable of very good things. “This team has proven that they can win, we have strong players, we have an explosive team. They simply need to continue to work on team chemistry and individual execution”.
As for the recent holiday slump they just went though, Natalie says, “I think you have guys who are getting so much pressure about why their numbers aren’t where they were last year. I think they are all working very hard…but I think it’s just a mental thing with a few of them”.
“I think all it’s going to take for this team is to get two wins under their belts and then they aren’t going to be questioning [there abilities] and their confidence will be back up where it needs to be”.
Is this team, as many have described them, “fragile”?
“Oh I don’t know, I wouldn’t say ‘fragile’…like I said, I think individually these guys all know they can play, they’ve proven it”.
Taylor also works with HDNet, Mark Cuban’s network, and does NASCAR, football and basketball for them. “It’s a great company that I’ve been able to be involved with for three years now. I actually finished covering the United Football League that just finished it’s first season, which was certainly interesting and fun”.
“And when hockey season is over, I’m actively looking…so if you know anybody, Bill…”
Sports, as you can tell, is a 24-7 thing for Natalie. But when she does have “free time” she enjoys spending it working out and with her black Lab named “Rookie”, named so because he was her first dog.
“He’s a big football player…quite the athlete…so he requires a lot of my time as you can imagine, try to get him out of my small apartment to work out”.
With the abilities to take down another dog in an open-field tackle?
“No…not that much, but he’d definitely be a good wide receiver. He is very talented in that area”.
That’s a good thing for Rookie…because sports have become not only Natalie’s occupation, but also it’s her passion and life.