Julie Stewart-Binks is one of soccer’s best sideline reporters and it’s easy to see why. Currently working full-time with ESPN, Stewart-Binks works ridiculously hard at her job and says that it’s more of a lifestyle with no time off — ever. We had a chance to talk about her job and how she prepares, being a woman in a male-dominated field, and soccer’s popularity — or lack thereof — in the United States.
First, if you’re not familiar with her, Stewart-Binks made her U.S. national television debut in July, 2011 as an anchor on FOX Soccer Report. In June 2013, she joined FOX Sports 1 at its launch – moving from Canada to Los Angeles to host the network’s FOX SOCCER DAILY studio show. Stewart-Binks was a roving reporter during FOX Sports’ presentation of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada. Covering the sport in her home country, she earned critical acclaim for her insightful reporting from 20 games in seven different Canadian cities during the tournament.
Born in Toronto, Stewart-Binks began her journalism career as a program assistant at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). At the CBC, she covered the National Hockey League working on the popular Hockey Night in Canada show. She also worked for CTV in Canada as a reporter and anchor before joining Fox Sports 1.
We were originally supposed to talk around the time of the ESPN layoffs which surprised everyone. You had just been hired. Were you concerned about being let go?
When it all came up, I personally wasn’t too worried because I had just been hired, so, I thought, if I am one of those laid off then it wasn’t meant to be right now. I’d only been hired two months and I kind of had a light-hearted approach to it because you can’t really plan those things. So many really talented people were let go and people who were institutions of ESPN.
When people who have young kids ask me advice on the industry, I tell them I’m just trying to stay alive. Every network I’ve been to has had major cuts, so it really makes you appreciate every single day you have. Even if it is tough, you’re just happy to have a job.
It’s been six years since you made your debut in the U.S. on the Fox Soccer Report. Looking back, what surprised you most about the job?
I always made the job bigger than what it was. I put it on a pedestal of “Oh my God, to work in the states and to be on TV is such a big deal and it’s so difficult to achieve — which it is — but, it’s not really. Everything is possible is what I figured out. I kind of figured out that no matter what kind of cards you’re dealt, it just depends on your mentality and your work ethic and how much you want it.
When did you make the decision that sports reporting was what you wanted to do?
I went to university in Canada and it was my early dream to be a sports psychologist. My mom, who was a TV and radio newscaster in Canada, told me that I should volunteer for the university’s radio station. They didn’t have any volunteer openings, but I ended up auditioning and my first interview was on some coffee house. I was so bad and awkward, but I loved that adrenaline and the performance aspect. As soon as I did that interview, I knew it was what I wanted to do with my life and then I started doing sports.
I was a huge jock growing up. I’ve been obsessed with sports and when I was in Canada, I really wanted to work for Hockey Insider. So, I had to either push myself because there were other opportunities in America, or stay in Canada and pursue the Hockey Insider. I thought I should see what’s out there in terms of not just pigeon holing myself into a Hockey Insider role.
You said you push yourself and have no life besides what you do. How much do you prepare for your work?
You always have to know what’s going on. If someone asks what I think about someone, I can’t say I don’t really know what’s going on. I always try to be up on every sports news. It’s not just scores and highlights. Every day, I’ll read different websites and scroll through Twitter . I just keep up-to-date on all different transactions and stories and see what is brewing out there. I might call or send out a few texts to agents coaches or GMs.
If I have a specific game in particular, I’ll go through the game’s line-up and, if there are any new faces, find out what their stories are and start thinking ahead on the biggest storylines for this weekend. I’ll do off-camera interviews with three or four players per game and then the coach. It’s about listening, and they drop so many instant nuggets you have to be able to pick them up and pursue them.
A girl shadowed me last weekend and I told her “I over over over prepare because the day I don’t is the day I’m going to get caught on something.” You just never know what’s going to happen in a game. Often, I’ll have nuggets that I have prepared that are really good that never see the light of day.
Anyone you emulated or followed their techniques and how they interviewed players?
I don’t have anyone in particular but growing up in Canada, Scott Oake (CBC Sports’ Hockey Night in Canada) always had a way of asking interesting questions and making very boring information seem engaging, especially with athletes. That’s hard to do sometimes.
For the most part, I have just done my own thing.
Let’s talk soccer. In this country, soccer isn’t as popular as it is in Europe and in other countries. It was sad to see the NASL struggling and the empty stadiums for the other soccer games too. What do you think we need to do to improve that?
That’s always the question we’re trying to answer. I think the biggest thing is just the fact athletes aren’t picking soccer. They’re picking basketball and football. Now, because of this whole millennial base of contingency, the MLS and the U.S. Women’s National Team they are raising or will raise children who are interested in soccer and think that soccer is cool.
The U.S. has to do well, I always think, in a World Cup, to have any kind of groundbreaking on the domestic league, but then on the other hand, we saw the U.S. women win and that didn’t have a huge effect.
I also think that seeing other sports like the NFL with concussion issues is going to hurt those sports in the long run, and I think it will help soccer.
Soccer is such an accessible sport. It’s only an hour and a half long, tickets aren’t that expensive and it has that kind of tribal feel like a college football game. Executives at ESPN have labeled it as one of the big sports: football, basketball and soccer — that are the future sports that people will be focused on.
Thanks Julie! Follow Julie on Twitter @JSB_TV
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