Earlier this week, newly signed Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey traveled to New York to undergo what’s known as a “car wash” — a whirlwind media tour with stops at several TV networks, The New York Times, and more. He was ushered through it all by Sean Dennison from MLS Communications. Here’s his take on it all.
7:10 am Hotel pick up is scheduled to give us enough leeway to fight midtown Manhattan traffic and get to MSNBC’s studios at 30 Rock. The crew — Dempsey; Jeff Garza, Seattle’s PR guy; Leo Cullen, MLS alum and now a director for James Grant Sports Management, the agency that reps Dempsey; and me — piled into an SUV and headed off.
7:45 am We arrive at MSNBC’s studios and met up with Joe Scarborough, the host of Morning Joe. The show has a long-running soccer segment every Monday morning during which Joe, a Liverpool supporter, duels ESPN’s Roger Bennett, who supports Everton. Unfortunately, Bennett isn’t here because he is in Bosnia covering the US national team’s friendly over there. But Dempsey had a good chat with Scarborough, broadcast and print journalist Mike Barnicle and former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, who, it turns out was a former goalkeeper at North Carolina State.
8:35 am A quick drive from 30 Rock to Times Square brings us to ABC’s Good Morning America. Josh Elliott, the show’s co-host, is a veteran of the sports world, having previously been an ESPN SportsCenter anchor and a writer for Sports Illustrated. It had been raining when we were at Morning Joe but it cleared up by the time we arrived at GMA, so they decided to do the segment outside on the plaza in Times Square. Best moment: When Elliott bro-hugged Dempsey at the end of the interview. Elliott was pumped.
9:00 am We head over to the Sports Illustrated offices and meet up with writer Grant Wahl in the lobby. Wahl and Dempsey have interacted for years so they’re familiar with each other. Wahl leads the way to a conference room in the SI offices. Wahl starts his interview by recalling that the first time he ever interviewed Dempsey, years ago, they were sitting in a Dunkin’ Donuts. We’ve come a long way.
9:30 am Time to jump on to SI Now Live, SI's daily talk show hosted by Maggie Gray. They have a nice studio on one of the SI floors, overlooking Fifth Avenue. Gray and the producers were excited to have Dempsey on the show. Here is a clip of the show.
10:45 am Next up, a quick drive to MLS HQ to do a couple of phone interviews. Rule No. 1 of phone interviews: Use a landline. Cell phones break up and give an echo-y sound that drives talk radio producers crazy. And they have long memories. First up is The Dan Patrick Show, with Mike Florio guest hosting. Florio is a football guy, but producer Paul Pabst is a staunch soccer supporter. Best moment: Dempsey addressing a Seattle fan’s neck tattoo : “One of the fans…got a tattoo of me on his neck. There’s some serious fans out there. It’s pretty crazy.”
11:00 am We call Roger Bennett in Bosnia. We hear the international ring tone, and Dempsey is on his game once Bennett picks up and does an interview for his article.
11:30 am After a few snack bars — none of us had breakfast — we head four blocks north to NPR’s studios to meet with sports reporter Mike Pesca. The NPR studios are always quieter than other media outlets' spaces. Whenever I visit them, I'm reminded of the SNL skit "Delicious Dish" with Ana Gasteyer and Molly Shannon.
12:00 pm Back to MLS HQ, our hunger is getting to be a distraction. But we’re going to power through the next interview with Sports News TV (SNTV) / Associated Press Television News. While we wait for the video guys to set up the lighting in a conference room, Dempsey and the group hangs out in my office, watching TV. As luck would have it, The Dan Patrick Show is on NBC Sports Network, and Pabst (far left in the photo below) and his fellow producers are having a roundtable discussion about Dempsey.
12:30 pm Finally time to eat. Sandwiches. Dempsey, world superstar that he is, goes with a grilled cheese and chicken noodle soup. New York Times sports columnist George Vecsey, who is the next interviewer, joins us and opts for a tomato and mozzarella panini. Vecsey is joined by NYT photographer Jabin Botsford, whose photos turn out to be one of the highlights of the day. He photographed Dempsey on the roof of MLS HQ and in the middle of traffic on the corner of 38th Street & 5th Avenue. Pretty cool.
1:30 pm Not done yet. Just getting started with the afternoon’s lineup. First up is CBS Evening News Sunday with anchor Jeff Glor. They’re set up in MLS HQ’s boardroom, and they tape a segment to air August 25, the night of Dempsey’s home debut in Seattle, when close to 70K people will turn out for the match against Portland.
2:30 pm Next comes CNN. We’re running late for the first time all day. The CNN folks in Atlanta call me. “Are you close?” We were in jeopardy of missing the window CNN has slotted the interview for. We’re caught in NYC traffic, but not too far away from their offices in the Time Warner Center. I don’t want to say our driver broke any laws, but he did pull some maneuvers to get us there just in time to do the interview.
3:30 pm We’re all exhausted. I’m actually pretty amazed Dempsey has kept it up. He’s nailed every interview and he hasn’t complained once. With some time to spare, we catch downtime at a Starbucks. We have 20 minutes to rest. Conversation turns to hockey (a sport I grew up playing) and Canada (where I’m from – Ottawa). Dempsey shares that he and some teammates took in a Colorado Avalanche game while in Denver for the famous World Cup qualifier in the snow.
4:00 pm We head uptown to ABC’s studios just west of Central Park. It’s a satellite interview with ESPNFC, the Worldwide Leader’s new daily soccer show. Coincidentally or not, Dempsey speaks with his former New England Revolution coach, Steve Nicol, and one of his former Revs teammates, Taylor Twellman (@taylortwellman). Best moment: Nicol joking with Dempsey about his new contract: “Remember the conversation we had when I drafted you? You said, coach, if things go well, I'll look after you?” They all enjoyed a good laugh.
4:20 pm Done! Dempsey and Garza have just enough time to get to Newark for a 6:30 flight to Seattle. Cullen drives back to the D.C. area. And I head back to the office. I’m exhausted. But these are the days that remind someone like me why we do it. You get to see how stardom works and how PR operates, and you get see that, really, players like Dempsey are just good guys.