From the US to the UK: Sky Sports’ Jena Mihalovic talks locker rooms, challenges and change
International Women's Day 2021 focus
In the sunshine state of Florida, “football is a way of life” says Jena Mihalovic, Sky Sports’ operational delivery lead. Mihalovic started out as a camera operator in the States, and she says of working in American football-obsessed Florida that, “we covered high school football like it was Premier League”.
“On a typical Friday night, I was one of 13 camera operators that would go out and cover multiple games, picking up highlights or even going up in the helicopter to shoot as many games as we could for the live evening highlight show.
“I’ve been punched in the face by the father of a convicted murderer, pushed down a flight of stairs by a slumlord, spat on while shooting on the sidelines; I think some of it comes with the job, but I am not naïve and understand they took me for an easier target over my male colleagues in the same moment”
“From there I moved back to NYC working as a freelance [camera operator] for multiple channels, and I covered mostly sports during that time. NYC had a plethora of major sports teams to cover, so I was lucky to be involved in so many huge sporting events: Stanley Cup finals, World Series, Super Bowls, US Opens and NBA finals.
“After a few years, I took a new opportunity to become a field producer for a new 24/7 sports station which led me into remote operations, leaving camera work,” she continues. “Eventually, I wound up as an operations production manager for the NFL Network before coming to Sky.”
In the line of duty
While Mihalovic’s time in the US working as a camera operator had its exhilarating moments, there were challenges that she faced in her line of duty. She explains: “Being the only woman in a locker room wasn’t always fun. There was one time in particular where the team was celebrating a big win – the kind with drinks everywhere and you see the crew in raincoats and plastic bags – and one of the players poured a bottle of champagne down the back of my pants while I was shooting a live segment.
“I’ve been punched in the face by the father of a convicted murderer, pushed down a flight of stairs by a slumlord, spat on while shooting on the sidelines; I think some of it comes with the job, but I am not naïve and understand they took me for an easier target over my male colleagues in the same moment.”
However, she adds: “I believe my past experiences have been a huge help in handling the role, which led to my current role [at Sky Sports]. I had worked across multiple organisations, and they all did things a little differently, but I was familiar with getting up to speed in a short amount of time, and I relished creating order from chaos.”Career evolution
Mihalovic’s first job in broadcasting came through an internship she carried out at school. She says: “I was very fortunate that my high school had a TV programme. There was a newscast every week, and to make money for our kits we used to record the school’s football games and sell videos at year end. My first venture into sports broadcasting was shooting those games and editing highlight reels. My teacher, Mr Giuffre, helped get me an internship at a local cable station, and from there, I got my first job in TV, as a photographer for News 12 Long Island. I was incredibly lucky as my best friend was also hired for the same role, and we were the first two females hired as camera operators at the station. It was awesome; honestly, I used to think, “You are going to pay me to do this?”
“My station was considered part of the NYC market which is the number one market in the US,” Mihalovic continues. “I was always in awe of the national network guys, and they were generally all guys. It became the norm to be the only woman behind the scenes covering events. I started covering a bit of sports features while mostly covering breaking news. It was an incredible to experience what most people only saw on television every day.”
She studied Communication Arts for a bachelor’s degree while working at the local TV news station. Later in her career, she completed a Masters Degree in Media Studies, eventually ending up in the UK at Sky.
Mihalovic was hired as a technical manager for Sky Production Services (SPS) and was offered a secondment with Sky Sports to launch a new channel, Sky Sports Racing. She comments: “I was looking for other opportunities within Sky when this was offered. I was nervous but excited to face a new challenge.”
She goes on: “The hardest thing for me has been managing time, so many priorities and not enough minutes in the day.” On the most challenging thing about working in live sport today, she adds: “Beside operating in COVID, I would say the technology is changing so rapidly. It seemed like a lifetime ago that we transitioned from tape to non-linear editing, and look where we are now. It’s incredibly exciting as well as challenging.”
“Bringing remote production to the scale we have; it has levelled the playing field. People that previously wouldn’t have had the chance to work on Premier League could now take part in some of our biggest events”
As to what she enjoys, she says: “It is always different. We are constantly looking to make things better. So one day, it can be setting up Sky Crowds, and the next, it is bringing remote production to football.”
Remote production evolutions at Sky Sports implemented over the last year have accelerated the pace of challenge and the sense of achievement for Mihalovic. She says: “Obviously, this past year has been like no other. The pace at which we instituted change and to the scale we did though; it’s breathtaking. We had started with English Football League as a remote production, and then with COVID we were tasked with bringing 64 Premier League games remotely in just 100 days for the restart of the season. I am incredibly proud of what my team has accomplished to keep our colleagues safe and to allow for our high standard of production to continue.
The really cutting edge aspect of the remote production is the size of the operation it now empowers, Mihalovic states. “Bringing remote production to the scale we have; it has levelled the playing field. People that previously wouldn’t have had the chance to work on Premier League could now take part in some of our biggest events. It meant that after a long shift covering Liverpool versus Manchester United, you were able to drive home within an hour. It didn’t matter if you were going to be assigned the Chelsea game or the Newcastle game for the lunchtime match, you know you could be home for dinner.”
Outstandingly cool points
For Mihalovic, there have been some outstandingly cool points in her career. She reminisces: “Super Bowls are pretty special, given the scale of the events. Working on a tall ship for a week sailing along the Northeast Coast, drinking out of the Stanley Cup, political conventions, the Kentucky Derby, covering Blizzards and Hurricanes games, NBA Finals, Commonwealth Games… There are so many incredible events to look back on.”
For other women looking to move into a role in sports broadcasting, Mihalovic concludes with three top tips:
- Be curious! About everything!! About other people, how they got there, why, what is their passion? How do things work, who does what, why is it done that way?
- Be Resilient. Build this up, find what makes you happy outside of work and cultivate that.
- Be Kind. TV is a team sport, and we all need each other to make great television. A smile can go a long way when you are working crazy hours in weird conditions.