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A Communicator's Playbook, with Matt Baker

Matt Baker

Matt Baker

Published: October 2021 by John Leung

            Matt Baker sits in his BC Lions office in downtown Vancouver on a cool and overcast autumn day, a good day to talk Canadian football.

            Born and raised in Vancouver, Baker loved watching sports for as far as he could remember.  His dad made sure that he got into sports at a young age.  “He’d take me to Canucks or Lions games since I was six years old, and I was immediately hooked on sports,” Baker reminisces.  “I used to stay up listening to [renowned local radio broadcasters] Jim Robson and Tom Larscheid religiously on school nights.  I’ve been a lifelong sports fan, so once I was clear that I wasn’t good enough to play sports professionally, I made up my mind to pursue a career in sports broadcasting.”

            After graduating from North Delta Senior Secondary School in 2002, Baker earned a Broadcast and Media Communications in Journalism diploma from the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) in 2007, where he learned on-air broadcasting, writing skills and how to work well in teams.  

            Baker began his professional journey as an internet broadcaster for the Vancouver Canadians minor-league baseball team in July 2005.  While his dream of being a play-by-play announcer only lasted a year, he soon joined now-defunct local sports radio station, TEAM/TSN 1040, to get his foot in the door of the sports journalism industry.  “I started to enjoy the day-to-day aspects of sports radio,” he explains.  “CFL football was also my first love, so I wanted to do something with the CFL or the BC Lions.  In a way, I’m living a dream now.”

            With respected long-time broadcasters and colleagues Barry Macdonald and Bob Marjanovich showing him the ropes and giving him advice, Baker soon became a prominent radio personality for TSN 1040 from 2007 to 2015.  During this time, he produced and hosted Game Night, a two-hour show on weeknights where he recapped the day’s top sports stories and audio, with a heavy focus on the local teams in Vancouver. 

            “It’s good to have mentors,” he refers to Macdonald and Marjanovich, who he keeps in touch with.  “If people like you, then they’d help you as well.”

            After the radio gig, Baker did some college sports play-by-play and in-house player interviews for the Vancouver Stealth (now Vancouver Warriors) National Lacrosse League team.

            Baker’s dream of working with the BC Lions was realized when he became the Digital Content Coordinator in 2016.  With the help of then-Communications Director, Jamie Cartnell, Baker generated written and video contents for, as well as social media and sponsorship materials. 

            “My time in sports radio helped me along the way,” he explains about the seamless transition from reporting on sports stories on radio to generating contents for the Lions.  “I didn’t do a lot of writing until I joined the Lions.  I started out by pursuing stories and writing articles.”

            “The biggest difference is that I’m doing it for a team now, not for an independent broadcasting company,” he continues.  “We write to pump up the team, not for editorial contents.  It had a mix of new stuff that I had to learn and old stuff that I already knew, which eased the transition.”

            Being familiar with the sports communications business, knowing what stories people want to pursue, and having good media contacts would help Baker to succeed Cartnell as the Communications and Content Manager in Feb. 2020.  “I’m the first point of contact for the media as far as communications go,” he describes his role.  “There’s always lots of game-related duties to fulfill, like media requests for practices, sit-down interviews, or exclusive Zoom calls with broadcasting partner TSN, generating story and content ideas for our website, creating positive contents about the team on social media.”

            In the offseason when the Lions aren’t playing, Baker reports on player transactions or releases, coaching or staff changes, plans for next season’s training camp, and updates the media guide and the team’s history.   Free agency and the CFL Draft are always busy times.  He covered the prospects combine (evaluation camp for Canadian collegiate football athletes to attract team management and scouts) in a chosen city, as well as free agent camps in the US before the pandemic, but those are now put on hold.

            Baker enjoys being around the players.  “There’s something about the CFL players.  They’re not millionaires or divas, but are more down to earth,” he shares with a smile about the enjoyments of his role.  “Also, promoting the team, especially during gameday and when they’re winning, and the thrill of being close to the action.“

            He works on field level while his junior staff runs the press box and helps with contents writing and gameday tasks.  Together, they work with marketing staff on social media and other digital marketing, and partnerships. 

His role is tedious at times, especially with gameday duties:  making sure all the media fulfillment is taken cared of.  “It can be very fast-paced and challenging during games, especially when something crazy happens or someone gets injured,” he adds.  “People come to me for updates.” 

            Baker does his best to keep the BC Lions relevant by promoting and marketing the team, especially being a smaller market team with less interests than the National Hockey League’s Canucks, whose news is always front-page content locally.  It was more challenging during the pandemic, when no games were played as the CFL season was being cancelled.  He and his team transferred contents to the website, and community programs to Zoom.  For instance, this time last year would have been the Grey Cup Week, which was usually a live celebration.  Instead, they held a virtual celebration to reunite the 2000 Grey Cup team.  “We somehow managed it,” he concludes, chuckling. 

            Baker finds it helpful to have a communications diploma and try to learn as much as he can by networking with and talking to people in these positions like him.  “Be a good writer—there’s all kinds of communications jobs that require good writing.  Have good attention to detail,” he advised.  “Any type of job you can get that requires you to speak publicly or be a good writer will set you up for any path you want.”

            As for getting into the sports industry, he warns, “Sports is tough.  There’s only nine of my jobs (nine CFL teams) in Canada and even less for hockey, but if you check off all those boxes I’ve listed, it should open many doors for you.  Reach out to the junior league teams, like the [Western Hockey League’s] Giants and the BC Hockey League teams, or just volunteer for them while you’re still in school.  I’m sure some of these teams would like more exposure.”   

            Finally, Baker defines professionalism.  “A sign of a good professional is when you can do the job and exceed expectations when facing challenges,” he shared.  “Put in the work and do the job the best you can.  Showing that you can still rise above challenges when things aren’t going well.  I’ve been to some tough situations; it’s all about how you handle it.”

            Baker surely has handled it well, like scoring the winning touchdown for the Lions.  Great play!

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