Tina Cervasio has become a regular visitor into the homes of New York sports fans. Whether you follow the Knicks or the Red Bulls, or enjoy watching Fox Five’s “Sports Extra,” the New Jersey native is there talking to New York’s favorite athletes and personalities. Cervasio’s passion for sports comes from her family, as does her belief in giving back to the community. We took a few minutes for New York Sports Day to get to know a little more about one of the faces in front of the camera in the New York area.
As someone who focuses on soccer and hoops, what do you see as the biggest difference in how you approach your job?
The biggest difference between covering NBA and MLS is the TV schedule. This season MSG is traveling to a handful of games! So that has added to my schedule, but I love it. The more games the better. And I am the host of the Red Bulls pre-game show, Red Bulls Game Night. That changes my preparation; I do spend quite a bit of time the day before the game, and game day morning writing my script. We don’t have a teleprompter on the field, so I really have to know my material.
Where did you learn about soccer?
I learned the x’s and o’s of soccer, not by playing, but by helping my middle school science teacher, Joe Bertuzzi, type his book on coaching soccer. I then worked in his soccer/sporting goods store through high school. It helped me qualify to become the manager of the Women’s Soccer Team at the University of Maryland. There I got to work under former National Team Head Coach and World Cup Champion April Heinrichs. But the key to my job reporting on the Red Bulls is to add stories, back ground, player reaction to what is being said on the broadcast, convey a player’s personality. Shep Messing’s job is the x’s and o’s, he’s the best one to convey a certain amount of knowledge to the viewing audience. I’m there to enhance the broadcast, whether it’s adding to his analysis about what a player might think about something, or something simple as a human interest point, such as what kind of an impact former soccer coach or teammate. But of course, I need my soccer knowledge to ask the right questions to the players and get answers that the fan, expert or rookie, can understand about the game.
Best memory of playing the sport?
My best soccer memory working preseason at Maryland. Especially my junior year. I was living in a house full of Division I athletes, going with them to double sessions, eating their regimented diet, working out or running with players that were injured or doing extra fitness, and really feeling part of a team. I had NO BUSINESS being around these players, they were some of the top in the nation, and I could barely score an open goal, but because of my passion for the sport, and knowledge of the athlete and game, they really respected me and considered me a teammate. I still keep in touch with my Terrapin Teammates. They have had such an impact on my life as a sports journalist right now, it’s invaluable. In the Summer of ’94 we would sit around the TV and watch the World Cup together. In the fall of 1995 we went to Coach Heinrich’s house for a team dinner and watched Cal Ripken, Jr. break Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game record, we all were moved with emotion. It’s moments like that, being part of a soccer team, that stand out as my favorite memories.
Best Memory of the Red Bulls thus far?
Since working with the Red Bulls, especially this season, we’ve had some pretty exciting games! But to narrow it down, my favorite moment has to be when I had a sit-down, one-on-one interview with David Beckham in the summer of 2008. I’ve interviewed Super Bowl winning quarterbacks as they walked off the field, World Series MVPs as they were drenched with Champagne, but this one … well, I was nervous. He could not have been nicer. I was told I had 5 minutes. We talked for over 20. It aired on MSG in two parts. We talked about everything from where he plays on the field in MLS compared to overseas, the challenges and scrutiny he’s faced since coming to MLS, to his wife and kids, yes, HE brought up Victoria! Beckham’s stardom appeals to a large cross section of people, not just soccer fans. It’s the only interview many of my girlfriends, and female cousins or aunts TAPED at home. And yet the males I talked to that saw the interview were impressed how he actually answered my questions and was very frank and easy going.
What do you think about Red Bull Arena?
Red Bull Arena is spectacular. From a media standpoint, from a fans aspect, for the players. Red Bull Arena was ranked atop of the Power Rankings of MLS Stadiums by a writer for Icon SMI. While it’s not in NYC, it’s easy to get to via the PATH. It’s a true soccer facility, that mirrors many European stadiums from the quality of the grass to the overhang protecting the spectators. When it is capacity and the Supporter Clubs are singing at the top of their lungs, you have to remind yourself you’re in New Jersey.
The atmosphere at JELD-WEN Field in Portland was outstanding. Filled to capacity two hours before first kick, Loud, colorful with the flags, scarves, and banners, plus Timber Joe and his chain saw. It’s a converted minor league baseball park so it’s intimate and unique. Plus it’s in a great section of downtown Portland so everyone just has to walk over to the stadium.
The Red Bulls Fan Base is one of the area’s most passionate. What have you seen from them in terms of devotion to team?
The Red Bulls fan base continues to grow. This is a difficult market, simply because there are so many professional sports teams, and so many things going on in the New York City metro area. But then there’s the dedicated die-hards. In the South Ward, which is the section behind the south Goal (sections 132-102) is where all of the different supporters clubs sit, or really stand, jump, chant, sing, wave flags, set off smoke bombs!!! Haha. They are great. This includes the Empire Supports Club, Garden State Supporters and Viking Army Supporters. They are all independent fan clubs and have an undeniable support for the team. An iconic scene at Red Bull Arena, going back to the days of games at Giants Stadium, is the site of Johnny Toro. He is the Reddist of Red Bulls, Horns, nose ring, and one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet! A game or highlight doesn’t go by without a shot of Johnny Toro getting the crowd going and starting his own stampede of fans!!
From a media perspective what’s the biggest difference between the primary sports you cover?
The biggest difference between soccer and basketball from a media perspective is demand. Obviously there is a great demand and fan base for professional basketball. Soccer, while it’s the most popular sport in the world, still has a niche audience in America. Even the most dedicated of soccer fans from other countries that now live in the US have not all dedicated themselves to MLS. You see that when the Red Bulls play Juventus or Manchester City, or if Mexico plays a friendly at the Meadowlands Stadium. It’s sold out in minutes. MLS games haven’t quite gotten there yet in the New York area. So I believe that’s what really affects the media coverage. There are spectacular soccer websites that dedicate their material to soccer across the globe. From a personal stand point, I love the increased international media at soccer games. It does give it a world-wide feel. Like when I’ve covered the Olympics. However, the number of Europeans and international players in basketball is growing as well. Last season I was in a locker room where guys/reporters were speaking Italian, French, Russian, Spanish.
Can you tell us about some of the charitable work you do away from the camera?
I work with a lot of charities and groups that focus on young people and young women because I want to be a positive example for anyone who wants to pursue a similar career. There were so many negative people who came out to speak to my classes in college, I’m still shocked I continued pursuing this career. At MSG we have “MSG Classroom” under the Garden of Dreams Foundation, that brings high school students into Madison Square Garden for three months to shadow, observe and learn from the actual team broadcasters. At the end of the semester they produce their own Sports Show. I love speaking at high schools and colleges. I recently was a guest of NBC 4’s Bruce Beck’s class at the Gill Academy in Gladestone, NJ and was the guest speaker at Columbia High School at their television department’s awards ceremony. It’s about living your dream, loving what you do. That’s all I remind them. But I’m realistic, it’s not very glamorous most of the time, and it’s NOT an easy career. Coming up I’ll be continuing my own speaking series; “Tina’s Tips … A Gal’s Guide to talking Sports!” On July 11th at the restaurant Via Della Pace in the East Village. We’re going to be taking … what else? Red Bulls Soccer.
It’s the fourth time I’ve done an event like this. Football, Basketball a couple of times. Here’s the link: http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=178732775519448 There’s links to my other events on that page.