MINNEAPOLIS – Sloane Martin took her spot inside U.S. Bank Stadium for the Minnesota high school football championships in November of 2016. As she prepared to speak her first words into a headset as a broadcaster for KSTC-TV’s broadcast of the nine-man championship game between Grand Meadow and Cromwell-Wright, she came to a realization.
“I told myself, ‘This is where Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth stand for games and they’ve broadcasted Sunday Night Football,’ ” Martin said. “I’m surrounded by an incredible production crew, and it just solidified that this is the direction I want to go in. It’s what exhilarates me.”
The 29-year-old Martin began her career at radio stations and on television broadcasts in Western New York, but she will become the first full-time female radio play-by-play broadcaster for a professional team in Minneapolis-St. Paul. She'll deliver her first broadcast Saturday when the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx open the season against the Chicago Sky.
“Play-by-play, it sometimes feels like that final frontier where people, I hope, realize, and the people who are hiring, I hope, realize that there shouldn’t be these barriers,” Martin said earlier this month. “When I think about it, it’s hard for me to reflect at this time, because getting to this point was a huge whirlwind. You focus on the teams. You focus on the games. It’s fun, it's interesting to be the first, and it’s been fun, and a little overwhelming to hear the positive response.”
She’s also a full-time reporter for WCCO AM 830 in Minneapolis, where 4 a.m. to 12 p.m. shifts are the norm. In Western New York, she did everything from read obituaries on radio broadcasts to calling University at Buffalo women’s basketball games on cable television.
Martin’s former colleagues and supervisors in Buffalo recall her as a go-getter who wasn’t afraid to ask for opportunities.
“Giving people an opportunity is a way to go about things, but there are also people who promise the world and say they’ll be great at what they do, and I’m a person who subscribes to ‘under promise and over deliver,’ ” said David Dee, who worked with Martin as a producer on UB women’s basketball games with Time Warner Cable Sports Channel. “That’s a good way to describe what Sloane does. She just does her job, and as she went along, she got better, and worked her way into opportunities.”
Building her resume
A native of Los Angeles and a 2011 graduate of St. John Fisher College in Rochester, Martin called high school football games for Time Warner Cable while she was in college, then interned at WROC, the CBS affiliate in Rochester. She also was an intern with the Rochester Red Wings of the International League in 2010. She worked in game day operations, interviewed players and coaches and wrote stories for the Red Wings’ website.
Chuck Hinkel, a longtime public relations director for the Red Wings, noticed Martin had a certain perceptiveness about her when it came to interacting with people. She knew when to ask questions and when to allow people to speak, a particular savvy that can take some journalism professionals years to develop.
“The interesting thing to me about Sloane is that journalism and sports is a male-dominated field, but Sloane, she was somebody who was not intimidated by all that,” said Hinkel, who was the Red Wings’ public relations director from 1997 to 2012.
At WBTA-AM in Batavia, however, Martin found her voice and her confidence in journalism, and she took those to WBEN-AM (930) in Buffalo, where she covered political campaigns and read traffic reports. But she didn’t settle for just being on the air.
In a competitive field, Martin hustled to find opportunities, including doing play by play of UB women’s basketball games on 1520 AM. That segued into working with Time Warner on women’s basketball broadcasts.
When her husband, Matthew Coller, an on-air personality at WGR-AM, took a job at ESPN 1500 AM to cover the Minnesota Vikings in August of 2016, Martin went to Minneapolis, too, and she continued to seek opportunities in broadcast journalism. She has called women’s basketball games for the Big Ten Network in addition to the Minnesota high school football championships.
“There were times I’d get nervous, sick to my stomach before games,” Martin said. “I lacked confidence in my ability. But that first football game, in particular, I remember being brand new (in Minnesota), but meeting so many great people and getting that feeling of, ‘This is it. This is what I want to do long-term.’ And it was an amazing feeling.”
Part of a changing tide
There is a dearth of women’s voices in play-by-play and color commentary roles in sports, and women largely have been confined to roles as sideline reporters or in-studio roles in the history of sports broadcasting. But more women are joining play-by-play ranks in professional sports.
Doris Burke of ESPN is one of the most notable NBA broadcasters, while Jessica Mendoza is an analyst for ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. Suzyn Waldman is in her 15th season year as a color commentator for New York Yankees radio broadcasts. Kendall Coyne Schofield and AJ Mleczko are analysts for NBC’s NHL broadcasts. In the fall, Andrea Kremer and Hannah Storm anchor Amazon Prime’s broadcast of Thursday Night Football.
Martin isn’t new to being a trailblazer, either. In March, she became the first female play-by-play announcer in the 75-year history of the Minnesota Class A boys hockey tournament. The Minnesota hockey championships are akin to a national event in the state's sports landscape.
“I hope that, at some point, it isn’t such a newsworthy event,” Martin said of the proliferation of women in sports play-by-play and color commentary roles. “What it is, it’s just contextualizing the narrative of the game, and there’s really no reason it shouldn’t be more widely accessible to the other half of the population.
"And I think it starts from a young age. Do we tell girls they can talk about sports in this authoritative way? Xs and Os, knowing the rules and breaking things down, it needs to start from a young age, where, if you’re a sports fan, you are encouraged to talk and to have a voice in sports, and to really say that’s an option, too.”