We have been fans of Hannah Storm for years as we know her best from her work on ESPN speaking with a number of athletes across various sports, as well as her work with NBC covering Wimbledon, MLB and the Olympics. We were very excited to chat with her about the depth of her career, Brainstormin' Productions, and The Hannah Storm Foundation. We also attended her Charity Waiter Event earlier this month which included a number of her colleagues at her network, athletes, personalities, and industry leaders.
ATHLEISURE MAG: Tell us your journey to becoming a Sports Broadcaster and how you came to ESPN, as well as what shows you've been on with the network.
HANNAH STORM: That is a very very long answer! So, I’ll try to condense it. So growing up, I was the daughter of a sports executive and we moved all around the country. When I went to Notre Dame, I came in there having been in a lot of plays and musicals in high school and was somewhat of a ham as I loved performing. I decided I would channel that into television work and because I had really grown up around sports, I decided to pursue that and that was something that women didn’t really do at that time as a career option. I started off on the radio and began at my local station. We had a little TV station at my time so I interned there for free. I think that internships are so important and I did them at TBS in Atlanta over the summer. When I was in Houston, I did an internship there for experience while I was waitressing for money.
When I got out of college, of course no one wanted to hire me. It was just uncommon to have a woman in that field. I would have news directors tell me that their audience would not accept a woman or that their sports directors would not work with a woman. One even said that they would hire a woman over their dead body. I got a lot of those kinds of responses. My father actually said that there were a lot of radio stations and TV stations around the country, so I started answering want ads. I actually got hired by a Rock and Roll heavy metal station to be a DJ. I loved the music as well and I thought, “ok I need to get on the air.” It was a great first job in Corpus Christi, TX. I saw another want ad up in Houston and this time, it was a person that was a DJ on the weekends and then they did sports during the week! I thought, “Ah ha! That’s me – that’s my in.”. So I drove up there and waited in the lobby for the program director to leave work one day. I popped up and handed him my tape and resume in person. I got that job and I started working part-time in TV in Houston. I went to do the Rockets and Astros halftime and pre-game and I kept sending tapes out the whole time across the country. I was literally mailing tapes and resumes out all the time and then I got hired by a station in Charlotte that was a brand new station starting up looking to be different than other stations in the market. They thought, wouldn’t it be wild to hire a woman in sports.
So I was hired there as sort of a “let’s be different” kind of thing and less than a year later, I was hired by CNN. I was the first full-time female sports anchor there. I was in a department of about 75 men. So that was quite the experience there and a great thing was that I met my husband, Dan Hicks.
Then I went from CNN to NBC. My first assignment was Wimbledon and my second assignment was the Olympics in Barcelona – Dick Ebersol from NBC was a really late night TV watcher and I was on at 2:30am a lot (sometimes 11) and so he saw me quite a bit on the air and thought that I had a lot of potential. So after 3 years at CNN, I went to New York at NBC for 10 years and he gave me unprecedented opportunities that a woman had never had in the business. I hosted Major League Baseball, I hosted the NBA, I hosted Notre Dame football – basically every event NBC had as they had a lot at that time. Then, NBC lost a lot of their sports properties media rights and I had always wanted to do morning news.
Precipitously, they had started a new morning crew at CBS so I was on in the mornings at CBS for 6 years. CBS News had a lot of turn over and that whole morning crew was swept out, and then roughly at about 8 months later, ESPN was getting ready to launch daytime SportsCenter in the morning and you really needed to launch it with someone who had a name and an understanding of the morning show sensibility along with knowing sports. So I went back into sports at ESPN.
I made a lot of decisions that brought me to various reasons for working where and when I did as this is just the quick version and a lot of it had to do with my children and their schedule. I always worked daytime or in the morning because of my kids.
Now I have 2 in college and one that has 2 more years in high school. It’s gone by really fast!
AM: As a fan of your work, I like that you wear many hats from being a broadcaster, being an author and being a producer. What is Brainstormin' Productions and what was the catalyst behind creating this company?
HS: Great question. When I left CBS, and before I knew that I was going to ESPN, I had already been through a time at NBC and CBS where they were making broad business decisions for various reasons. None of them had to do with whether I was doing a good job, but it was based on things happening at a company wide basis. I think with my dad being a commissioner at the ABA and having an understanding of how things work with franchises and I have always understood how things along the way that are decided upon that are not personal.
I wanted something that I had control over. This was important to me to be able to have something of my own and that I could create and do it in my own way and to run. It’s interesting because this was the impetus of what lead me to write my own book and I have always felt that I needed that creative outlet that I had control over and I wouldn’t wake up to find that it was gone.
So Brainstormin’ and my foundation were created when I left CBS and before I got to ESPN. My foundation and my production work were grandfathered into anywhere that I went. We started it out of my daughter’s tiny bedroom, we kicked her out of her room, and it was perfect for me as it was my first office. She slept in her sister’s bedroom and I was able to work in this closet and then it grew into my basement and now I have a cottage that we work out of which is awesome.
We got our first big break when I was being introduced at the UpFronts to ESPN and as I was watching them do the presentation about the original 30 For 30 series. I thought that I could do that and wanted to do that! I introduced myself at ESPN to the person running 30 For 30. I asked if they had any slots left and he said he had two.
I asked if there was anything that they didn’t have that they were desperate for. To me, this is something that I learned from my really good friend Nicholas Sparks (Bestselling Author of novels The Notebook, A Walk to Remember) which is to find out what the needs are and to fulfill those. He said that they did not have a women’s film nor a tennis film. My thoughts went to Chris Evert and Chris and Martina [Navratilova]. I ended up producing my first film Peabody Award winning 30 For 30 which was awesome and a great experience. I did several films: 9 For 9, SEC Stories, shorts, full length, etc. My first film which comes up on a different network, Epix, debuts on Nov 8th – Danica. I’m very proud of it as my films tend to be inspirational and aspirational whether they are about men or women. My last film was about Shaq and his coach Dale Brown at LSU – a relationship between two men. I’m already in discussion about more films and content across the board. It’s exciting to get into these conversations. Now that I have had a little bit of time to devote time to this it’s been a lot of fun.
AM: What is the process behind deciding which projects are greenlit or are a fit to being included within Brainstormin' Productions?
HS: There are definitely things that I know are good stories. I pitch those up to whatever entity that I think would be a great fit. It’s the same formula I have used all along – what do you need, what are you looking for – what are you missing? What fits your sensibilities and I take the myriad of ideas I have and take them in. That makes it a great fit. I have a varied team of people that I work with and I pair various producers and editors. It’s about pairing people that are right for the project and its ongoing team building. Just putting together groups of people and projects is fun as you’re running a project, working with a network and you’re creating the whole time and always thinking about it. Sometimes you work on something and realize that that isn’t what you want to do and you don’t want to do things unless they’re going to be good!
AM: Tell us about the Hannah Storm Foundation and why this organization is so important to you.
HS: Yes! It’s been great! I was born with a port wine stain on my left eye area and it looked like I had a black eye, and I still do when you don’t see me with makeup on. People will ask what happened to my face etc. Growing up, my parents tried all kinds of surgeries – the cold laser surgery wasn’t available then. All different methods of surgeries growing up and it was a lot – they really tried to make it look better. Now the surgeries and technologies are available, but they are not covered by insurance and is prohibitive. Kids really need 10-12 surgeries, and many are severely disfigured. We’re able to fund those surgeries with one of the best surgeons in the world and one of the inventors of the laser, a South African doctor Dr. Milton Waner, who is at the top of his field and is known worldwide. We’re able to do the surgeries in conjunction with him and it’s a specific charity, but it is very close to my heart.
The other mission of this charity is to fund a journalist internship at my alma mater, Notre Dame. It allows students to work on a practical level by writing for our alumni publication so that when they get out of college they have online and print content. Now we’re going more into visual, but when they get out they have published work when they leave college.
AM: We're excited to attend this year's Celebrity Waiter Event which is one of your foundation's events. Why did you come up with this format for this charity event, and since you have done this for a number of years, how do you decide which Celebrity Waiters will participate and are there those that do so at each of these events?
HS: Actually, Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals kind of gave me that idea. I saw that he was doing an event in Phoenix at Morton’s and I thought what a fun concept. He got his teammates to wait tables and I thought that was really neat and we partnered with Morton’s for our first event. I asked how the Phoenix event worked and whether he thought it would be a good idea for me to do and he said to go for it. It was crazy.
My celebrity waiters will eat and drink as much as the patrons and they have been hilarious. Mike Ditka enjoyed eating mash potatoes out of the center of the table which is one of my favorite memories from a previous event. It was hysterical and people love it. It’s just a fun and different experience and people don’t really do that. People get a kick out of it and my waiters have fun and it’s like – I’m not stuffy and I want it to be a party.
We do a live auction and this year we’re being honored by All Sports United. It’s just really amazing and very celebratory and we’re coming together to do good. It’s a different and needed cause and we’re a global charity that people reach out from all over. We always identify a special child who will need something immediately and we have a fund in need that focuses on them.
One year, we had a child that had something wrong with his eye and he needed immediate surgery and we set aside portions of the auction within the “funds in need” to take care of this critical surgery. A charity event impacts a number of lives and it doesn’t matter the number – just the act of doing it and that’s why we’re on this earth. We have to impact individuals and it costs a lot of money to take care of one child but we have to help – we’re their only hope!
It’s been very gratifying and many of these children and families I may never meet! Some I have and it’s important that we know the doctor that is doing it and we are very much so on top of each case and what is taking place from the treatment plan. It helps to have such an acclaimed doctor that is a part of this as I think he is the most interesting man in the world!
AM: You’re doing so many good things and it’s amazing that you’re able to get them done!
HS: Well I don’t know how either! It’s so busy around here – that’s all I have to say! I have an incredible business partner, Carmen Belmont. We met when our kids were in pre-school and we’re still together to this day. She believes in me and everything we have going on. I am super creative with a ton of connections. She is super practical, she line produces, she does the books – she’s over at the hospitals. She’s the nuts and bolts of what we do.
AM: We know that you are married to NBC Broadcaster, Dan Hicks. How do you balance your time when you both may me be traveling to cover similar stories such as the Olympics or when you have schedules that cause you to be apart - how do you ensure your connection?
HS: The cool thing is that he is around during the week. So that’s nice. He is here now eating lunch and we’re able to go to my daughter’s field hockey games, we can have lunch together, we have dinner when we’re both home as I love to cook. I love that time right before dinner when I’m cooking and I have a glass of wine or scotch!
Golf is essentially on the weekends so we can hang out during the week. Right now, golf is on a hiatus so that's nice for a couple of weeks. Then obviously we do a lot of events – so I just got back from Chicago interviewing the Mannings for a corporate event. It’s funny, there is a lot more travel now than before. Whether I’m doing corporate events, filming or doing things for ESPN – there’s travel. It’s about balancing that out while having a daughter at home and it’s about being cognizant of that. Sometimes, you just have to do it and it sucks but it’s the reality of what we do. I mean, I suppose if we were actors we’d be shooting and doing the same thing. We’re home for spurts and then we also travel quite a bit!