When you hear the stories about how some people made it in their chosen careers, the formula for success is often the same. Never, ever, for any reason, give up on your dream.
Matt Devlin, Toronto Raptors TV play-by-play broadcaster, didn’t just luck into one of the handful of major league professional sports broadcasting jobs. He earned it with hard work, determination, and overcoming more than a few setbacks.
But Matt didn’t start out in life envisioning himself as the play-by-play guy for his favorite team. Like most kids, he loved to watch and play sports, and the Syracuse, NY native played baseball, football, and basketball well into his teenage years.
And when Devlin went to Boston College to pursue a communication major, it wasn’t the hands-on program one might expect from a future broadcaster but rather a media theory course. Matt still had no aims at a career before the TV cameras.
Surprisingly, for someone with such an easy-going manner when the lights come on, Matt Devlin had never participated in theater, calling high school games, or working for his college’s radio station.
But in his fourth year at Boston College, with no real idea of the challenges that lay ahead of him, Matt decided that he was going to be sports broadcaster.
Just about everywhere media outlets offer internships, and Matt was given his opportunity with an ABC affiliate, WCVB in Boston. But Matt wasn’t one to turn down opportunity, so he also interned with another ABC affiliate, KTRK in Houston, TX.
Just to be clear, intern equals unpaid laborer. But Matt used his internships to produce his first resume tapes and send them to every station he thought might have an opportunity. From Alaska to North Dakota, Matt Devlin was willing to go anywhere to get his first job in broadcasting.
After graduation in 1990, Matt started his first job at KRCB in Abilene, TX as a sports anchor reporter for $5 per hour. It was here that he decided he wanted to be a play-by-play announcer.
Matt remembers Vince Scully saying, “If you wanted to be a good sports broadcaster, you have to do some play-by-play.” And the best sport to practice play-by-play is baseball. Football is once a week and basketball has only 15 to 25 home dates, but baseball teams play almost every night.
So in the summer of 1992, Matt became the play-by-play announcer for the minor league baseball team, the Springfield Cardinals. A $3,000 summer job that saw him selling tickets, maintaining the field, acting as the janitor, and of course announcing games.
After this, Devlin kept after his dream alive by doing whatever broadcast jobs he could find, including announcing at college and high school games on a fee per game basis until he got job with the minor league affiliate of the Rockies, the New Haven Ravens, in 1995.
It was here Matt got his first big break. Sacred Heart University was a small Division I school nearby that didn’t have a radio package for their basketball games. Matt convinced his station to provide the equipment and talked the school into paying him $100 per game to provide the play-by-play.
The deal should have blown up when the school’s athletic director told Matt that he couldn’t pay him. But it was Matt’s wife Erin who reminded him that they were doing this to get the demo tapes of Matt doing live basketball. The money wasn’t that important.
It was these demo tapes that got Matt Devlin his next three jobs and his big breaks with ESPN, TNT, NBA-TV, and beyond.
But success didn’t arrive in a straight line from there. After the Scared Heart adventure, Devlin attempted this strategy again, bringing Yale and the local radio station together to broadcast Yale basketball games.
The strategy worked; Yale and the station came to terms. But when it came to picking the announcer, the Yale athletic director insisted the job go to one of his friends. Matt’s services were not required.
Anyone who works this hard at their profession is bound to be noticed. Matt’s continued efforts to self-promote and find progressively better situations were paying off. Some of the highlights:
In 1996, Matt Devlin announced the Double A All-Star game for ESPN.
In 1997, Matt filled in for the St. Louis Cardinals long-time announcer Jack Buck as Mark McGwire made his debut for the team.
In 1999, Matt worked for NBA-TV during its inaugural season.
Those Scared Heart tapes helped Matt get his first WNBA job calling Liberty games at MSG with the now familiar Jack Armstrong.
And since then Matt has been the play-by-play broadcaster for the Grizzlies (2001-04), the Bobcats (2004-07), and now the Raptors. Any available gaps being taken up by TNT and NBA-TV for regular season and playoff games.
And Matt’s talents have not gone unnoticed elsewhere. NBC has used Matt’s services at the 2004 and 2008 Summer Olympics, and Matt has covered the NFL for Fox and college football for the Big Ten Network.
Not bad for a communication major who had never seen a microphone close up before his fourth year of college.
Since arriving in Toronto for the 2008-09 season, Matt and his family have settled into their new surroundings quickly. For the first time in his career, Matt had friends and family living in the area before he got there.
Toronto also has many of the services the Devlin’s have not had access to in the smaller communities they have lived in as Matt moved to advance his career.
Matt’s three boys are now all playing hockey, and Erin has become the typical Canadian hockey Mom, getting up at 6 am to bundle the kids off to the rink.
And Matt appreciates having relatives in the area who can cheer on his sons at the rink while he is off on Raptors road trips.
It looks like the Devlins have adapted well to life in Toronto and our community is better off for their addition.
A special thank you to Matt Devlin for granting an interview and providing stories from his exciting broadcast career.