A flier tacked to a Cabell Hall bulletin board over a quarter-century ago changed everything for Bill Hofheimer.
The flier was for a “Career in Sports” seminar that featured a panel discussion with former University of Virginia Senior Associate Athletic Director Wood Selig, then-Richmond Braves General Manager Bruce Baldwin and NFL player agent Joe Sroba, who used to represent former UVA football player Barry Word.
A few stutter steps, a juke and a break to the outside later, and the UVA second-year student had carved out a future career path.
If legendary ESPN broadcaster Chris Berman had been doing the play-by-play at the sports seminar, he might have looked at an excited Hofheimer and exclaimed, “He … could … go … all … the … way!”
“It just opened my eyes to seeing that if I enjoyed sports that much, I could make a career out of it,” Hofheimer recalled. “It motivated me because everyone on that panel said, ‘You need to get experience, you need to get experience.’”
Hofheimer heeded the advice.
The rhetoric and communication studies major from Richmond – who had grown up watching Berman, Tom Jackson and other larger-than-life personalities at ESPN – began volunteering in UVA’s Sports Information office under Hall of Fame Sports Information Director Rich Murray.
One of Hofheimer’s first assignments was keeping the statistics at UVA soccer games. It was a huge thrill since he had attended Cavalier soccer games with his dad and brothers when he was a kid, cheering on the likes of former star Voga Wallace.
Hofheimer continued volunteering, eventually landing an internship in the Sports Information office as a fourth-year.
After graduation, Hofheimer worked for two years in the University of Florida athletic department. From there, he landed a job in public relations at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, where he worked for more than eight years.
In 2005, ESPN hired Hofheimer specifically to do PR for its “Monday Night Football” broadcasts.
Cue Berman: “Touchdown, Hofheimer!”
Today, Hofheimer – who lives in Connecticut with his wife and three children – is a senior director of communications at ESPN. The 1994 alumnus oversees professional sports, including the NFL and soccer. He also works for popular ESPN programs “Around the Horn” and “P.T.I.”
With the start of the NFL regular season just a few weeks away, UVA Today caught up with Hofheimer.
Q. Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo received rave reviews for his performance in the broadcast booth last season. Are you excited to see what his former teammate, Jason Witten, can do this year as part of your new “Monday Night Football” team?
A. I am really excited for the whole team, not just Witten, who I think is going to be great. I’m excited to hear Joe Tessitore as he transitions from college to NFL. Ever since he got the job, he has been preparing feverishly for this and I think he’s going to be really, really good. And I like what we’re going to be doing with Booger McFarland, who has been excellent on our college football coverage in recent years. As he moves into this new field analyst role, I think he’s going to be doing some things that nobody else is doing. I think it’s going to be an exciting season ahead for our new team.
Q. Can you explain what has been dubbed the “Booger Cart” and how that will work?
A. [McFarland is] going to be analyzing the games from the field-level position. He’s going to be integrated into the telecast throughout every set of downs, talking to Tessitore and Witten. It’s just going to create a new dynamic that really nobody else is doing.
Q. What’s the most challenging part of your job?
A. It’s probably about how much change there is in the industry. It’s good because it keeps you on your toes, but constantly having to adapt is challenging, especially in the environment that we’re in with other networks and other media companies and just the way people’s viewing habits are changing altogether. It’s just crazy how much things have changed in the last few years.
When I got here, there were close to 40 different daily newspapers that had sports media writers. And as newspaper staffs have shrunk, those were some of the first positions to go away. Now we’re creating a lot of our own content as a PR department. There are still media who cover us, but it’s more segmented. When I first got here, I worked with a lot of media writers. Now I tend to work with a lot of NFL-specific writers or even blogs and non-traditional sites. That’s probably been the biggest change.
Q. Public relations can be a balancing act, but at such a huge place like ESPN, where fans are so passionate and there are just so many moving parts, is it especially tricky?
A. Yes, it can be. But I think the passion that the fans have for sports and for our product is a good thing. It shows how relevant ESPN is and how much people care. Whether you’re in production or PR or whatever, you just want to put the best product out there and just try and appeal to as many fans as you can.
People have their ideas about the company, but when they actually come here and see all the hard work that takes place and meet the people and they start to understand everything that goes into a game telecast or a studio show – I think they gain a much greater appreciation for what we do.
Q. How have cord-cutters and all the other shifting dynamics within the industry affected stuff you’re doing?
A. Changing viewing habits and the constantly evolving TV landscape is something that’s impacting everybody. One thing that I’m excited about is being at a company like ESPN that is trying to be at the forefront of everything and be ahead of the curve. Our affiliate team has done a great job of making ESPN available on all of these new platforms and packages that are popping up – whether it’s Sling, YouTube TV, etc.
Q. With the recent college cornhole championships and competitive video gaming coming to mind, ESPN seems to be moving in a lot of new directions with its programming.
A. Yes, ESPN is constantly looking at new ideas and trying to find ways to grow the audience. If there are fans of sports, e-sports or things we can be covering, our programming team is always looking at the next thing on the horizon.
We’re always going to be focused on the core sports – the majors – that everyone follows, but there are unique opportunities out there for a lot of other things and it’s fun to be at a place that’s not afraid to take a look at those.
Q. Anything else you’re excited about that’s coming down the pike?
A. I’m personally very excited for the launch of the ACC Network. I’m not working on it, but as an alum of one of the member schools, if you look at what ESPN has done with the SEC Network, there’s a lot of excitement and a lot to look forward to as it relates to the launch of the ACC Network.
Q. What are your fondest memories from your UVA days?
A. The best memory I have from a sporting event at Virginia was when I was a first-year and Virginia was ranked No. 1 in football. I remember coming home from class the weekend of that Virginia-Georgia Tech game, looking up and seeing the Goodyear Blimp. I just thought, “This weekend is going to be unbelievable! I cannot wait for this game.”
When we lost, I remember being so depressed. But I remember how exciting it was that fall. To be a fan of that team and all the great things that happened with [quarterback] Shawn Moore and [receiver] Herman Moore – the fact that they were in contention for the Heisman [Trophy] and the program was getting so much attention was just so exciting. I would put that at the top of the list.
Q. What was it like working for Rich Murray when you were a student at UVA? (The longtime UVA sports information director was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 2016.)
A. Rich Murray was my first mentor in this business. I am grateful for the opportunity he gave me to work in the SID office when I was a student.
I always admired how he carried himself and how he watched out for his staff. He was always professional and even-keeled. I never heard him raise his voice or look stressed when I’m sure there were plenty of stressful situations working with coaches and members of the media.
I also appreciate how he always extended an invite for me to come back and visit. If I told him I might be in Charlottesville for a basketball game or another event, he and his former assistant Mike Colley would always say, “Let us know if you need anything. We look forward to seeing you.” That sort of thing. It meant a lot.
Q. How has UVA shaped you?
A. The experience definitely set me up for my career and life, without a doubt. Anytime I encounter somebody who says, “Where did you go to school?” and I say, “Virginia,” the immediate reaction is always, “Oh, what a great school!”
It’s not only what you learned there and the experience that you had, but you can’t overstate how important the alumni network is. I remember having conversations with UVA alums who worked in sports and getting advice from them. Just having that degree from Virginia helps open a lot of doors.
Q. Any advice for students out there who are thinking about careers in public relations?
A. The advice that I always give is to just network as much as you can. There are a bunch of UVA alums who work in our industry – more and more all the time. I try, anytime I get a call, to pay it forward and help someone who is looking for advice and suggestions. And I always appreciate getting calls from students or recent graduates. I just encourage people to do that as much as possible, because the more people you meet, the broader your network is and the more opportunities are going to come your way.