That Was the Year That Was: Mark Donaldson, commentator, ESPN

GOOD year, bad year? With 2014 drawing to a close, we ask Mark Donaldson, former Radio Forth sports editor and now a Connecticut-based commentator and presenter at global sports broadcasters, ESPN: ‘How had it been for you?’.

Briefly, what is it that you do?

Football, golf and tennis announcer. I commentate on Champions League, La Liga, Bundesliga and Serie A games. For golf, I’m the on-course reporter at the US Open and Open Championship golf events. And for tennis, I commentate on the Australian Open (from LA, not CT, because of the time difference) and the US Open on-site.

Choose three words that sum up 2014 (so far), from a professional point of view.

Exciting. Encouraging. Enjoyable.

In 2013, what was your biggest ambition for 2014, and to what extent did you achieve it?

My aim since joining ESPN in October 2010, never mind since 2013, was to commentate on the World Cup. I was lucky enough to be chosen by ESPN Radio as one of their three commentators this past summer.

How has 2014 (so far) been for you, personally?

Good. Two trips back to the UK (Edinburgh in January on holiday and Liverpool in July to work at the golf) and a third coming up, to Edinburgh for New Year, plus a few days away in Vegas, has kept things ticking over away from work.

Down time is important because the work is constant.

I’m on course to work 270 days in 2014. I say ‘work’ but I’m well aware I’m being paid to do something I love. I consider what I do to be more of a hobby than a job.

I was told when I first came out here to the States in October 2010 that ESPN work you hard. I have no problem with that. I’m not here for a holiday. So that’s why it’s important to maximise the down time when it’s available.

Any changes this year in technology, legislation, the economy, etc that have had a relatively significant impact on the business?

Despite the economy downturn in recent years, Disney – owners of ESPN – has seen its share price nearly triple since 2011. In rude health, financially, the company recently spent $178m on a brand new Digital Centre on campus.

Part of the reason for the financial success of the company is a deal done many years ago that sees ESPN receive $6.04 each month from EVERY cable subscriber in the United States.

This cost for ESPN is nearly 43-times the median average price of 14 cents paid for each channel a subscriber receives. In comparison, the next most expensive network is TNT, which charges $1.48 per month per customer.

What looking forward to, in 2015 – personally and professionally?

The Open at St Andrews. I worked the 2010 Open there for ESPN as a freelancer and my work there helped me secure a permanent position with the company.

Bosses decided to do a specific Tiger Woods/Phil Mickelson channel at Hoylake in 2014 and I was fortunate to be chosen as the on-course reporter. The ratings were excellent and they plan to do the same thing this year.

Needless-to-say, my ESPN colleagues are also thoroughly looking forward to their trip to Scotland and to the home of golf. In one of my (many) dafter moments I volunteered to be the event organiser and now have to call in several favours with friends in the business back in Scotland to ensure the Americans get to experience playing as many local courses as time permits!