Rays TV Host Mentoring Next Generation Of Sports Journalists

Don Laible
Rich Hollenberg is a man on a mission. Having the good fortune of living out his dream to be making his living by talking sports in a television studio, Hollenberg knows full well the struggle to make it in such a hyper-competitive profession. 

With success, for the graduate of Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Public Communications, comes duty. Now enjoying his ninth season covering the Tampa Bay Rays as the studio host on Bally's Sports Sun TV, Hollenberg is quietly, and selectively, doing his part to ensure that the industry will have new recruits for future assignments.

As a two-time Emmy winner, along with his work on Bally's pre-and post-game telecasts, and when baseball season goes into hibernation then come assignments as a lead voice on ESPN college basketball broadcasts, Hollenberg is well qualified to teach.

The idea to pass along his experiences in sports TV for Hollenberg came 20 years ago in a hotel room in Louisville.

"I had just finished calling a dirt bike jumping show for ESPN 2," Hollenberg said earlier this week. "I'm watching College Game Day (on ESPN), coach Lou Holtz is on challenging viewers to put down on paper 100 things you would want to accomplish in life."

In listening intently to the former Notre Dame and New York Jets football coach make his statement, as a 20-something, the first thing Hollenberg put pen to paper was wanting to be a professor; a teacher.

Fast-forward to 2020, and the pandemic hits hard globally.

From a career path that he had considered in retirement, the opportunity to work with aspiring sports journalists presented itself in the here and the now for Hollenberg.

Hollenberg, who has teamed with former Rays' pitcher Doug Waechter for 8 seasons on Rays TV, sees his role with the show, and for fans, as a traffic cop. Directing game previews and summary talks to various guests and members of the show with no interference is his dream job.

"I didn't see my future with play-by-play. Being a show's anchor or host is where I felt comfortable," explains Hollenberg who lists childhood favorites (and fellow SU grads) Marv Albert and Len Berman as role models in sportscasting.

When most of the country turned to working from home and Zoom Video became the preferred channel of conducting business, the time was right for Hollenberg to jump-start his teaching skills.

Experienced gained as a contributor to MLB Network, NFL Network, and Associated Press would now be shared with those looking to join the sports journalists' fraternity. Education by Hollenberg begins at richhollenberg.com.

Students who are accepted enjoy e-sessions with Hollenberg. Perhaps the most important outcome for any student is an eye-grabbing demo reel for potential employers. Originally Hollenberg's course was set at six weeks, and since has been expanded to eight.

Looking at the one-year anniversary of Hollenberg's Break In & Break Through course, the professor finds the results of his students rewarding.  A huge part of the communication between Hollenberg and those who he is mentoring is networking. This for-fee program comes with almost three decades of trial and error by the Rays' TV host.

Hollenberg is proud of his contact list, and doesn't hesitate in putting his students in touch with people he knows can use them.  

"It's all about building relationships," Hollenberg tells.

For him, relationships began in TV thousands of miles from his current home base in St. Petersburg - in Great Falls, Montana. Working for the local ABC affiliate, Hollenberg remembers his interview with great detail.

"I didn't fly there for an interview. Everything was done over the phone. Great Falls was market 172 in broadcasting. I was hired, and my first weekend there, I was sending out tapes for other positions. I was so ambitious."

Identifying and expanding on his students' will to adapt what they learn and transform their energy into what is hoped to be a memorable first impression with station managers is all part of Hollenberg's teachings.

Combining Hollenberg's years of working experience in the industry, with the one-on-one sessions and group interactivity, newcomers, as well as veterans looking to polish up parts of their game, are ready for assignments.

Before conversations (live or taped) commence about next year's MLB rules changes involving a pitch timer, larger bases, and shift restriction, those seen as authorities to their audiences need to know how to present their views in the best way.

His website, richhollenberg.com, offers the curriculum needed to be considered as one of those sports journalist authorities.

With 17 regular season games remaining on the Rays' schedule, and hopeful for playoff action to follow, there will be no shortage of Hollenberg directing viewers of Bally's Sports Sun telecasts to those who will keep them in the know of who's doing what, and when, at Tropicana Field, and beyond.

No sense of false security is offered to his students or Rays baseball fans by Hollenberg. One game at a time, one show at a time. Just the facts, with a twist of statistical baseball knowledge, this is Hollenberg at his best.