January 24, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Fox NFL Kickoff director sees achievements in different lens

As the director of the “Fox NFL Kickoff” pregame show, Courtney Stockmal’s typical week isn’t too dissimilar from the coaches of the teams she covers.

On Monday or Tuesday there’s film study, a thorough review of the previous week’s show. “That’s how I’ve learned to become a good director, watching my own shows back,” she said. “Because it always feels different.”

On Thursday, there’s production meetings mapping out the plan for the week, from “where the talent’s gonna stay, where all the chats are, what every graphic looks like,” she said. “[Anything] that’s going into the screen and onto the screen.”

Saturday afternoon is like the walk-through, one last pre-show meeting where “we all go line by line over what is happening in a bigger picture,” she said.

And after sending out final instructions on Saturday night, Stockmal takes her place in a control room at Fox’s Los Angeles studios every Sunday, where meticulous preparation meets the unpredictability of live TV.

“I love the adrenaline of live TV, I love the teamwork,” she said. “It really is the ultimate team. Being a director, you are only as good as the people on your team. So [you’re] making sure that they feel empowered to do their job and speak up if they have any ideas. I love the planning and the flexibility, and when things change thinking on your feet.”

In a field still dominated by men, Stockmal is one of the up-and-coming women following in the footsteps of the pioneers that came before her. Between herself and host Charissa Thompson, “Fox NFL Kickoff” is one of the few major network sports talk shows — and the only current network NFL pregame show — directed and hosted by women. At 32 years old, she’s one of the youngest directors of any weekly broadcast network show regardless of gender.

“I never looked at it as, ‘Oh, I have to prove myself because I’m a woman,’” she said. “I just want to prove myself as a production person.”

Such ascendant career paths haven’t always available to women. Legendary sportscaster Lesley Visser — the first woman to cover the NFL as a beat, report from the sideline of a Super Bowl and be inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame — remembers how different the industry was when she first broke into TV in the 1980s.

“I can’t say enough about how incredibly lucky I am to have Courtney, and how much it says about Fox Sports to empower and promote women in all positions on and off the camera.”

Charissa Thompson, Fox NFL Kickoff host

Back then, Visser often would be the only woman on set. When she would cover games, some stadiums only had men’s bathrooms in the press box. She would get together with other trailblazers — such as CBS’s Suzanne Smith, who in 1990 became the first woman to direct NFL games; NBC’s Andrea Joyce, who in 1993 became the first woman to co-host World Series coverage; and ESPN’s Suzy Kolber, the first woman to receive the Maxwell Club Sports Broadcaster of the Year Award in 2006 — and wonder, “Why can’t we do a show? We have all this experience and this knowledge.”

Decades later, Stockmal paints a sharp contrast.

“I’ve never in my career felt like I haven’t gotten opportunities because I’ve been a woman,” she said. “Yes, there’s less women than there are men, but … I don’t ever notice that I’m looked at differently.

“If anything,” she added, “it’s more because I’m young.”

A life-long sports fan from Boston, Stockmal was inspired to pursue a career in TV after getting a tour of her stepmom’s job at a local television station when she was 16. An NCAA swimmer, she attended New York University in part for its athletics program, but also because of its strong journalism school. After interning at CBS College Sports, she was hired by NFL Network upon graduation, helping with its Super Bowl coverage and in its features department.

Fox NFL Kickoff director Courtney Stockmal, center, directs a show from the control room.

(Lily Hernandez / Fox NFL Kickoff)

“It was pretty evident from a young age she had a drive,” said Spandan Daftary, a former NFL Network colleague who works with Stockmal on “Fox NFL Kickoff” as the show’s senior coordinating producer. “You can tell when someone has the desire and the skill to advance quickly.”

Since joining Fox in 2013, Stockmal has directed shows covering the Men’s and Women’s World Cups, college sports, MLB and the World Series, and the NFL — including last February’s Super Bowl in which she and Fox producer Stephanie Medina became the first women to direct the game’s pre- and post-game shows.

On “Fox NFL Kickoff,” Stockmal works with a cast that includes Thompson, Dave Wannstedt, Colin Cowherd, Michael Vick and Tony Gonzalez. She’s responsible for making the camera cuts and audio cues that bring the show to life

Sometimes, that means orchestrating a multi-person demonstration of the differences between right- and left-handed quarterbacks (as she did when lefty Tua Tagovailoa made his debut with the Miami Dolphins). Other times, it’s adapting to Fox analysts such as Terry Bradshaw unexpectedly crashing the set.

“Smart directors can really capture the chemistry that is happening on set,” Daftary said. “You really rely on the director to not only execute the vision that you have, but make your vision better. And that’s what Courtney does.”

Added Thompson: “I can’t say enough about how incredibly lucky I am to have Courtney, and how much it says about Fox Sports to empower and promote women in all positions on and off the camera.”

Stockmal acknowledged “it is very cool that we’re both women working as part of a big network NFL show.”

“But,” she countered, “I don’t really think about it that much. I just try to think about showing up every day, make it the best show possible and make Charissa look the best possible. That’s our number one job as directors.”

That approach is perhaps as indicative as anything of how much sports TV — and sports at large — have progressed.

“Women can aspire to any role in sports and get to deliver on their passion,” Visser said. “That’s a long way from when I didn’t have ladies rooms.”

For Stockmal, it isn’t about being the “first” or “only” woman to do something in the industry. Her goals are viewed through a different lens.

“I measure myself and compare myself to people who I want to be like, or who helped me be better at my job,” she said. “I literally show up everyday just trying to get better and prove myself and make it the best show possible. I feel like if I were to sit back and be like, ‘Oh that’s super cool, I’m directing the show,’ I wouldn’t have that hunger and drive that keeps me going.”