Maria Marino, Host of Action Network & ESPN Radio Voice | Hoop Story #091

Maria Marino, Host of Action Network & ESPN Radio Voice | Hoop Story #091

By: Jaredan Levin

Womens basketball is experiencing an explosion in popularity across the board. Viewership is up, coverage has increased, and player notoriety is at an all-time high. Journalists such as Maria Marino have seen their careers grow alongside the swell in WNBA and NCAA Women's Basketball buzz.

“It’s gratifying and I can't even find the words to describe the excitement around women's basketball right now,” Marino said. “I’m getting emotional thinking about it because when I started, it was very different…you couldn't find articles about WNBA teams and players. I think everywhere that I've been in my career, I was able to help influence the coverage of women's basketball.”

But before becoming an influential journalist, Marino discovered that the sport of basketball was her first love. Her older sister was a standout high school player and Marino reminisces being awestruck attending the games.

“That feeling that I got as a kid walking into the gym is something that I still experience today when I'm covering college games and pro games,” Marino said. “It's just an energy that I have become addicted to.”

Her passion for journalism erupted when she was a junior in high school and decided to try out a journalism class. From there, she continued to practice her storytelling and took theater classes to enhance her communication skills. She went on to major in communications and journalism and that interest in basketball continued to shine through, even though she never had the opportunity to play at a high level herself.

“It's a game that I connect with and I feel like I can analyze it and speak the language,” Marino said. “One thing I learned is even if you didn't play in college as I didn't, you can still legitimately be involved in a sport and make it part of your regular life. And you can still be an athlete. You can still be competitive. You can still impact the game.”

Marino’s origins in the sports journalism space were at small colleges in New Jersey as well as in local reporting for the New Jersey Herald and a local TV station. Her first media job in New York was with Sirius XM radio doing features, updates, and segments. Around the same time, she also worked freelance with NBC Sports Radio and Sports Grid, which was her first on-camera gig. She largely worked on NBA and WNBA analysis at this time, which later landed her a full-time position at SNY, a TV network based in New York. For SNY, she covered bits of different sports but focused on Nets, Knicks, and UConn Women’s Basketball, where she was the resident reporter. 

“That was life-changing because not only was it for a legendary coach and program and really high profile players but also the fact that it was a women's program,” Marino said.

Marino began covering the WNBA in 2018 and since then, the sport as a whole has grown exponentially. She acknowledges that her NBA audience led into building more WNBA content viewers.

“People that weren't into women's basketball or not familiar with it had already seen me as an NBA voice and then they were willing to listen to me on the WNBA content,” Marino said.

Just over a year ago, Marino left SNY for Action Network, a producer of sports betting content, where she began to host episodes of their podcast Buckets focused on the WNBA, one of many aspects of what makes this an exciting time for her, for Action, and their viewers.

“That's a twice weekly podcast talking WNBA,” Marino said. “It's topical, but it does have a betting spin to it. But I find the betting angle to be sort of just another factor in analyzing the game. And I find it really interesting. So I'm excited to keep doing that. And we've expanded our women's college basketball coverage across our platforms.”

Marino has had experience with betting content for some time now, as she covered betting and fantasy-related content for Sports Grid and SNY, including four seasons of an NFL betting show.

“I was exposed to it and active in the space before it was super mainstream [with] this surge of legalized sports betting throughout the country,” Marino said. “I had a good background in that and Action came along and needed a regular host for some of their shows and podcasts.”

Now with over a year at her new position, Marino feels like her knowledge of sports betting has been enhanced and sharpened.

“It's added another layer of intrigue to the games because I find myself wondering who's favored and what's behind the line,” Marino said. “And while I would be a junkie and watch pretty much every playoff game and whatnot before, certain games are now more interesting to me because of that aspect.”

Betting has also played a critical role in the growth of the women’s game, due in part to a recent increase in available information and betting markets.

“Last season, there was a huge amount of growth, and it's even greater this year because of how much momentum there is coming off of a historic women's college basketball season,” Marino said. “There's a lot more demand as two weeks out from the start of the WNBA season, there were lines available for opening day. Last year, it was the day before.”

Another recent development in Marino’s career was an entrance to play-by-play coverage, which she began doing this past college basketball season. She covered games at Big East schools, including three St. John’s games, as well as several mid-major Division I schools, including Monmouth University.

“As you're prepping, you see the resumes of all these players and every single player has a crazy amount of accolades…either a state champ, a section champ, first team all-state, first team all-conference, record holders of points scored at their high school, a thousand point scorer, 2000 point scorer,” Marino said. “When you think of the best player that went to your high school, these are the players. And that takes me back to what I'm saying about [how] it's so hard to play at the next level. And these players deserve your respect.”

Marino found herself irked by the lack of respect she was seeing on social media about college and professional basketball players, given how much she was learning about what it took each of these players to get to the places in their respective careers that they were at.

“When people would say anything negative about players, I'm like, ‘You're outside your mind,’” Marino said. “These players are so good. And you can't grasp it because you probably have no idea what it takes to be where they are.”

This lack of recognition that Marino was finding commonplace around the time she began covering the WNBA, particularly surrounding those players, motivated her to learn more about the league. Subsequently, she would share her discoveries with her audience, hoping to attract more attention to the skill level of the league’s players.

“I remember specifically [when] I started covering the WNBA, I wasn't knowledgeable about it prior,” Marino said. “[I saw] these hate comments on Twitter and Instagram, and I'm like ‘This doesn't compute’ and then it inspired me to really want to showcase the product and to do what I could to amplify. And not because of any other reason besides, I just like to talk ball.”

Marino worried that people dismissed the increase in WNBA coverage at first as virtue signaling but felt that it was important to cover all aspects of basketball, especially because there were interesting narratives surrounding the league that were not getting as much coverage. 

“Sometimes people would think, ‘Oh, you just want to talk about WNBA as a fairness thing.’” Marino said. “Yeah, equitable coverage is part of the equation, but it's more so just interesting to me. So many more people are seeing it now which is just awesome.”

Aside from raising awareness for storylines in the women’s game, Marino’s favorite kinds of stories to tell are anecdotes. 

“I like to do the stories that show who people are,” Marino said “And not necessarily even what you see on the court. And from my time doing sideline for UConn coverage and then now as a play-by-play broadcaster, I like hearing from the coaches about little things that just show you who they are, show you their character, and show how hard it is to balance being a player nowadays with everything else that comes with it.”

Photos Courtesy of Maria Marino

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