Millions of television viewers across the world see Tom Phillips at work each week.
He’s polished and prepared — a true professional. He’s seen on a variety of programs on WWE Network, including “WWE Main Event,” and previously served as the youngest announcer in “SmackDown!” history (at age 25, in August 2014).
In his roles, Phillips describes action on the shows and related storylines for viewers, whom he unfailingly refers to as members of the “WWE Universe.” Additionally, he makes a striking impression with dark, well-trimmed hair and designer suits.
Most impressive, while at work in front of thousands of fans in often-raucous arenas, with action playing out before him and behind-the-scenes producers providing direction and information through his earpiece, he nimbly balances all the distractions and keeps broadcasts on track.
In his role, Phillips travels about five days a week, all over the world with the multimillion-dollar WWE troupe. He provides content for a variety of WWE programing and special events, and previously served as on-air host for a successful weekly social media series. When he’s not in front of the camera or preparing for assignments, he’s still at work. True days off seem rare.
“It may sound cliché, but I watch the WWE Network constantly. It could be matches from 1991, 1970 or as recently as 2010. I just like to listen to the ways commentary has changed through the years,” he said. “On commentary, we try to really bring what’s happening to life. So you have to know the product, the superstars and history. It’s not always easy.
“At first it was like trying to learn Chinese and having no knowledge of how to speak Chinese. The difficult thing was finding my own voice, and it feels like I’m competing with myself every week to get better.”
In good company:
He’s figured that out pretty well, though. With his WWE position, Phillips — the stage name for Tom Hannifan, 26, who earned his Penn State journalism degree in 2011 — ranks as one of the more accomplished and visible young alumni from the College of Communications.
Earning an opportunity, and praise, as a WWE commentator puts Hannifan in good company. Many talented sports broadcasters and producers have collaborated or worked with WWE at some point during their careers. That includes on-air talent like Jonathan Coachman and Todd Grisham, both now at ESPN, and John Filippelli, president of the YES Network, who previously worked for ABC Sports, Fox Broadcasting and, briefly, WWE.
In addition, WWE broadcasts rely on state-of-the-art mobile production facilities built by companies such as Pittsburgh-based NEP Broadcasting, which has included a strong contingent of Penn State alumni through the years.
“What he’s doing is extremely challenging. I would say if you can broadcast sports entertainment efficiently that you could transfer those skills into virtually any other televised entity,” said Jim “JR” Ross, a pro wrestling/sports entertainment commentator for 40 years who was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2007. His ongoing relationship with WWE includes work with the organization’s talent development efforts. That’s where he first met Hannifan in 2012.
“He’s a low-maintenance, hard-working kid,” Ross said. “He came with a good work ethic and an obvious desire to be good. I think that’s a testament to his upbringing and his education at Penn State. He’s got a great look, works hard, and his voice cuts through the clutter. He’s well on his way to establishing an excellent body of work in that genre, and only time will tell how far that will take him.”
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Peter King: ‘Tom Brady Needs To Study Cris Collinsworth’
“He’ll know that to be good, he has to get out of his comfort zone of all niceties and tell it like it is.”
Peter King dedicated a not-insignificant portion of his “Football Morning in America” column this week to advice for Tom Brady. FOX announced last week that the Buccaneers’ quarterback will become the network’s lead NFL analyst upon his retirement.
Brady’s decision and his reported salary have been the source of much speculation and prediction amongst his soon-to-be colleagues.
King is optimistic that Tom Brady will be entertaining and informative when he makes his FOX debut. He did offer the GOAT a little bit of advice about what he should be doing in the months leading up to calling it quits on his playing days and starting his new career.
“I think what I’d do if I were Brady is study Cris Collinsworth—and honest to goodness, I don’t say that because I work for NBC,” he wrote. “I say it because Collinsworth knows how to talk X’s-and-O’s conversationally, he’s an easy listen, and he can criticize when the time comes.”
Interestingly, last week, Collinsworth says he hears from most former players that are getting ready to make the jump to broadcasting. He was surprised he never heard from Tom Brady before FOX announced their deal.
King had two other suggestions. The first was that Brady watch multiple games from start to finish so that he can hear what the give-and-take between a broadcaster and analyst sounds like. The other is that he has to commit to being interesting and not censoring himself. King has faith that Brady will be able to do that.
“He’ll know that to be good, he has to get out of his comfort zone of all niceties and tell it like it is. On that LeBron James show last year, Brady said, ‘Ninety percent of what I say is not what I’m thinking. There’s a part of me that doesn’t like conflict, so in the end I always just try to play it super-flat.’ That has to end once he’s on TV if he wants to be any good.”
Nick Wright Critical Of ABC Crew As Giannis Antetokounmpo Struggles In Game 7
“He reminded his followers on Twitter that the two-time MVP has put together some amazing performances in this series.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo started hot in Game 7 on Sunday. By the time the game ended though, the Boston Celtics were on their way to Miami for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals and the defending champions were headed back to Milwaukee.
The Celtics’ defense gave the Milwaukee Bucks fits in the second half. The ABC broadcast put a special spotlight on Antetokounmpo, who got multiple drives to the basket that he could not finish.
“The best has got to show up when the best is needed, and Giannis has been disappointing,” said Mark Jackson over a package of highlights of Giannis missing shots. “As great of a player as he is, given credit to the Celtics’ defense, but he has struggled offensively time and time again.”
Nick Wright of FS1 noticed and he didn’t appreciate it. He reminded his followers on Twitter that the two-time MVP has put together some amazing performances in this series.
Mike Been, Mark Jackson, and Jeff Van Gundy were not particularly hard on Giannis. The trio made the typical comments we hear when things aren’t going a great player’s way.
Wright did not harp on the issue beyond the single tweet. The outcome was not in doubt as the clock winded down. He gave credit to the Celtics rather than tweet about the Bucks or Giannis.
Stephanie McMahon: WWE Is A Better Advertising Investment Than Sports
“We can script the buzzer-beater moments, we can script the Hail Marys.”
Everyone knows that professional wrestling is scripted. The storylines, the outcomes of matches, all of it is predetermined. But in the eyes of WWE, that’s what makes their product so different, and better than traditional sports.
WWE Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon told Deadline that when it comes to pitching advertisers, sports entertainment allows room for a range of different approaches to make something work.
“We can script the buzzer-beater moments, we can script the Hail Marys,” she said. “We have a leg up on sports. … You may object to what we do, but you’re never going to be bored.”
McMahon added that WWE has a much easier process in dealing with sponsors. Everything is handled in-house.
“We own all of the IP,” she said. “When brands deal with us, they just deal with us. We create something together.”
WWE is coming off a positive Q1 earnings report, which had the company up 27% in total revenue. Its two weekly primetime shows, Monday Night RAW and Friday Night SmackDown, continue to do well in ratings, and all special and pay-per-view events, in addition to its streaming platform WWE Network, are all housed on Peacock.