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How to talk your way into the Olympics

Winthrop PA announcer Mike Markham working 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio

Mike Markham has announced Winthrop athletic events for eight years but he'll get a career-best opportunity this summer when he works 18 women's basketball games during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
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Mike Markham has announced Winthrop athletic events for eight years but he'll get a career-best opportunity this summer when he works 18 women's basketball games during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

You might recognize Mike Markham’s booming voice if you’ve ever been to a basketball game at Queens University of Charlotte.

The 36-year-old sports announcer has been self-employed since 2010, when he was laid off a traffic reporting job. Since then, he has been stringing together temporary gigs for Queens, UNC Charlotte, Winthrop, the ACC and fighting events.

And next month brings Markham’s biggest job yet: The Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. He’ll be one of two English-speaking public-address announcers for women’s basketball.

To him, the opportunity is “a pinnacle” that hopefully will open doors.

“My hope is ... I send someone my resume, and it says on there I did the Olympic Games that they automatically take me seriously,” he said.

Markham has been pursuing his announcing dream for more than a decade. And just like the athletes for whom he’ll be announcing, perseverance and grit have been key ingredients to his success.

By his estimation, there are no more than 10 other people pursuing his line of work without another full-time job to fall back on. Markham says he was never a natural student, but he always loved sports. He got interested in announcing while watching a women’s soccer game at the University of Southern Mississippi, where his wife played.

A New Orleans native, Markham describes his hometown as a place that’s a little offbeat, where people have their own way of talking, eating and approaching life. Markham’s own joie de vivre has steered his nonconventional career path so far.

Banging on doors

Markham has concentrated mostly on international mixed martial arts (MMA), along with some boxing, since his first time announcing at a small high school in Hattiesburg, Miss., some 15 years ago. Fighting events have taken him to 12 countries, and the Rio Games will be the first international team sports event he’s ever done.

Markham said he’s been gunning for an Olympics job since the London Games in 2012. Back then, he said, he had no idea how to go about getting the job. Through an internet search, he found the name of someone he thought might have some sway, and proceeded to email, then follow up, over, and over.

When he did that again this time around, he got lucky. The basketball gig fell into his lap because the boxing announcing job he was aiming for wentto someone else, Markham said.

“I kept banging on that door, and it finally swung open for me a few weeks ago,” Markham said. He left Tuesday for an MMA event Saturday in Bulgaria, then heads to Rio. His first game is Brazil vs. Australia on Aug. 6.

New Orleans

Markham has lived in Charlotte for 15 years, but the tattoos on his forearms leave little question about where he’s from: a purple, green and yellow fleur de lis, a pelican adorned with the numbers “1718,” and an outline of Louisiana with the word “Always” at the bottom.

“Always in my mind, always in my heart,” Markham said of New Orleans.

He grew up in Gentilly, a neighborhood bounded by Lake Pontchartrain that was badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Markham had already moved to Charlotte by the time the storm hit in 2005. But like many others, his parents didn’t evacuate. Their house took around 8-10 feet of water, Markham said, and they had to be airlifted out by helicopters.

“I didn’t know if anybody in my family was dead or alive for three days. It was horrendous,” Markham said of the time before his parents called him from Houston.

Markham found them an apartment in Charlotte soon after, and his mother thought they’d be here for a month or so. They remain here today.

The work

Markham started as the basketball announcer at Queens about a decade ago. University spokeswoman Cherie Swarthout describes his style as “captivating and distinct – bringing energy to any venue.” At Winthrop, he’s done soccer, volleyball, basketball, softball and lacrosse.

Before the college gigs, Markham would fill in radio spots at local stations, including WKQC (K-104.7), WLNK (Link 107.9) and WPEG. Just for fun, he’d use Louisiana-inspired pseudonyms like Mike Thibodaux (a city in Louisiana) and David Lagniappe (a French word meaning “a little something extra”).

When Markham’s not working a job, he’s looking for one. But he says he loves the work, and that’s what counts. Just because the person next door doesn’t like you doesn’t mean the person across the street won’t, Markham said of freelancing.

“If I could make a zillion dollars doing something I don’t want to do, I wouldn’t give it a second thought to (instead) do something where I was broke, but I was happy,” Markham said. “Most people would not do that, and I respect that. But I’m not like that.”

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta

AUDIO ONLY: Mike Markham has announced Winthrop athletic events for eight years but this summer he'll work 18 women's basketball games during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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