What It’s Really Like to Be a Toronto Raptors In-Game Host

In our 9-5 series, we ask boss babes what a day in their work lives entails. This week, Raptors in-game host Kat Stefankiewicz gives us a glimpse into her daily grind

Ishani Nath
(Photo: David Lopez; Design: Michael Li Preti)

Slam Dunk: Kat Stefankiewicz turned her passions for dance, sport and performing into thrilling career as a Toronto Raptors in-game and NBA TV Canada host (Photo: David Lopez)

Age: Let’s say that I’m in my early 30s.

Education: Graduated from the Music Theatre Program at Sheridan College.

Length of time at current gig: This will be my sixth season.

Fans see you on the Air Canada Centre jumbotron or on stage in Jurassic Park, but what does being an in-game host for the Raptors really entail? When you come to a basketball game, it’s about more than just the game happening on the court. There are no lulls; it’s a continuous show. My responsibility is to fill the gaps and keep the audience entertained, whether it’s welcoming fans to the Air Canada Centre (ACC) with my co-host Mark Strong, running a contest on the court, hyping the crowd up if there’s a good play, or doing giveaways. Along with us there’s the announcer, the mascot and the Dance Pak—we all work together as a team.

This job requires a lot of energy, have you always been upbeat and outgoing or is that something you had to craft for the job? It’s funny, I was a super shy kid when I was growing up and my parents were always shocked when they saw me on stage (I was a dancer growing up), because it brought out a different side of me. I was super happy when I was performing, and they could tell, so that’s why they kept me going in that direction. What you see on the court, it’s 110 percent who I am, and I love being able to share that side with everybody. But away from game action, I’m actually a really private person. It takes me a minute to open up.

Did you grow up as a big fan of basketball? I grew up in a sports family, and I played competitive baseball, so I knew my sport. Sports and performing were a huge passion, but when I was a teen and trying to figure it out, I never thought I’d be able to combine the two—and yet, here it is. It just showed up, so that’s pretty wonderful.

You started off with the Raptors as a member of the Dance Pak. What drew you to the hosting gig? When you’re trying to break into the entertainment industry you say “yes,” and then you freak out afterwards. I was the captain of the Dance Pak for three seasons. During my last year as captain, NBA TV Canada approached me to do a “life in the day” segment, which I didn’t realize was a little audition to host a show on Raptors TV. From there the in-game position was offered to me as well. So I didn’t audition—it kind of just happened and then I freaked out after. I believe if you keep your heart and your mind open to new opportunities, they’ll show up.

If you had seen this job posted, would you have auditioned? Yes. With a music theatre background you can go down a lot of different paths. I had always wanted to get into television, although I never thought I’d be in sports. But I appreciate it every day.

This job requires fairly in-depth knowledge of basketball and the Raptors. Did you find it was a steep learning curve? Yeah. With the in-game hosting, it’s live so we’re interviewing players after the games or celebrities when they show up. I’m constantly jumping on my phone so that I’m extra prepared. But yes, I definitely had to learn a bit more about the game.

(Photo: Light Imaging)

Courtside Chat: Kat Stefankiewicz speaks to members of the Toronto Raptors Dance Pak (Photo: Light Imaging)

What is a typical workday like for you now? My mornings are pretty much writing and memorizing scripts. I do a lot of the digital media side for the Raptors as well, so I’ll go online and check in with fans who have questions about the game coming up, see what’s new and what’s hot and what people are talking about in basketball and sports in general. My afternoons are either in production meetings or shooting. I have a web series called Raptors Rundown, which lines up fans for with what’s going on with the team, and we bring in players for some fun things. Then my nights are at the arena. I go in for around 3 p.m. for makeup, have a meeting with the game operations department, see if there’s anything new going on for the night, like who is expected to be courtside, and get the vibe of the game. Then the show begins. I’m usually at the arena till about 11:30 p.m.

Wow, that’s a long day! Yeah, it is. I kind of have a teacher’s year where the summers are a lot lighter—and I don’t feel guilty about it. In this job, you work your butt off. It’s 24-7 for the nine to 10 months.

Do you also go on the road with the team? Yes, I travelled a lot during the 2016 playoffs. This season we also brought the experience to the west coast so our fans in Calgary and Vancouver had the opportunity to watch the Raptors play.

How do you get in the zone before shooting a live segment? Everyone who works in the ACC knows that I’m always talking to myself in the corner. I’ll literally be off to the side saying my lines five times out loud before I go on.

What’s something fans might not know about the team? With the Raptors, it’s a legit family dynamic where everyone is really tight. Other teams, it’s not like that. They hit the court and that’s that. But with these guys, they hang out all the time. That’s what stands out to me when I think of the players.

How would you describe your on-the-job style? I have a huge passion for fashion, and I love that part of the game. Fashion is such a big part of basketball culture. I call my style “tomboy chic” which means pairing something athletic with the complete opposite, like a Raptors t-shirt with a tight leather skirt or overalls and heels. I often go with “red lips and kicks,” but on the court it’s heels. It’s just a mix, and the fun part is that it totally works.

Now—real talk—basketball players are *really* tall, so how do you handle the height difference when you’re interviewing them? Thankfully, I’m pretty tall [5 foot 8] so in heels I hit 6 foot, but there’s a couple funny pictures out there where I’m standing on a crate to do an interview. You can cheat that way.

What has been your most memorable moment in this job so far? I was able to host all three of the NBA All-Star events [BBVA Compass Rising Star Challenge, State Farm All-Star Saturday Night, and the 65th NBA All-Star Game] when it was here in Toronto in February, and that’s something that will stay with me forever. As a kid, you sit on your couch and watch this spectacle—and here I was able to be a part of it, so I’ll definitely remember that week. And I say ‘a week’ because it was a wild week of hours and hours of rehearsals. It’s more than just the big show.

Sports reporting is traditionally very male-dominated. How would your describe your experience as a woman in this industry? I honestly think it’s changing. There are many more strong and talented women in the industry. If you turn on any sports station, you’re probably going to see at least one woman, which is amazing. The hardest part for me was transitioning from the crop-top clad world of the Raptors Dance Pak to the suit-and-tie life of sports reporting. I had a lot of support and I just made sure I knew my stuff, because I wanted to prove myself and earn that respect.

Have you experienced any issues with fans or spectators? A live show with 20,000 fans under one roof, you’re going to have that. I don’t think the issue is strictly with the sports culture; I think it’s the way some people still treat women, unfortunately. I’ve had my moments, like people yelling things or trying to get into a shot, and those moments happened when I was on the Dance Pak too. But we have the security guards, and I stand up for myself too. I haven’t had anything terrible happen—knock on wood.

The past few years have been amazing for the Raptors—what was it like being involved with the team as they continued to do better and better? I remember being on stage in Jurassic Park and just being like let’s take a minute to look out here. You don’t get used to it. It’s just wild, and the energy is so positive. When they were at the Eastern Conference finals, inside the ACC was full and outside it was full, too. It was crazy. Taking moments out to really appreciate everything like that makes you want to work that extra bit harder.

What does #WeTheNorth mean to you? I’ve been lucky to travel coast to coast with the team and we truly have fans right across the country. #WeTheNorth, it’s a family thing. We’re outsiders. We’re the only Canadian team—and I love that we are—and because of that, we’re in this together. That’s what it means to me.

What are you looking forward to with the 2016-2017 season? To start again. We’re the underdogs, you never know what’s going to happen, and I love that about it. We have some new people in the mix, and I don’t doubt that the fans are going to be behind them 110 percent. I’m looking forward to the ACC filling up again. I love going to work.

After a big game day, how do you unwind? Even if we’re going out later to celebrate the game, or for someone’s birthday, I always have to go home first because I need to decompress. I just need 20 minutes. I don’t even turn on the TV; I just flip around on my phone and maybe have a glass of wine or tea. I need that silence and a bit of alone time to take a couple breaths. That’s how I come down.

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