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Raya Clay talks her career, working at ESPN, networking and more

Behind-the-scenes players don’t always earn shine from a backlight. Raya Clay is the exception. As a Creative Producer for ESPN, she has proven herself as a dominate producer in the sports television industry. Her resume includes but isn’t limited to producing NBA, UFC, Nascar, PGA Golf, MLB, Little League World Series, ESPN E60 and Outside the Lines. 

Raya started her career in 2014 at the University of Arkansas. She navigated her way as a college student as a writer for the Arkansas Traveler magazine, On-Air host for Countdown to Kickoff, the Arkansas Razorback football pre-game show, and a Production Assistant for Razorback Sports network.  Shortly after her junior year of college started, the Southeastern Conference  landed a deal with ESPN and allowed college students to work with ESPN employees and work as Production Assistants as apart of their student program. 

This gave her an opportunity to work with Producer, Directors, and Video Editors from ESPN’s office in Charlotte, NC. While working as a Production Assistant, Raya was able to shoot, edit, and produce video packages for several of the Arkansas Razorbacks athletic teams and SEC Sports. 

In December 2020, added another project to her resume and started a podcast called, “No Handouts, Just work”. 

I started a podcast because…

I wanted to provide a platform to young professionals and let them know that with hard work, anything is possible. With me being from a small town in Arkansas, I really had to work hard to get to where I am today because I had little to no resources in grade school that prepped me for a career in Sports Production. I taught myself to edit video using Final Cut Pro in high school just playing around and everything just came to me after that. 

I wanted to be able to let people know that it doesn’t matter where you’re from or your background – What matters is want you want to do and how are you going to get there. No Handouts, Just work was created to let people know that with hard work anything is possible! The podcast share inspiring stories from Raya as well as other successful individuals. 

The biggest influences on my career are…

I love Gia Peppers {Entertainment journalist} because she’s so goal-driven and is a great example of creating your own opportunities. She also doesn’t limit herself – she’s been the Arena Host for the Washington Wizards, patterned with Nike, interviewed Kobe Bryant, and the host of several podcasts. My favorite is the Black Girl Podcast, highly recommended! 

She’s always securing deals and pushing out dope content! I would love to meet Gia one day, she definitely inspires me and I’m a fan of all of her work. 

The biggest hurdle I face as a woman in a male-dominated industry is…

People taking you serious and questing your knowledge on Sports. I always get questions like “Do you really know football?” Or “How many points did Jordan score in this game?” It’s all about working hard and proving yourself. Once you put in the work, people notice and your work will start to speak for itself. 

Networking is important in the sports industry because…

The sports industry is smaller than you think and once you meet one person, it’s easy for you to meet everyone. During my time as a Production Assistant with the SEC Network/ESPN I met a Producer named Trevor who always looked out for the PAs and gave tons of knowledge – I emailed Trevor and kept in touch with him from the time I graduated from the University of Arkansas until now. Trevor helped me get several interviews with ESPN after I graduated and even though I didn’t get any offers for the roles I applied for, having him as a reference helped A LOT and got my name noticed by recruiters and hiring managers at ESPN. Network, network, network. Once you get your foot in the door, the opportunities are endless…

The best piece of business advice I ever got was…

“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” Even if I wasn’t working at ESPN or a top television network, I would still work in sports because that’s what I’m passionate about. I encourage everyone to go after a job they enjoy and are passionate about so the “work” doesn’t actually feel like work.

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