Alabama-Tennessee Broadcast Will Be a Unique Throwback with Rivals, FriendsTop Stories
Kayla Braud and Madison Shipman spent the last few years begging to broadcast a game between Alabama and Tennessee together. They sent messages to their producers with the dates circled on the calendar as friendly reminders.
Everything finally aligned this season to make it happen.
The former All-Americans will be in the booth together on Saturday at 5 p.m. ET in a first-of-its-kind softball broadcast on the SEC Network as the programs they starred for nearly a decade ago battle in Knoxville at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium.
Termed Throwback Throwdown, the broadcast will feature new and unique elements that will blend history, nostalgia and current analysis of the rivalry matchup between perennial Top 25 programs.
Play-by-play commentator Eric Frede will be the “ringleader” for the three-person broadcast team. Braud and Shipman will spend about 70 percent of the time in the booth together and the other 30 percent roaming the stadium individually to interview coaches, players and others attending the game.
“This is something we have wanted to do for a long time,” Shipman said. “I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. I am hoping we can dive into some conversations about some of the people we played and our mentalities during those games. I love being able to go back in the minds of us 10 years ago and get into that competitive mindset again. There will be a few surprises that I am not even aware of, so we will be surprised right alongside the fans.”
Braud and Shipman’s playing careers in the SEC intertwined for three seasons. Braud, an outfielder for Alabama from 2010-13, was a three-time All-American and 2012 NCAA champion. Shipman, a shortstop at Tennessee from 2011-14, was a three-time All-American and 2014 SEC Player of the Year and Honda Award winner.
Both played for the current head coaches of the programs, with Patrick Murphy in his 25th season coaching Alabama and Karen Weekly in her 22nd season coaching Tennessee. They had several battles against each other that Braud likened to “a chess match between the shortstop and leadoff hitter.”
The two never met outside of playing against each other until Shipman became a broadcaster in 2018 and visited the SEC Network headquarters in Charlotte.
“I got there early on purpose so I could talk to her and hang out with her,” Braud said. “I was the first softball analyst at the SEC Network and I really wanted to make her feel comfortable and show her the ropes because I was not given that opportunity since SEC Network was brand new when I joined. We both stepped into the studio wearing the same exact outfit: jeans, white V-neck T-shirts and white sneakers. We hit it off right away.”
Shipman appreciated the gesture from her one-time rival.
“I was fairly intimidated because I had never been on TV before. I remember her just being this calming presence because she had been where I was,” Shipman said. “She knew where I was coming from as a player transitioning over to the TV side, and was a huge help for me.”
Braud and Shipman have developed into close friends, hanging out during studio shows and sharing many of life’s milestones as they became mothers and continue to develop as broadcasters.
“We didn’t talk to each other when we played against each other. Social media was not as big and we didn’t know each other through travel ball,” Shipman said. “I just knew her as the leadoff batter from Alabama that I tried to get out. Fast forward a decade later and we are talking literally every day multiple times a day.”
During the broadcast, Braud and Shipman will be wearing their old jerseys. Braud’s has an intimate connection to Tennessee.
“The last time I wore my jersey was in Knoxville, where I ended my career in a Super Regional in 2013,” she said. “I am nostalgic and I took my jersey off and kept it. It still has not been washed.”
But Braud promises she won’t need to load up on deodorant to prevent people from fleeing her presence.
“Luckily I did test it out and it didn’t smell,” she said with a laugh. “It’s been hanging and got a lot of aeration. I am not a sweaty person either.”
Shipman also hasn’t worn her Tennessee jersey since the Lady Vols lost to host Oklahoma in the Super Regional in 2014, marking the end of her college career.
“I haven’t even attempted to put it on yet,” Shipman said. “I am waiting for game day, kind of like back when I was putting on the uniform for real.”
Meg Aronowitz, the vice president of production at ESPN, was always open to the idea of Braud and Shipman working together for the rivalry. But the Covid pandemic threw a few logistical hurdles into the fold.
“The great thing about these two in particular is they have really truly become like best friends. They talk every day and their relationship is incredible,” Aronowitz said. “I think the great thing about all of our softball talent is they are truly a team and they are all friends on and off the field. There is very little competition between them for games and events. I am proud of them for that.”
The Throwback nature of the broadcast even extends to the production chair, with Aronowitz at the controls in the TV truck that will be parked at the stadium.
“As I got into this, I think part of the nostalgia of working through some of these stories between the two of them hit me. I produced half the game stories way back when, so I just kind of got caught up in the moment and wanted to take this one,” Aronowitz said. “I put it on my schedule, but now the reality has set in and I am like, ‘whoa, I am too old for this.’”
The broadcast will feature flashbacks from moments in Braud and Shipman’s careers and the games they played against each other. It will discuss their recruiting, their trips to the Women’s College World Series and their husbands (hint: prepare to see a guy dressed as Gumby).
The rivalry between Alabama and Tennessee will garner part of the spotlight, and how the two programs helped elevate the SEC into a powerhouse conference in the sport.
“Two coaches that have such successful programs with this kind of longevity and this kind of rivalry is special,” Aronowitz said. “We are excited to tell the stories of the programs because they do it the right way and have such integrity in how they go about the game and coaching. They don’t get enough credit.”
Although the broadcast may be unique, Braud and Shipman want to give the game the respect it deserves because they know what it means to the players involved.
“These are two Top 25 teams and we will not go so far off the rails that we will miss the opportunity to talk about these two phenomenal teams,” Braud said. “But that being said, we are going to kind of call back the unique experiences Madi and I had as players.”
After Braud and Shipman begged for years to be in the booth together for the rivalry, it may not be much longer before viewers see similar nontraditional broadcasts. Aronowitz has pondered putting former college stars and Team USA aces Monica Abbott and Cat Osterman in the booth together for a game, along with many other “shoulder programming” options.
“It has definitely sparked quite a few ideas in my mind to be able to franchise,” Aronowitz said. “This will definitely be a good experiment to see how it goes.”