Cover Story

Game On!

For Kathryn Przybyla, the social media coordinator for the Brooklyn Nets, a 15-hour workday without breaks is business as usual. She wouldn’t have it any other way.

Brooklyn Nets social media coordinator Kathryn Przybyla (BA ’11). Photo by John Emerson

Story by Jennifer Kitses

“With live sports, you can have your notes, but you can never predict what’s going to happen. That’s where I’m best—in the heat of the moment. ”
Kathryn Przybyla

It’s three hours before the players hit the court, and Kathryn “Kat” Przybyla (BA ’11) moves fast through the basement corridors of Barclays Center in Brooklyn before ducking into the lounge down the hall from the Media Room. Minutes later, she emerges in her game-night clothes: black dress, gold cuff and the three-inch stilettos in which she will stand for the next six hours (by choice; she likes to be on her feet) as she brings fans of the Brooklyn Nets as close to the team as anyone can get—on the court during warm-ups, in the locker room after the game and with better-than-courtside seats during the game itself. All the while she’ll be churning out content, tweeting video clips and photos and quotes and stats, meeting the demands of a never-ending news and entertainment cycle.

Przybyla, at the age of 26, is in her third season as the social media coordinator for the Nets and Barclays Center. Born and raised in Getzville, northeast of Buffalo, where she grew up as a fan of the Bills and Sabres and was active in sports herself—basketball, soccer, tennis, competitive Irish dancing—she has what many would consider a dream job. And she appears to be ideally suited for both its thrills and its pressures. “I’m always busy; that’s a definite,” she says. “But I’m a person who thrives in high-pressure environments. With live sports, you can have your notes, but you can never predict what’s going to happen. That’s where I’m best—in the heat of the moment. I love it.”

She is not exaggerating when she says she is always busy. Today, her workday began around 8 a.m., when she caught up on the news and the team’s social media feeds, and then posted @BrooklynNets’ first tweet of the day: “Beautiful day for a game. #Nets look to start win streak vs. #Sixers.” Most days, as soon as she gets her coffee, she’s on her iPhone, which she relies on almost exclusively to post content. “I try to hit the morning commute crowd,” she says. “I plug in, see what we’re talking about today. This is not a 9-to-5 position.”

Przybyla’s job is to rally the fans and draw them in, and a big part of that is giving them an inside look: images and information that they can’t get anywhere else. Early this morning, she made her first of two trips to the arena, arriving an hour before “shootaround,” the NBA term for practice on game days. “I take photos, post sound bites from the players about tonight’s game—anything cool about the matchup,” she says. “We’ll do a gallery of the players going through their warm-ups.”

She posts a black-and-white shot she takes of the team, standing in a circle on the court: “Good morning from @barclayscenter.” Today, voting opens for the All-Star team, and she encourages fans to make their voices heard: “Send your favorite #Nets players to represent Brooklyn.” If a fan posts something interesting, she’ll respond. “I’m really big on interactions with fans. It’s a conversation with our base. If fans are hyped about something, I’ll retweet that.”

After practice ends, she’s back on the subway, to grab lunch and swing by her apartment for a purse. But she’s still posting content—there’s no break on game day. “My work schedule is the team’s schedule,” she says. “Friday nights, a lot of weekends. Sometimes my night off is a Tuesday. Every day is different, and some days are kind of crazy.”

From boot camp to courtside

Przybyla started taking computer classes in middle school, around the time that her parents bought their first home computer. “There weren’t really any restrictions, except maybe keeping the house phone lines open at certain times when we had dial-up,” she says. “That’s so funny to think about.”

In 2009, when she was a sophomore at UB, she signed up for her first Twitter account. “I tried to teach myself as much as possible on my own,” she says. “Most of my friends weren’t as plugged in as I was in the beginning.” Later, she took an advertising class taught by Marc Adler (MA ’83, MBA ’82, BA ’79) in which students were required to have a Twitter account and to submit homework via tweets and using hashtags. “I loved that sort of real-world experience,” Przybyla says. “Just using the medium was a great start. I never realized that it would be a major part of my career.”

The following year, she applied for an internship at CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.” She had introduced herself to Blitzer (BA ’70) at a university awards ceremony—he was receiving a Distinguished Alumni Award; Przybyla a J. Scott Fleming Scholarship from the UB Future Alumni Network—and told the news anchor that she followed him on Twitter. Blitzer encouraged her to apply for CNN’s internship program. She did, and the next summer ended up working for one of the show’s on-air correspondents in New York City—transcribing interviews, helping with on-location shoots, cutting background video for the Web and on-air packages. It was her first time living away from home. “I fell in love with the city. And big media,” she says. “After that, I was always keeping an eye out for opportunities in New York.”

A communications major, Przybyla interned for the Sabres during her senior year, working in the hockey team’s broadcast department. After graduation, she landed a job at The Buffalo News’, working as the social content coordinator for the newspaper’s website. “It was a fantastic job, a great writing boot camp,” she says. “I was writing up to four or five articles a day.”

Two years later, she made the move to the Nets. In a market in which so many sought-after positions are won through personal connections, Przybyla got the job through an online application and by reaching out to the hiring manager with an email. In her new role, she made the jump from daily reporting to what is possibly the shortest form of communication that can still fall under the rubric of news. “I still consider myself a writer,” she says. “But now I write in 140-character tweets.”

Not that she’s given up longer-form writing completely. During her rare moments of downtime, she writes posts for her food blog, Rookie Chef, which she launched with her sister, Kristin, a 2015 UB graduate who lives in Buffalo. Posts include a recipe for Honey Chili Chicken created by their father, a finalist in the National Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival. “It’s a way to keep up with my writing,” Przybyla says. “And it’s a nice step away from basketball for the day.”

In the heat of the moment

All photos from the Dec. 10 game at Barclays Center against the Philadelphia 76ers. Photographs by Brendan Awerbuch

You know what time it is

Today, however, there are no steps away from basketball. She’s back at the arena in the late afternoon, and in the thick of it. Tonight is Jewish Heritage Night at Barclays Center, and on court, Yoni Z, a Jewish recording artist with an operatic voice, is warming up for his pregame performance of the national anthem. There’s an oversized menorah decorated with basketballs on the main floor, and young fans who belong to the Hasidic Chabad movement are pouring in. Special T-shirts are on sale, sporting the Nets’ “Brooklyn Represent” marketing slogan in Hebrew.

Przybyla sets up in the Media Room, with her laptop and two phones: one that she uses for calls, and the other for taking photos and videos and creating GIFs. “Now is the key time: before the doors open,” she says. “The players are warming up, and I can provide that exclusive look—things you wouldn’t even be able to see in the arena.” No matter what the occasion, Przybyla wants to be there, even when it’s the sort of community event where she could easily get the photos from someone else. “Kat’s passion and pride for her work are showcased in everything that she does,” says Mandy Gutmann, communications director for Barclays Center and the Nets.

At the front row of Coach Lionel Hollins’ pregame press conference, Przybyla tweets some photos and quotes, then hurries off to get dinner. Ten minutes is all she needs to eat and plug in her phone for a last-minute charge. Then she’s outside one of the arena’s luxury lounges, the Calvin Klein Courtside Club, ready for the next photo op. Unlike almost everyone who’s there to watch the players emerge from their locker room, she’s on the players’ side of the velvet rope. “You know what time it is, Brooklyn,” she tweets, with a clip of Markel Brown, who usually leads the way on game nights, bouncing a ball against the wall as he heads onto the court. She follows the players and claims her space at the corner of the court for all of the pregame activities—where she’ll stay until the horn blows.

The underdogs prevail

The mood is upbeat, because the Nets are coming off a win. Two nights ago, at home, they defeated the Houston Rockets 110 to 105. Among basketball fans, the Nets are known for their less-than-stellar record; they are the second-lowest ranked team in the NBA. Just a few days ago, the team was the subject of an online Vice feature that railed against their performance. The article, “This Is Not Basketball: The Brooklyn Nets as Dada Masterpiece,” argued that “the Brooklyn Nets have been a moribund failure for many years, but only as a basketball team and a business.”

It’s the kind of snarky press that Przybyla takes in stride. “It’s the nature of the business to have good press and bad press,” she says. “[My job] is always challenging. After a loss, it’s more challenging.” The fans know the score; there’s no point in trying to hide it or pretend there weren’t mistakes. Even after the worst performances, Przybyla is unflappable. “There are positives to pull out of any game,” she says. “I’ll try to focus on an amazing highlight. If something funny happens, you can be lighthearted about it and post funny GIFs.”

But tonight her job is a little easier, because the Nets are playing the Philadelphia 76ers—the only team with a lower ranking. As of today, the Sixers have won just one game this calendar year. And the Nets are in good form; Przybyla doesn’t need to stretch to post highlights like: “@44Bojan making a splash in the first.” and “The 13 pts the #Nets allowed in the 1Q are the fewest points the Nets have allowed in any quarter this season.” By the end of the first quarter, the Nets are leading 24 to 13, and her earlier hope of a winning streak seems within reach.

The Nets hold on to their lead until halftime. Then, in the third quarter, the Sixers manage to sneak ahead. Przybyla posts: “One quarter to go. #Sixers grab a 74-70 lead over the #Nets at the end of the third here in Brooklyn.” The game is saved with a play by Shane Larkin, and Przybyla posts some congratulatory tweets: “One more look at that Larkin hustle. #Nets @ShaneLarkin_3.” Later, with evident relief, she is able to celebrate a victory: “We’ll take it! #Nets win 100-91 over the #Sixers tonight in Brooklyn.”

Przybyla’s night, however, is far from over. She tweets quotes from Larkin, Andrea Bargnani and Brook Lopez. “Game photos? We’ve got game photos.” “Big play from @ShaneLarkin_3 makes him our @SecureWatch24 Defender of the Game! #Nets” Stoking the fans’ celebration of another win, she posts all the postgame content she can get: sound bites from the coach’s press conference, postgame quotes from locker room interviews, highlights, photo galleries, clips of big plays.

She generally leaves about an hour after the horn blows, unless there’s something else she can bring to the fans, like video of a meet-and-greet or player signings. Tonight, she’s in no rush to leave, and there’s plenty to keep her busy; in two days, the Nets will be playing the Los Angeles Clippers. And so Przybyla is off again, talking to the players, eager to provide the fans with an answer to that perennial sports question: What’s next?

Jennifer Kitses is a freelance writer based in New York City.