One-on-One With Kip Helt

By Kurt Pfannenstiel, PhoenixMercury.com
Posted: July 2, 2009

Recently, PhoenixMercury.com sat down to talk with one of the hardest workers in the Mercury organization – not to mention a fan favorite - Kip Helt. Helt has been working for the Mercury since their inaugural season and has been a pioneer when it comes to in-game entertainment. Helt discussed with us how he became the voice of the Mercury at home games and gave a little insight as to what goes on behind the scenes.

PhoenixMercury.com:Could you talk to us about how you first got started with the Phoenix Mercury?

Helt: I was hired here by the organization in March of 1997. I worked at marketing partnerships and corporate sales. After two years of doing that, my boss Harvey Shank called me into his office and said, “Hey we are going to make a switch with our game entertainment. You are our new entertainment director.” Initially I was worried because I didn’t have a lot of experience doing it. It was the best thing that ever happened to me; absolutely love this job. A couple weeks after he hired me in 1997, he said, “I’m going to have you do the Phoenix Mercury. You are going to do this for one season only; it will be the best thing you ever did.” I’ve been doing the Mercury ever since. This is my 13th season and I am the lone person from the inaugural year staff and I have never missed a home game in those 13 years. This is my fourth season now of doing the P.A. announcing for the team and I have an absolute blast doing that.

PhoenixMercury.com: What does your job entail? What do you have to operate?

Helt: What I do for the Phoenix Suns and Mercury is that I produce and direct the shows. By that it means all of the videos that take place during the game from the intro videos to any funny player videos. All of the P.A. announcements and the scripts that are written is the production side. Then directing the show, I create a script and a format for the game. I also direct our camera personnel and our performers during the various timeouts to make sure that we are organized. We’ll have production meetings at nine o’clock in the morning and have rehearsal at four o’clock that afternoon with all of the performers. It’s a lot of work but we love it.

PhoenixMercury.com: Was being involved in game operations for pro sports a life-long dream?

Helt: Not really. I always wanted to be a player. Growing up in Topeka, Kansas my two favorite teams were the Kansas City Kings and the Phoenix Suns. For some reason, I just loved the Suns and it is funny that I ended in Phoenix. I’ve always just been one of those people that just love sports. I’m a basketball junkie. I would watch it 24-7 if I could. So I just wanted to do something around sports and that’s why I started to get into television. I worked in college athletics for a number of years at the University of Kansas and was lucky enough to get on here, which I consider the best run professional organization in all of sports. My boss, Harvey Shank, saw something in me that said, “This guy might be half decent game entertainment guy.” I have been doing it since 1999 and can’t tell you how much I love it. I’m so fortunate. I have never come here one day and felt like, ‘Darn. I have to go to work’. I can’t wait to get here because we have so much fun.

PhoenixMercury.com: You have watched the Mercury grow as an organization as much as anybody. Can you tell us how the WNBA has evolved in entertainment?

Helt: The thing I love about my job here is that I have had an opportunity to direct shows for the Suns, Mercury, and the Rattlers. One of the things that I love about it is that they are all totally different audiences; very passionate and brand-loyal fans which I absolutely love about our Mercury fans. We do a lot of the same things that we started out with in 1997. Hopefully we have gotten better at those things. We have a lot more player involvement because I truly believe that the players are the stars. The players all have such great personalities and energy so we like to use them in pretty much everything we do from the funny little videos that we do to the contest introductions. Now we have players singing and dancing and doing all kinds of fun things.

PhoenixMercury.com: What are some of the biggest differences between the experience that the Suns fans get and the Mercury fans get?

Helt: Hopefully not a lot. Our goal is to create the finest fan experience in professional sports. We’re so blessed to have such marvelous performers. We do lots of interactive activities throughout the game where we are involving ourselves with fans and thanking season ticket holders and recognizing them during timeouts. We also have activities during the post game like the post game player autographs that give the Mercury another chance to rub elbows with the fans. Our goal is to provide the finest fan experience in either league. We want the fans to come out here and have a great time.

PhoenixMercury.com: In 2007 the Mercury defeated the Shock en route to the WNBA Championship. What were some of your memories of that season and that run?

Helt: The 2007 season was so special. I think we started out with a 7-7 record and then we caught fire. It is so fun to see a team come together and believe. Coach [Paul] Westhead did a masterful job. Taurasi was incredible. We had three of the best players in the world on that team and on any given night somebody could step up for us. There were times when Penny Taylor was our best player, there were times when Cappie Pondexter was our best player, and there were times when Diana Taurasi was our best player.

My best memory of that season was winning Game Four, when it looked like it could have gone the other way and Detroit could have closed us out and won the series. Then we went to Detroit for Game Five and nobody, other than the players and staff, gave us a chance at winning that game. In the Palace, with over 20,000 fans, we beat them pretty handily. The other big memory of that season was the rally that we got to do afterwards where we packed the (US Airways Center) Pavilion. The unveiling of the banner, the confetti, hearing players talk, and hoisting that trophy was all special. Being in that locker room after Game Five in Detroit was an incredible experience. Those incredible players and coaches made it memorable.

PhoenixMercury.com: You told us about the 2007 season, but what is your other favorite memory of the Phoenix Mercury?

Helt: Cherryl Miller in the early days for the Mercury was great. We had over 13,000 people at our first game in 1997. Then at the very last game in ’97, we played the Los Angeles Sparks and whoever won made the playoffs and we had 17,700 fans here. But people used to call me because I worked on the sales and marketing side at the time, and call me a genius. I would say, “Well I’m not, but I’ll be happy to pass that along to Cherryl Miller. She’s the genius and I’m just riding her coattails.”

Our first game was played over at Arizona State University and it was a scrimmage against the L.A. Sparks. After that scrimmage, Cherryl Miller grabbed the microphone and talked to the fans and thanked them for coming and really motivated them. After that, nobody would leave Mercury games early. So it was really a phenomenon unlike anything that you would ever see. The early days with the Mercury were really special just with the fan involvement with the players. Events that we would do out in the community were so well received and the place would be packed. It was a lot of fun.

My other memory is just of the great players that we have had here and the opportunity to work with. People like Jennifer Gillom and Bridget Pettis, who may be the funniest person alive. This group we have now with Taurasi and Pondexter is great; two of the greatest players in the world, two of the greatest people in the world. Every time I ask them or ask any of our players to do anything or be a part of something silly that we are doing, their answer is always yes. We’re so blessed to have that kind of support from our players.