Moments after overtime starts during the Big East Tournament quarterfinal matchup between Providence and Creighton, Austin Poplin is called from courtside from within the underbelly of Madison Square Garden.
Poplin comes rushing through the courtside tunnel and into an immense concrete room serving as a pathway to various parts of The Garden’s backstage.
What is so important and pressing that he needs to be called from courtside?
A reporter walks up and asks, “What is it about the milk?”
Thirty minutes earlier, Poplin sits at a white plastic table in the media lounge in Madison Square Garden, sipping a cup of milk.
After scouring the tables for any food source other than the small bags of Lays chips and pile of cookies littering the tables, Poplin grabs a cup of milk.
Poplin, the production manager for a media company headquartered in New York City, handles the behind-the-scenes production work for the Big East Tournament.
It’s a full-service production company that specializes in live coverage of sporting and fashion events. Yes, fashion.
Not two events that typically complement each other.
Poplin oversees the planning and logistics to make sure cameramen and other production employees can do their jobs with no extra stress or work involved.
Poplin’s company works parallel with FOX, who manages the actual coverage that goes out on live TV.
“We do all the stuff for the conference itself, that they will push out to promote the tournament,” Poplin said.
Poplin’s been in his managerial role with the company for two years but worked as a freelancer for the company before being hired full-time.
Depending on the event they’re covering, they use anywhere from one or two people to upwards of 50 employees for a single event.
“It’s interesting to be a part of different jobs and tailor each set for what is required for the client,” Poplin said.
The company has offices in New York, Copenhagen, Denmark and Seattle, Washington.
“I’ve been sent overseas before, but not to Denmark,” Poplin said. “I’ve been to Seattle for a project.”
While his job has sent him to places like Seattle and even overseas, Poplin said he’s covered many events at Madison Square Garden, other than just the Big East Tournament.
“It’s a cool place to work,” Poplin said.
But Poplin said the most memorable events he’s covered have been on Roosevelt Island, a narrow isle on New York City’s East River, situated between Manhattan and Brooklyn.
“I did a lot of work in the first part of the day, and the second part of the day it’s like, ‘just go backstage and see all the shows,’” Poplin said. “It’s like, ‘alright, this is pretty cool.’”
But why did Poplin choose to drink milk? There’s coffee, tea, bottled water, different kinds of soda everywhere at The Garden, but why did he choose milk?
And who drinks milk during the day, let alone a production manager in Madison Square Garden at 4:56 p.m. during a Big East Tournament quarterfinal game?
And it wasn’t even like Poplin settled on milk. He specifically sought it out.
“It was not some sort of grandeur thing with that,” Poplin said. “I enjoy a glass of milk. Everybody’s got their idiosyncrasies.”
While he was searching through the food options and passing up the potato chips and cookies, and before finally making his way to the drinks section of the tables, he looked like someone just seeking out something that had nutrients in it.
No. Poplin knew he was going to get milk before he even looked through the meager selection of food.
“It was a common beverage in my house,” Poplin said. “I find it not that weird to drink a glass of milk during the day. But people have called me out on that for being weird.”
Poplin said he chose the milk because it was there.
“Of the things they had available, milk seemed the best to me,” Poplin said.