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Remote Broadcasts Affect Announcers and Sports Fans

“Broadcasters want to be at the games and the fans want the broadcasters to be at the games.”

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Dallas Morning News

What makes a good play-by-play announcer, especially on radio, is the ability to paint a picture and to make the audience feel like they’re part of the game. Of course, the best way to do that is for the announcer to feel like he or she is part of the game, because the objective is to transfer the emotion and the feel of the game to the fans who are listening on the radio and watching on television.

But we currently live in a world where sometimes the play-by-play announcer has to paint that picture and call a game without actually being at the game.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many broadcasters have had to pivot and call games remotely from a studio watching on a monitor. Play-by-play announcers, for the most part, were able to call home games in person, but going on the road wasn’t permitted for quite a while and there’s no doubt that it has an effect on a broadcast when calling a game remotely. 

“The biggest challenge is that I can’t watch the entire rink like I normally do,” said longtime New York Islanders radio voice Chris King. “I’m forced to watch whatever the director decides is the most important thing to watch which usually is the puck carrier or the area around the puck and nothing away from the puck whatsoever. You only have one view and you need to see a lot more than what the director is showing you.”

When the National Hockey League returned to play in a bubble for the 2020 playoffs, King did not travel with the team to Canada so he had to call games remotely from a studio with the NHL providing a video feed and the natural sound from the arena to make the broadcasts sound as if he was actually at the game. There are a number of things a play-by-play announcer can miss out on when he or she is not at the game.

Let’s be honest…you’re at the mercy of the director of the telecast.

“It’s a one goal game and the Islanders are down late,” said King. “You know at some point that they are going to pull their goaltender. The problem is that when you’re watching on a video screen, they’re only showing the attacking zone for the Islanders. They’re not showing when the Islander goaltender is racing off the ice.”  

King couldn’t look down to the other end of the ice to see if the goalie was leaving for the team to bring on an extra attacker. He had no choice but to start counting the players in the offensive zone to figure out if the goalie had skated over to the bench.

“If I counted five Islanders, I would guess that the goalie is still in,” said King. “If I counted six Islanders, I would guess that the goalie is on the bench.”

It’s not easy to call a game remotely and I’ve learned that firsthand this year as the play-by-play voice of the National Lacrosse League’s New York Riptide. I’ve been a play-by-play announcer for all sorts of high school, college and professional sports over the years but I had never called a game remotely at any level until this past December. 

I knew at a young age that I wanted to be a play-by-play announcer and I can’t tell you how many times that I sat in front of a television with a tape recorder “announcing” a game.

I never thought I would do something similar to that professionally, but there I was this past December 10th calling the New York Riptide game in Philadelphia on a monitor in a studio at the radio station. One of my worst fears became reality when I was calling the game and while the ball was in play, the director cut to shot of a coach on the bench.

What do I do?

At first, I thought I would just make up calling the play-by-play for a couple of seconds but I instead chose to be honest and say that the feed cut to a shot of the bench. There was also another time this season when doing a road game when we lost the feed of the game for a few minutes and our broadcast changed from calling a game to doing a talk show for a few minutes. 

While the pandemic has subsided to the point where fans have returned to the arenas and stadiums and the announcers, in many cases, have begun to return to the road games, calling a game remotely isn’t something that you can completely blame on the pandemic.

In fact, there are teams, leagues and networks that have been having broadcasters work remotely for years. 

“I have called numerous games over the years remotely,” said veteran play-by-play announcer Dave Leno who is the voice of Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union and has also called play-by-play from a studio for the Big Ten Network, U.S. Open Tennis and Japanese baseball games. 

“The biggest obstacle when calling games from the studio is we can only call what we see,” said Leno. “When we’re on-site, we can add more color to the broadcast- whether it be identifying a a player off-screen, describing the atmosphere and the crowd is impacting the game, spotting potential subs getting ready to enter and dissecting playing conditions.”

While announcers have called soccer matches and other various sports remotely over the years before the pandemic, hard-core sports fans have certainly noticed a difference through the pandemic in watching or listening to a game and quite frankly it’s been an adjustment for a lot of broadcasters who may never have had to do this. Whether you’re a local announcer, a play-by-play voice of a prominent sports franchise or even a network broadcaster, it’s much harder to paint a picture and tell the story when you’re not at the game and you don’t have direct access to players, managers, coaches and staff.

“I’ll always be in favor of calling the game in person vs the studio,” said Leno. “Taking that walk from the car up to the stadium then to the press box and into your broadcast booth just hits differently than walking into a studio and starting at monitors for a few hours.”

In many ways, sports fans have certainly been dealt an inferior product when watching or listening to a game with remote broadcasters. It’s not a knock on the announcers because, as I can attest to, it is much more difficult when you’re not at the game. You can’t go down to the locker room or even the field, court or ice and talk to players and coaches, get some inside info or simply find out about injuries and lineups.

“I want to be able to call the game as accurately as possible,” said King. “That is so important to me and I can’t do that off of a TV screen.”

And if the announcers can’t see something or get a feel of the game, it doesn’t just affect their job…it also makes it more difficult for the fan to follow along.

“Calling the game from a studio or at home, just doesn’t give that same ‘big-tim’ production feel,” said Leno. “The broadcaster and crew have to sacrifice a bit, and in turn so does the fan.”

Broadcasters want to be at the games and the fans want the broadcasters to be at the games. You can’t do as good a job as being at the game whether its for public health reasons or for budgetary concerns. 

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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