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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. 

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Each year I’m asked if there are ways to save money on tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit. I always answer yes but not everyone takes advantage of it. For those interested in doing so, here’s your shot.

For TODAY ONLY, individual tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit are reduced by $50.00. Two ticket and four ticket packages are also lowered at $50 per ticket. To secure your seat at a discounted price, just log on to BSMSummit.com. This sale ends tonight at 11:59pm ET.

If you’re flying to Los Angeles for the event, be sure to reserve your hotel room. Our hotel partner this year is the USC Hotel. It’s walking distance of our venue. Full details on hotel rooms can also be found via the conference website.

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