I truly love sportscasting. The thrill of being live, the satisfaction of executing a great game broadcast and the joy of getting paid to watch and cover sports mean that there are few better jobs on the planet. However my favourite thing about sportscasting is the fact that there is no ‘one’ way to do it. No manual, no textbook (although the Art of Sportscasting comes close). Give 10 sportscasters the same play to call and they’ll call it 10 different ways. That being said, there are common threads that are uniform across sports and sportscasters, the basic principles of sportscasting.
Basic principles of sportscasting number 1 is to say the damn score. Despite this being a subtle plug for Logan Anderson’s great blog and podcast, it’s easily the most important thing a sportscaster must do. Especially on radio (or streaming audio) where most sportscasters cut their teeth and carve out careers, there must be a focused effort to relay the current time and score on a frequent basis. The frequency ranges from sport to sport. In hockey, every 60-90 seconds. In basketball you should update things after every score. Football gets setup with the down and distance before every play and baseball pitch counts should happen before each pitch. Why is this such a basic principle of sportscasting? If you’re not relaying the simple stuff, then your more complicated storytelling doesn’t matter.
Next in the list of basic principles of sportscasting is to use natural sound. When we think about some of the great calls in sportscasting history, we think of great quotes from legendary sportscasters. Play callers will have their favourite sayings, their crutches to lean on during big moments…catch phrases if you will…but no matter what the play-by-play announcer says during big moments, every single game winning touchdown, or walk off homer or overtime goal has one thing in common, the reaction of the crowd. The reaction doesn’t have to be a loud cheering crowd, sometimes the silence of a packed arena taking in a shocking moment says more than you ever could. So this basic principle of sportscasting is simple to use that reaction and not try and compete with it. To quote Alison Krauss, “you say it best, when you say nothing at all.”
Using your locators is the third of our basic principles of sportscasting. Locators are words and descriptions to relay where the ball/puck/shuttlecock is on the field of play. Did the quarter back throw inside or outside the hash marks? On the left or right side? Did the batter go down the first base or third base line? Did the hockey player pass from the right corner or left corner? Working these descriptions into your play-by-play can exponentially increase the quality of the picture you paint. Imagine someone tells you that the batter hit a line drive and beat the throw for a triple. That’s pretty good. Now imagine someone told you that the batter hit a line drive down the third base line and slid in for a triple? The addition of a third base line locator implies that the base runner was flying more so than if the line drive had been the opposite way. It illicits more of a mental picture.
Our fourth in our list of basic principles of sportscasting is to vary your vocabulary. The biggest challenge in broadcasting many sports is using different language and vocab to describe what is essentially the say repeating action. In football, how many runs start down the middle? In baseball, how many pitches are in the same area of the plate? In hockey, how many dump ins or shots are there in a game? Finding ways to vary your description of the same or similar events provides your audience with a more interesting and varied broadcast to watch or listen to. The key is to try and add naturally. Don’t go into a game with a list of words you want to use, it will sound forced and un-natural. Instead pick a few phrases from other broadcasters or do your own research and see if you find opportunities to use your newfound lexicon.
The fifth and final of our basic principles of sportscasting is to tell the story of the game. So much effort and focus is put into game prep, spotting boards and making sure your game notes are perfect. But don’t forget to tell the game story. Too many young sportscasters get caught up on the spotting board, and focus too much on “getting all their s*** in” to borrow a wrestling phrase. Forced prep delivered to an audience in a forced manner turns the broadcast from entertainment to encyclopedia. Your main role isn’t to rattle off facts about players, it’s to tell the story of the game, to comment on why this play, this moment is important and to effectively paint the picture of what is going on at that moment. Everything else is secondary. Your prep should support your game story, not the other way around.
There are so many more angles and approaches to sportscasting, but if you’re able to master these five basic principles of sportscasting then you’ll be well on your way to executing an entertaining and informative broadcast on a regular basis.
What do you think of these basic principles? Did we miss any out? Let us know on Twitter or in the comments below!