A couple of weeks ago I had a unique opportunity. From my home office in Powell River, British Columbia, Canada…in my pyjamas…I broadcast group stage action for the FIBA U19 World Cup of Basketball in Cairo, Egypt. I provided a full play-by-play broadcast to a Facebook live audience that drew over 24,000 views throughout the game. I did the game through a service called Spalk, which we’ll talk more about in the future, however the game was not only my first basketball on air outing, but was the first time I had called a game off a monitor.
Basketball aside, the experience of calling the game off a monitor was extremely interesting. The broadcast itself was very simple, a wide camera following the play for 80% of the broadcast, with a couple of closeup cameras providing shots of players who had fouled or scored. Mix in a few replays and that was it. The biggest difference obviously was that all I could see was what was on the monitor. There was no glancing behind the play, no keeping one eye on the bench to pick up upcoming substitutions, no scanning the crowd for interesting fans. It was the screen, the whole screen and nothing but the screen.
Given it was my first basketball game, my goal was to keep it simple regardless. However calling off a monitor forced that hand more. Here are some things that I picked up along the way.
Talk about what’s on the screen
This one happened somewhat by default. Doing a video broadcast when you’re live at a game can be great because you don’t have to describe quite as much because you have pictures to help you out. However when you’re live at a game you get to see a lot more than what’s just on the screen. That can work against you as well as fans watching at home can’t see what you can, and if you spend too much time on stuff fans can’t see, you alienate your audience. Calling off a monitor takes care of this for you as you can see only what your audience can see.
Keep it simple stupid
Call the play and keep it simple. I found this opportunity a great time to practice the basics and the fundamentals. Describe ball movement, get players names right and on time, keep up with the play and update the score after each change. Calling off a monitor doesn’t allow for much frills, otherwise you can get yourself stuck, but it’s a great reinforcement on why the fundamentals are so important.
Crank your headphones
The feed that I was provided was excellent. It was HD video and crowd noise. Clean, simple and exactly what it needed to be. I get the most out of this, I used a simple mixer setup with the headphone jack of my laptop going into my mixer and feeding into my headset. I cranked up that volume, mixing it with my voice and fed it back into my computers microphone jack. The crowd noise helped me gauge the atmosphere in the stadium and stay engaged in the play.
There is no substitute for being at a game live…and until we get holodecks from Star Trek that virtually transport us to a venue from the comfort of a studio, there will continue to be no substitute. That being said, in the right circumstances, calling off a monitor works and is a continuing and growing trend in sportscasting. We saw it at the Olympics, major events and tournaments and will continue to see this type of setup become more and more prevalent moving forward.