Do a search on sports broadcasting, and the number one question that pops up EVERYWHERE is ‘how do I become a sportscaster’? Sure it comes in variations with focuses more on play by play, or sports talk, or reporting, but the general thought is the same…how do I get on this wonderful crazy ride that is the sports business?
I spotted a similar question on Quora a couple of weeks ago, to which I gave what I felt was a detailed answer. Since then, the question of ‘how do I become a sportscaster’ has morphed in my mind to ‘why become a sportscaster’ and what the pros and cons are of the business, its various jobs and careers.
There is so much glitz and glamour surrounded being on television. The lure of being a “celebrity”, no matter how small can be very enticing…plus the reports of top sportscasters earning millions of dollars and calling major events make this an attractive career choice. Getting paid to watch and cover sports, what could be better?
So I wanted to come up with a list of common myths or thoughts on the business, things I’ve seen or once assumed about sports casting and after over 7 years on air and 10 years in the broadcast industry, how I know better.
- Sportscasters get rich
It’s true. The top 1% of sportscasters earn millions of dollars, travel the world and get treated like kings. These are often the top network announcers or long-time veterans of a particular team, station or school. However what about the other 99%? Most are honestly lucky to make their age in annual salary. It’s been a long term ‘rule of thumb’ that if you earn more than your age (ie: if you’re 29 and you’re making $30k+) then you’re doing well…but that rule means that even in the prime of your career you’re barely making ends meet and surely not travelling the world.
- You just show up and call the game
Not even close. For every hour you’re on air, book out about 3 to prep and research so that you can speak in an educated fashion. This time includes the reading of newspaper/blog articles, preparing your spotting boards and stat research, memorising rosters and other necessary items in order to go in and broadcast a game.My personal prep isn’t necessarily sit down for 3-6 hours before a game and cram, but it’s consistent throughout the week. Since I know my schedule from September to March, I’m able to budget time accordingly. Some areas of my prep are ongoing, such as keeping up with recent results and trends, players of the week, league leaders and other newsworthy bits of information in the league I cover. When games are coming up on the schedule, my more specific team research will be conducted. This involves some time the night or two before a game in order to get everything ready, then often an hour or two on game day to finalise all my notes.
For road trips where I’ll cover multiple teams on a weekend, it’s a case of a very short term memory. As soon as one game ends, I start looking ahead to the key storylines for the second game. Did the next opponent win or lose in their last outing, what’s their record in their last 5 or 10 games, which way are they trending, who are their key players and how does my team match up against their strengths?
- It’s a great way to follow sports and watch games
While this one is technically true, I’m putting it in the myth category for one reason…you don’t actually watch the game. If you watch a game, it’s often for entertainment value…it’s a form of escapism from the work week or a social occasion for you to experience with friends and family. The different between that and broadcasting a game is that you’re working. From the outside looking in, that may be a small distinction however imagine you’re a movie director. You may love going to movies, you may get excited by the action sequences and storylines, but if you’re Directing your own movie, you’re likely to be more ‘focused’ and less ‘entertained’. It’s the same for sportscasters, and for me at least has stripped me a little of my fandom for the sport I cover, hockey. When a goal is scored, you’re obviously excited but you also need to be professional, be measured and maintain a certain element of control over yourself.So while yes, in the strictest sense you get to follow sports and paid to watch games, you’re working. When my team scores, I’m not cheering…I’m filling in my scoresheet, I’m watching the celebration to see who scored (if it’s a tip in front or a messy goal), I’m sensing the crowd reaction and I’m thinking how I’m going to describe in more detail what just happened to my listeners. I’m certainly not high fiving my buddies and cheering loudly.
- I have to go to school and get a degree/masters in Sports Broadcasting
Again this one could be true, and I think it goes to where you live. In Canada, schooling in sports broadcasting to do play by play seems to be significantly less important than real life experience at lower levels. In the US, there is a prevailing feeling that I get from talking to people and reading that employers won’t even look at you if you don’t have a degree.For me, I started by volunteering on evenings and weekends covering games for a local indoor soccer team, moving into hockey the year after. While I went to school for television production, and took a part time course in sports broadcasting, I don’t have a degree in journalism or radio and don’t have any formal training on presentation. I debated a lot as a kid, a lot of public speaking and drama performances too which I’m sure helps…but no piece of paper that says I can do the job. I have instead over 400 games and 7 years of experience behind me, slowly accrued by using all my extra time to move my career forward.
- It’s easy
For play-by-play, you’re live, on air and without a net for anywhere between 2 and 4 hours a night. Depending on your sport and your level, you could do anywhere from 20 to 100 games in a season over the course of 4-6 months (providing you cover one sport). The workload alone is enough to confirm this as a myth but I want to dig deeper.On any given weekend during the season, a decent bed time is a luxury. After being on air for 3 hours, prepping at the rink for another 3 hours before game time, and often working at my day job for 6-8 hours before that, I do a recap story for the website and newspaper, edit some video and audio highlights and by the time everything uploads it’s 2am. Then it’s up early the next morning to begin prepping for the next game, record interviews, travel to the next venue or whatever else needs to be done. When you’re on the road, the glamorous hotel life might be enticing, but it takes you away from friends and family, missed dinners and parties, missed performances of your children and a lot of time spent away from your significant other.
So there are my five myths of what I’ve heard a lot of people say about sports casting. I do feel that the theme of this post has been a little negative, so I want to end on a positive note and here’s one certifiable, undeniable fact of the sports broadcasting industry and those who work in it.
- It’s worth it
Absolutely, no question, in a New York minute. There’s nothing really quite like the high of having a great call, perfectly describing that indescribable moment. There’s the satisfaction of a job well done when you receive an unsolicited compliment from a fan of the team or a parent/friend of a player you cover about how they enjoy your work. There’s the enjoyment of being the voice of a team, and in a small community you’re often associated with the community as a whole, not just the team.There’s the perk of walking into a rink and flashing a media pass or checking your name off a list, I imagine it to be like being on the VIP list at a club. There’s the fact that, despite the fact we’re working, we get paid to broadcast sporting events and get to travel to fantastic places, see amazing things and meet wonderful people and there’s the reward you get of putting in the hard work and being able to pull out an obscure bit of information when the time arises.
Sports broadcasting is like many other industries, you get back what you put into it. If you can balance everything in your life, handle the absences, the lack of sleep and everything negative that comes with essentially being part of a travelling circus for 6 months then you’ll struggle to find anything more satisfying to do with your life.