Ah, autumn. There has never been a more
important time to provide radio listeners and advertisers with quality local
sports play-by-play. And yet, I’m constantly amazed by the garbage I hear when
some local stations try to do this.
Local sports play-by-play is a key programming component on many radio
stations. Even where live announcers, local news and pretty much everything
else have been sliced out of the budget so the station can stay afloat, there
are always sponsors for play-by-play.
So it is a wasted opportunity when stations simply cast the net for
sports boosters and throw a game on the air. Local sports play-by-play is
something no other medium can reliably offer. And here’s the dirty little
secret: It isn’t that hard to do.
Listen up, managers: Here are some ways to pull off play-by-play events
that are both outstanding content providers and dependable revenue producers. Some
of these pointers are technical; the others are all attitude.
I’ve been a play-by-play announcer on radio
and TV for more than 40 years and I’ve announced the games of everyone from
local Pee Wee to Major League Baseball and the NHL. Along the way I’ve absorbed
lots of ways of bringing off smooth, professional broadcasts and creating
meaningful revenue from them. I’ve also seen and heard a lot of things that made
my skin crawl.
How many times have you heard these listener punishers?
·Poor sound mixing: All eyes and
ears seem to be on the game and none on the remote mixer’s audio meter and
·Cell phone or RPU backhaul sounds
rubber-band-narrow and there are all kinds of nasty artifacts, creating
enormous listener fatigue.
·Announcers step all over each
·Every play sounds either like a
walk-off home run in game seven of the World Series, or…
·I can tell who’s winning by the
enthusiasm or obituary-type gloom of the announcers’ voices.
·No one seems to be running the
board — levels are all over the place (regardless of limiting), commercials
don’t get played on cue and joins are either late or come in mid-sentence.
on. Advertisers deserve listeners and
listeners deserve something they can
enjoy without mental fatigue.
Knock it out of the park
Providing play-by-play broadcasts that listeners can stay with all the
way through, which advertisers will want to sponsor, as I’ve said, isn’t impossible
or even difficult. But you have to want to do it right. Here are 10 ways to
turn your local play-by-play presentations into pleasurable, profitable events
rather than costly tuneouts:
Teach the tech
If you’re not technically oriented, have
someone who gets it to drill your sports announcers on how to set up equipment
and run it right.
This means riding gain on everything all through the game. Their job is to
produce a broadcast, not act like overgrown jocks who are too absorbed in the game
to pay attention to making it sound good.
That means keeping an eye on the audio meter (and please don’t equip
them with those remote mixers that don’t even have meters). It means keeping a hand on or near the mixer at all
times for sudden modulation of voices and crowd noise.
Make sure you’re plugged in
There is no weaker excuse for a failed broadcast than, “My equipment
didn’t work.” Really? And when did you discover this? When you went on the air?
Remote kits can be invisible when they aren’t being used. They’re often
stored on a shelf or under a desk (or, God help us, left in a sportscaster’s
trunk) until they’re needed again.
And here be gremlins: A cord that worked
perfectly the last time out can mysteriously develop a short. A mike plug
that’s been fine for the past decade suddenly decides it can’t pass audio. And
what’s with these stinkin’ batteries?
Make sure your sports talent—not just the engineer, if any, but the
play-by-play announcer—regularly takes everything out of the sports kit and
makes sure it all works.
3. In case of emergency…
There is a lot more to being a successful sports announcer than the
ability to grow a goatee, wear a hat backwards and rattle off stats and
opinions. The really good announcers, the ones who last a long time in local
radio, are solid trouble-shooters and fixers.
That is, they learn enough about how
their gear is supposed to work to be able to fix it.
Can your play-by-play announcer solder an XLR plug while on the road?
Why not? I’ve saved many a broadcast out in the field by repairing small items
in press boxes and motel rooms. It ought to be a tool of the trade, and here’s
how I learned: I asked an engineer how to do it, and he gladly showed me.
I’m no techie, but I get on the air. And
so do my sponsors.
When did it become perfectly acceptable for announcers to show up at
games looking like they were going to a sports bar? The days of matching
blazers and ties for radio crews are long gone, but is it too much to ask you
to shave? Wear slacks instead of jeans? A nice shirt instead of a sweatshirt?
People do notice these things. A coach once surprised me by taking me
aside and saying, “Thanks for dressing right when you come here. It shows
respect for us and the game.”
Sure, you can wear school colors if that
floats your boat. But more importantly, don’t go out there dressed like a slob.
5. There are two teams in this game
No matter how tempting it may be,
overtly rooting for the home squad is unprofessional.
It’s fine to be more excited when your team scores than when the other
guys do, but get a grip. Here’s what a
homer essentially is: a liar. He or she makes routine plays sound like
tournament-winners. He or she rips the officials. He or she whines about the
The paying customers can do that.
Professional play-by-play announcers shouldn’t.
don’t say, “But you don’t know my market.” I understand the realities of
local-market radio very well and here’s a promise: No one who matters will ever
criticize a play-by-play announcer for reporting professionally and
enthusiastically without being a homer. No one.
Learn both the names and the stories of the other team. People crave
entertainment and there are loads of great stories in every game that don’t
involve the home team.
6. Commercials matter.
Radio is a lot of things, but in order
to exist, it has to be a money-making venture. Sports pays the bills at many
Include the play-by-play announcer in sales calls.
he or she isn’t already selling for you, his or her enthusiasm can help close a
sponsorship deal. This trick isn’t for every prospect — or for every
sportscaster — but if you have one who can make an intelligent, planned
contribution to a sales call and then shut up, why wouldn’t you include this
valuable, little-used tool?
8. Talk about the game on the air — a lot.
We live in a vastly divergent multi-media world where simply running a
few promos for the Sports Booster Club doesn’t cut it. In this universe of
short attention spans, your announcers should be talking up your coverage of a game
as often as possible.
After the game, cash in on the fact
that, in most cases, only you were there to cover it, not the all-music jukebox
down the street.
Use highlights the next day and in future
promos. Email them to your sponsors and prospects.
Get some mileage out of those
9. There’s no such thing as an unimportant game.
started my career by doing the seemingly humble Little League double-header of
the week, lugging the Marti six blocks each way because I wasn’t old enough to
drive. Those games meant a lot to the kids who played them, to their friends
and relatives at home and, of course, to me.
Every game deserves the best-prepared,
best-sounding broadcast you can provide.
10. Drive listeners and revenue to your
Want compelling, original content that
changes regularly? It’s hard to top play-by-play. While your pro and college
networks won’t let you stream their games, nobody controls your local events
Make the most of it: Stream your games. Have your morning show do features
and interviews that are website-only events. Sell separate sponsors for your
online broadcasts and replays.
Hey, you’re the creative,
revenue-driving monster around here. Whether you’re covering a state champion
or a perennial also-ran, community spirit — and sponsorship bucks — depend on
whether you treat play-by-play as an obligation or an opportunity.
McLeod is a longtime major league play-by-play announcer who started
broadcasting Little League games at age 15 because they were sold and no one
else wanted the gig.