You are Also Part of a Team

In television, the play-by-play announcer is bound by the structure of the telecast.

He or she will frequently tailor commentary to what's being shown on the screen at a particular moment. And so when not peering out at the field, court, or ice, the announcer has to be looking at the program monitor to see what the viewer is seeing at home. That might be a particular graphic, replay, or a "color" shot of a player, coach, or fan. Most times,02 Sports-Broadcasting the producer will warn the play-by-play announcer that a particular shot or graphic is coming and to prepare to comment on it. Sometimes, it just happens or is part of the director's pattern of shots, and the announcer has to be ready to comment (although often visuals don't require any comment—a topic for producer and announcer to iron out and the announcer to get a feel for over time). And still other times, the play-by-play will make mention of something and the producer and director will follow the announcer with the appropriate supporting visual. Ideally, the announcer will attempt to give a heads up to the producer through the talk-back system that a particular shot is needed so that a comment can be made on it, but with the spontaneity of sports, that isn't always possible.

This spirit of cooperation and coordination between the announcer, producer, director, and crew is the key to making a good television sportscast. This starts with the moment everyone begins preparing for the telecast and continues until game coverage ends.

In particular, play-by-play and producer need to be in lockstep. Often both will be involved in establishing the main storyline or storylines for the game. Those storylines help to determine the format or the on-air look of the telecast, including the:

  • Game tease—typically a 30-second to one-minute video that uses some combination of video, music, graphics, and voiceover to "tease" or compel the viewer to watch the upcoming telecast
  • Telecast open—typically some combination of on-camera appearances by the announcers as well as the use of video, graphics, music, and other elements to further embellish on the main themes such as the strong and weak points of the teams or individual players, what the contest means in the standings, the history between the opponents, and so forth
  • Graphics
  • Video roll-ins and other elements

Being on the same page with these issues will allow the play-by-play announcer and producer to work in tandem throughout the telecast, like a great double play combination. Together, they can continue to weave the night's themes in and out of the telecast, as determined by the way the game is played out. Bringing storylines in and out helps to "bridge" the telecast from beginning to end while also acknowledging that fans (and this certainly goes for radio too) tune in and out all night long as well.

The play-by-play announcer hosts the open—playing a sort of traffic cop role—with the producer and director dictating the pace for timing purposes. Play-by-play will:

  • lead the color analyst and sideline reporter into their comments
  • help to transition to other elements, such as video roll-ins and graphics

In this role, the play-by-play announcer plays to the camera in various ways. Looking straight into the camera if the shot is just on him or her is fine. But when interacting with the color analyst, play-by-play announcers are often at a loss as to where to look and when. In the case of a two-shot, the announcer should spend most of his time looking at the analyst while he is talking, but occasionally glancing at the camera to acknowledge the viewers' presence as well.

The role of traffic cop for television play-by-play announcers continues during the game as well. The ability to multitask is key as the play-by-play:

  • calls the action
  • brings in the analyst 
  • reads promotional or commercial announcements
  • refers to replays or graphics

Much like their call of the action, television play-by-play announcers should pick their spots when it comes to referring to a particular shot or graphic. For example, if there's a shot of a baseball manager, instead of saying "there's a shot of so-and-so," perhaps a quick anecdote or some other comment that includes the manager in the conversation would be appropriate. In terms of graphics, instead of saying "as you can see, he has 25 goals on the season" you might instead say "that goal total is third in the league."

Of course, all of this coordination comes at the behest of the producer who, at times, is talking in the announcer's headset during the telecast. Some producers talk more than others, and because an ill-timed directive or comment can disrupt an announcer's flow, there has to be some sort of tacit agreement on when the producer should and should not talk. If you're new to television, this whole process will take some getting used to, but after a while it's not normally a problem.

Like the sports anchor, the play-by-play announcer needs to be poised under pressure and have everyone's back. If there are technical and other issues, it's incumbent upon the play-by-play person to keep cool and do what he or she can to cover up whatever issue is afflicting the telecast. Throwing the producer, director, or another member of the crew "under the bus" might give play-by-play announcers a chance to disassociate themselves from the problem, but it will do nothing to endear him to the people who, on another night, might be in a position to save him or her from an embarrassing situation.