Give The Viewing Audience Some Credit

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This past Friday night, I was subjected to one of the biggest of my many pet peeves involving televised sports. There is a racing correlation here, so stay with me. You would think I had had enough football over the past couple of weeks, but I watched the Cotton Bowl featuring LSU and Texas A&M.

Unlike most of the bowl games that were on ESPN, this one was on FOX. I haven’t been very complimentary of ESPN’s coverage of the IZOD IndyCar Series, but I think they do an excellent job with college football. FOX needs to either stick with doing NFL games or get a separate team of announcers for the college game.

The Cotton Bowl announcers were Kenny Albert and Daryl (Moose) Johnston. They normally do a decent job on NFL games, if you can ignore their completely useless cohort, Tony Siragusa – who roams the sideline with an always-live microphone. He brings nothing to each telecast and usually detracts from it. Fortunately, they left him at home for the Cotton Bowl.

So what was my pet-peeve? They constantly felt the need to keep reminding viewers that there were sometimes major differences in rules between the college and pro games. They assumed their viewing audience was too stupid to know this.

Were they arrogant enough to think that their audience was only made up of the announcing team’s loyal following? Did they actually think that they were the stars and the audience constantly needed reminding that this was different than an NFL game? They even went so far as to say they wished that college football would just adopt the NFL rulebook.

LSU and Texas A&M have some of college football’s most loyal fans. I’ll promise you that followers of either school did not need a refresher course in how the college rulebook differs from the pros. I can understand the need to explain once per game that only one foot in-bounds is needed during a catch in the college game, as opposed to two in the NFL – but not on every sideline catch of the game.

I remember the Monday Night Football crew of Al Michaels, Frank Gifford and Dan Dierdorf doing the Sugar Bowl in the nineties falling into the same trap. I couldn’t tell if they considered covering a college game was beneath them or if they thought that no one watched college football. Whatever the reason, they would spend half the telecast explaining to viewers that there were actually differences between the two games.

This was a perfect example of talking down to the fans and insulting their intelligence. Now that Marty Reid has been the voice of NASCAR at ABC/ESPN; is he going to feel the need to explain the differences between a stock car and an IndyCar to all of his NASCAR fans that he thinks will follow him to the five IndyCar events he will cover? I don’t think even Marty is that egotistical.

I realize broadcasters walk a fine line between sounding too complicated while talking to the hard-core fans of a sport and making things sound simplistic for the casual fan that may have tuned in by accident.

I shudder to think what the NASCAR crew at FOX would sound like if they somehow covered the Indianapolis 500. I like Mike Joy. He has a good delivery and he rarely makes asinine comments. I can’t say the same for his two partners in the booth. Larry McReynolds would butcher every Brazilian name in the media guide, while Darrell Waltrip would fall all over himself trying to explain how much tougher a Cup car is to drive versus an IndyCar.

TV announcing crews have grown tiresome in sports, for the most part. I’ve held rants before how it infuriates me when a TV reporter/announcer thinks he or she is the reason that viewers are tuning in. I thought that Al Michaels and John Madden were one of the best announcing teams, but they got a little full of themselves in the latter years. Dick Vitale thinks he is the only reason to watch a college basketball game. The aforementioned Tony Siragusa grates on my nerves to the point that unless he and his crew are covering a game I am vitally interested in, I’ll tune out.

Give me a style like the understated Pat Summerall any day. He knew when to shut up, step aside and let what was transpiring on-screen do the talking. He knew his role and never once considered himself part of the story

Marty Reid is annoying and Scott Goodyear is as exciting as a forty-pound bag of fertilizer, but they don’t seem to think they are the stars of the show. Jack Arute has come the closest, seeking the spotlight with his props in the pits. Hanging bowling balls on his head, grating cheese to simulate tire wear, etc – it’s all cute, but it is meant to draw attention to Jack “the celebrity” instead of the racing at hand.

Please don’t get me wrong. TV is about entertainment, first and foremost. I understand that. I don’t want a droll, humorless talking head announcing an event. If I did, I’d just watch any game that Sean McDonough was doing. I also know that announcers have to explain things for newer fans. That’s sort of our goal in the IZOD IndyCar Series – to attract newer fans. I just don’t want announcers talking down to me, making the same point over and over like I’m an idiot.

That’s why I like most (not all) of the announcers that have done Indy cars over the past twenty years. Paul Page, Bob Varsha and Bob Jenkins have all mastered the art of making telecasts lively and entertaining, yet maintaining a flow of information to keep the informed fan engaged. If Versus can eventually become the NBC Sports Channel, we can have a wide audience without NASCAR announcers coming in to talk down to us. Unlike what FOX’s NFL announcers did to the viewers of the Cotton Bowl.

George Phillips

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10 Responses to “Give The Viewing Audience Some Credit”

  1. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    I agee George, I remember watching ball games with my father, grandfather and my uncle on TV back in the late 50s and early 60s. The quality of the picture on screen was nothing compared to what it is today, but the great thing about it was the relative silence of the announcers. They would actually allow some suspense to build between pitches. They usually provided the count (no graphics back then) and they would provide a little color as each batter came to the plate, but I will never forget the pregnant silence (that today would be considered dead air)between pitches that actually allowed the viewer to focus on the game and players, rather than the announcers. These days, if I have the time to watch a sporting event on TV, I simply turn the sound down and sometimes I pay bills or read simultaneously. That way I don’t feel as though I have wasted my entire afternoon.

  2. I hear you, but I think it’s part of an overall problem or development towards something that is less sports and more entertainment. I really don’t think sports fans need these side shows and distractions brought to them by announcers. Tell me what’s happening on track, give me a little credit, and if you can present something so that it makes sense without using overproduced nonsense, so much the better.

    I’m pretty sure Waltrip lowers the IQ of his collective audience by about 10 points every time he opens his mouth.

  3. IndyCar Versus team is great. ESPN/ABC… not!

  4. Sean McDonough is one of the best. He used to work with Chris Spielman. I’ll never forget watching a Buckeye game he was calling the weekend after Chris’s wife Stephanie passed away from a long public battle with breast cancer. You could really here the emotion in his voice as he gave his condolences to the Spielman family. A very sad moment for him and the community watching the game and McDonough knew that.

  5. I suppose I’m most tired of the ‘color commentator’ feeling he (or she) HAS to say something after EVERY play, most particularly (in football) “He has to make that catch” (or whatever derivative of the same).

    Paul Page, with Gary Gerould in the pits, has long been a truly great announcing team. Varsha is always solid and brings professionalism that is largely unmatched. The quality of the broadcast team is undoubtedly connected to the enjoyment of the event, but even that is secondary to the director’s hatchett jobs (or hopefully, the lack thereof) done to the actual onscreen product. Cutting away to a pit stop when there is an on-track battle shaping-up is the most offensive use of control of the telecast to me. Jack’s antics are annoying, but there’s a touch of a “whattaya think the goon will do this week?” humor to it.

    Overall, it’s a pandering to the most uninformed viewer, I guess. We’ll all just have to keep that in mind as they do what they do.

  6. Chris Lukens Says:

    I thought that Arute’s “bowling ball on the helmet” was to the point and actually rather good., but I agree that the cheese grater has got to go. The one that absolutely drives me up a wall is Scott Goodyear, he always sounds like he is announcing a golf match. I also think the Versis crew is good and could be great, however all of the on-air bickering of their last broadcast was rather odd.

    • Ya, I agree completely about the bowling ball. It was probably the most effective way to show what lateral Gs are doing to a driver.

  7. H.B. Donnelly Says:

    Assuming this NBC/Comcast thing works out the way we all think it will, I think good things could come of it from the talent standpoint. Bob Costas, though he obviously thinks a bit highly of himself, would make a much better pit lane host for the 500 than “You are lookin’ live at a big fat paycheck for me” Musberger. I also think that Mike Emrick, who does the play-by-play for NBC’s hockey coverage is a very under-appreciated talker who does his research and sounds very intelligent and excited to be there during broadcasts. I like Bob Jenkins on the Versus broadcast for the hardcore fans, but I think Emrick brings more energy to capture the channel-surfers that will flip past NBC.

    By the way, if you want a fun moment in racing commentary, check the video of Tom Sneva’s wreck into the Turn 2 catch fencing; Keith Jackson and Jackie Stewart in the booth is just great!

  8. Brian McKay Says:

    As usual, I’m comin’ late to the party, and I have no better comment than yours. All I can say is that in this era I appreciate the expertise & delivery of Bob Varsha. I haven’t been viewing IndyCar broadcasts as long as George (only since 1982), but I agree that “I just don’t want announcers talking down to me, making the same point over and over like I’m an idiot.”
    BTW, the poll was so easy today!

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