Wed. Aug 15th, 2018

Could North American Fans Embrace a One Man Booth?

Eric Koreen has an interesting piece on The Athletic Toronto inspired by the World Cup coverage on TSN. With Canada not sending its own national broadcasters to Russia, the network was forced to run the international feed that featured one-man broadcast booths. Koreen asks if it is possible they may someday become more common in North American sports coverage.

Koreen and a series of interview subjects note that soccer is ideal for a one-man booth. The culture surrounding the sport conditioned most fans over 30 to expect the action on television to be allowed to speak for itself.

“In North America, we’re a little bit more analytical in how we want sports broken down, and that’s why we have separation between a play-by-play person and a colour analyst,” said Rob Corte, vice-president, Sportsnet and NHL productions. He added that in his role he has never discussed using just one voice to call a game. “I think the analyst’s role is to really dig deep. Play-by-play: who and what. Colour analyst: how and why. …

“In soccer, it’s more commentary generally. They don’t really get into the X’s and O’s within a broadcast if you watch it. There’s not much of a technical breakdown as to strategy. Even on the replays, it’s more just commenting on the reactions of what you see as opposed to exactly why something happened. They save that for the pre-game shows, the post-game shows and halftime.”

That is not the case in the US and Canada, where Koreen says “When broadcasters on this side of the Atlantic Ocean experiment with the size of a booth, they tend to try to squeeze more voices in.”

The pace that North America’s most popular sports are played is a problem for one-man booths as well.

It is hard to imagine single voices carrying a broadcast for certain sports. Hockey’s pace of play is fast, with players hopping on and off the ice on the fly. At some point, the play-by-play caller needs to take a sip of water, and stoppages are the obvious time to do that. Basketball has more whistles than hockey thanks to more fouls and substitutions, but there is still a lot going on.

Football’s slower pace would theoretically allow for a play-caller to keep up, but there is arguably no sports that is more steeped in strategy.

Baseball, Koreen writes, is the one major pro sport where one-man booths could work. Vin Scully was a one-man-show for years on Dodger broadcasts and he is often pointed to as the most influential man to ever do the job. To be fair, Koreen points out that while Scully was on air alone, he often had someone else in the booth with him.

Many minor league broadcasters are on their own in the radio booth, but could the practice become common at the Major League level?

If there is a North American sport where we could eventually see a one-person broadcast booth become more common, it is baseball. Corte noted that 162 games — almost every day for six months — is a lot of time to hear the same voice, over and over and over. Storytelling is an accepted part of broadcasting in baseball, though, and one voice, so long as it is attached to a great memory, can accomplish a lot in the sport.

Koreen’s article is a long read, but an interesting one. You can find it here.

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