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Kenny Albert Expects Alternate Broadcasts To Grow

“That’s the goal for any play-by-play broadcaster is to continue to work big events, playoff games, [and] championships.”

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NBC Sports Group

Whether it be baseball, basketball, football, or hockey, one voice is a consistent presence behind the microphone, bringing fans all the action locally in the New York-Metropolitan area, domestically across the United States, and internationally all around the world.

Versatility is a coveted asset across many lines of work in today’s media job marketplace and in the realm of play-by-play announcing, Kenny Albert seems to have set the standard.

Calling all four major sports on a near-regular basis for both regional and national sports television networks — including NBC Sports, Turner Sports, MSG Networks, and Fox Sports — Albert has seen firsthand the shift in the industry from the perspective of a broadcaster. But that’s not all. He calls games on the radio as well, working in various capacities for the New York Rangers, the team with which he got his start in professional broadcasting alongside his father.

Albert was exposed to sports broadcasting from a young age by virtue of growing up in a family of sportscasters, with his father Marv and uncles Steve and Al building careers in the profession. Upon being gifted a toy tape recorder for his fifth or sixth birthday, Albert began to prepare for what quickly became his primary career aspiration; that is, to be a professional play-by-play announcer.

He remembers bringing his toy tape recorder to sports venues including Madison Square Garden and Shea Stadium once of age, and prepared for each game by looking over the rosters and keeping up-to-date with the latest statistics. His big break as a broadcaster later came as a sophomore at Paul D. Schreiber High School in Port Washington, New York by means of volunteering to fill an unaddressed vacancy.

“Cox Cable of Great Neck came to my school to film a girls basketball game,” said Albert. “They had two cameras [and] a small production van, but no announcers. I volunteered and they clipped a microphone onto my shirt [and] I did the game.”

By the end of high school, Albert had turned his volunteering into a job, working 75 to 100 games all over Long Island in sports such as lacrosse, hockey, basketball, baseball, football, and soccer, with his friends serving as color analysts. In college, Albert was a member of WNYU Radio at New York University and continued to call games on the radio. Yet he believes the experience he had in high school positioned him to be ahead of the pack in a profession with substantial levels of competition.

“I felt like I really had a three-year head start on anybody else at that time who wanted to do play-by-play,” said Albert. “There weren’t really any opportunities until college back then in the ‘80s. The three years at Cox Cable were just such an unbelievable experience to get three years of practice and reps under my belt.”

After graduating college with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism, Albert became the radio voice of the Baltimore Skipjacks in the American Hockey League and quickly made his jump to the pros beginning in 1992 as the television play-by-play broadcaster for the National Hockey League’s Washington Capitals.

From there, Albert continued to find and add new opportunities to call professional games in football, baseball, and basketball, both on the radio and on television – and he continues to call games in both mediums today. Being conscious of the audience and how it is consuming the game is central to understanding the differences in calling a sporting event for one medium as opposed to the other.

“On radio, obviously you have to be more descriptive [because] the listener can’t see what’s going on. The description is the key. Location on the ice, on the court, on the field, etc.,” Albert explained. “You have to give the time and the score a lot more often on radio. On TV, it’s up on the upper lefthand corner of the screen, which wasn’t the case before I started working professionally. [Also,] you definitely don’t have to talk as much [on TV]; you can leave more time for the color analyst to come in.”

In broadcasting events across many professional sports, Albert has worked with over 225 color analysts, a figure he surmises might just be the record for a play-by-play announcer.

Whether it be Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Eddie Olczyk, Tim McCarver, or Jonathan Vilma, getting their perspectives on the game at hand is essential in creating and maintaining a seamless broadcast. Since the play-by-play announcer does not need to describe as much of the action occurring on visual broadcast mediums, he is able to afford his partner in the booth, whoever it may be, more time to talk in those instances.

Albert, in his opinion, says hockey is the least difficult sport for him to call, partly because he has been doing it for 32 years, but also due to its rhythmic style of play – especially on the radio.

“You’re just into the flow really for the entire 60 minutes,” he said. “People always ask me about the names and the pronunciations and the fact that the players change on the fly, but to me, it’s almost like riding a bike because I’ve been doing it for so long.”

Conversely, Albert believes baseball is the most difficult sport for him to call since the style of the broadcast is more conversational in nature and because he does not call baseball games on a regular basis. “If it’s a game every week, or 10 [to] 15 games over the course of the season – which is what I’ve usually done – because there is so much downtime, [hopefully] you have a great color analyst that can fill in a lot of that time,” he explained.

While Albert calls baseball the least out of the four major U.S. sports, one of his most memorable moments as a broadcaster was being behind the mic for José Bautista’s iconic bat flip in Game 5 of the 2015 American League Division Series at Rogers Centre in Toronto with the background noise of 49,742 impassioned fans.

He also recently called the 2022 NHL Winter Classic from Target Field in Minneapolis – home of Major League Baseball’s Minnesota Twins – at a game-time temperature of -5.7 degrees Celsius. Despite the frigid temperature, Albert’s experience calling the game was “magical,” especially since it was played at night with natural, aesthetic touches in a setting seemingly made for television, including eight frozen ponds formed in the outfield.

“We had [the window] open at the start because we wanted to feel the elements and experience what it was like for the fans and for the players,” said Albert. “We did keep the window closed in the broadcast booth for a good portion of the game… We were still able to see the ice and see all the monitors in the booth the same as if the window were open. It was a fantastic experience.”

Albert has called other big events as well, including the Stanley Cup Finals, the Winter Olympics, and NFL divisional playoff games. From the days practicing with his toy tape recorder and growing up around family members in the profession, he understood the importance of preparation and professionalism in trying to establish a career for himself in the booth.

“That’s the goal for any play-by-play broadcaster is to continue to work big events, playoff games, [and] championships,” said Albert. “There is a lot of travel and a lot of preparation involved, but it’s just so much fun.”

As the landscape of sports media continues to shift, in spite of its apparent acceleration due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the introduction of emerging technologies, new platforms for content dissemination, and modification of best practices to maximize cost-efficiency have resulted in a paradigmatic deviation from the norms that had been associated with travel and preparation.

Pertaining to travel, Albert and nearly every other play-by-play announcer in the country has experienced the process of calling games remotely to ensure the health and safety of themselves and network crew members. While the decision, which had been in consideration among sports networks prior to the pandemic to cut travel expenses, impacts the range of vision and subsequent understanding of action away from gameplay, Albert sees its implementation as a “new normal” towards which the industry will have to lessen its intransigence.

“To me, I feel like no matter the sport, I [can] probably see about 85 percent on the monitor of what I would [see] if I were at the arena,” said Albert. “You don’t get the emotions or the feel of being there, but it’s probably not as bad as I expected when we started… It does save the wear and tear on the body a little bit for those of us who have been traveling for a long time. That’s probably one positive that’s come out of it.”

Information overload is an offshoot of the development and expansion of the internet, directly affecting the preparation process for play-by-play broadcasters. When Albert started working for the NFL on Fox in 1994, he would receive a shipment of VHS tapes every Wednesday with the games of the teams they would be covering that week, and any news clippings or supplementary materials were received through fax. Following the advent of the internet, Albert received articles through email, began to tape games on television, and see action from all across the country with DirecTV NFL Sunday Ticket.

“It really wasn’t that long ago, but thanks to technology, it’s made the preparation on one hand a lot easier, [but] on the other hand there’s so much information available [that] you could basically 24/7 try to find various nuggets and read that extra article in order to get ready for that week’s or that night’s game,” said Albert.

The role of the traditional play-by-play announcer is also changing with the introduction of concurrent presentations during national games, such as the Monday Night Football ManningCast,” Statcast Edition of the MLB Home Run Derby, and the forthcoming Sunday Night Baseball with Kay-Rod. Though he hopes the role in which he has been employed for over three decades staves off extinction, Albert is cognizant of the ongoing evolution of the industry geared to satisfy consumer demand while minimizing the opportunity cost associated with such evolution in the process.

“I think with a telecast such as the ManningCast, it’s a unique perspective hearing from two guys who were among the top quarterbacks of all time,” said Albert. “Hopefully, the role of a play-by-play announcer on the traditional broadcast doesn’t go away and is around for a long, long time. But I think with so many channels out there with people watching things on their phones and on computers and on [tablets], and all of the technology available now that wasn’t [around] 10, 20, 30 years ago [that] there’s definitely a place for the alternate broadcasts, for sure.”

Whether they want to be a play-by-play announcer, analyst, sideline reporter, or talk show host, Albert’s advice is the same for prospective broadcasters: Come prepared, be versatile in whatever you do, and find opportunities in places where they may seem sparse.

“When I was growing up, we had seven channels; there was no cable [and] no satellite,” said Albert. “There are just so many opportunities out there these days. [While] I was at college at NYU, we had to fight for air time to broadcast the men’s and women’s basketball games because the radio station was the only outlet. These days if you’re at school, you can go broadcast a lacrosse game or a soccer game and put it out there on the internet. It’s just another way to get reps and get practice even if it’s not through the traditional means of a campus radio station.”

Albert has never genuinely “worked” a day in his life and he certainly hopes to keep it that way. Whether it has been on the radio or on television, rinkside or perched behind home plate, at the venue or in a studio, his ability to broadcast different types of sporting events professionally on multiple broadcast platforms both locally and nationally has afforded him various opportunities in sports media. He hopes he can continue to be the voice behind more memorable moments as his career progresses within a dynamic, growing industry.

“I never feel like I’m going to work,” said Albert. “I hope I never lose that feeling.”

BSM Writers

The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.

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This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.

Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.

This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.

The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.

Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.

NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.

Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.

Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.

Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.

A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.

It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay. 

MLB Network is another option

If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.

Quick bites

  • One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
  • CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
  • The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
  • ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.

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The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.

First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.

Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.

Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.

It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do. 

Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.

Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?

I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?

That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.

After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else. 

There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.

Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.

Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.

Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.

I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not

Demetri Ravanos

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On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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