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The World Cup Final Is The Latest Reminder Of The Power Of Silence

“No words could have properly expressed what that powerful imagery did.”

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Soccer’s month-long hold on television came to an end last weekend in Qatar. The World Cup Final between France and Argentina drew in nearly 17 million viewers in the United States alone. Those that watched were treated to a great game that ended in penalties. You also witnessed some very poignant moments after the kick from Gonzalo Montiel went into the net. The goal set off a wild celebration for Argentina and caused France to wonder what could have been. 

More than all of that, was another great example of an announcer understanding the gravity of the moment and letting the pictures speak for themselves. When the final PK got by the French goaltender, all you heard from Fox’s John Strong, was a resounding “YES!” then nothing for just over 2 minutes (2:13.06 to be exact). Strong and his broadcast partner Stu Holden allowed the many images to tell everyone watching the story without meaningless commentary. 

Instead, we saw joy, jubilation, sorrow and sadness from the Fox production team. Close-up images of teammates on the French team consoling one another. Wide shots of the Argentinian fan base celebrating the victory. Overhead shots, showing the two groups of teams, separated by the midfield line and conflicting emotions. No words could have properly expressed what that powerful imagery did.

It’s difficult for many to fight the temptation to try and fill these times with words, rather than just sitting back and enjoying it along with the viewers. It’s also tough for the analyst, who generally is not a trained broadcaster, to resist a “wow” or “unbelievable” that really cheapens the moment. Non-verbal communication in the booth, or even a discussion before the game can help everyone remain on the same page in these times. 

One of the biggest mistakes younger play-by-play announcers make is talking too much. I love listening to baseball games on the radio and hearing all the natural sounds of the ballpark. The murmur of the crowd and vendors hawking their products. You can’t hear that if the announcer is always talking over it. Of course, you have to talk, but you need to find the good balance. 

On television, you don’t have to chat through every picture either. A good director and producer will be able to get the most of out of their camera people, to find interesting things to shoot that require no commentary, at least in the moment. 

The other problem arises when the announcer tries to seize the opportunity to be part of history with some, pre-prepared proclamation. Yeah, your voice is on the highlight, but I’m guessing people will be shaking their heads in derision wishing you had just saved it and let the game breathe. 

I mean look, you can still be part of the history of the moment, with a short, well-delivered phrase and then get out of the way. There are many examples of great calls, including last weekend’s from Strong. 

Vin Scully was the master at letting the game breathe both on radio and television. It’s a little more difficult to achieve on radio obviously because you can’t see what’s going on at the time. But the Hall of Famer made it sound easy. Let me give you a couple of examples. One from television and one from radio from the greatest to ever call baseball. 

1988 World Series – Kirk Gibson GW Home Run

By now you have heard the Scully call of the Gibson homer off of Dennis Eckersley to win Game One of the 1988 World Series at Dodger Stadium. Gibson injured both legs during the NLCS, and therefore did not start Game 1. Unknown to the fans and the media at the time, Gibson was watching the game on television while undergoing physical therapy in the Dodgers’ clubhouse. At some point during the game, television cameras scanned the Dodgers’ dugout and Scully observed that Gibson was “nowhere to be found”. Apparently, this spurred Gibson to tell Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda that he was available to pinch hit. Gibson immediately returned to the batting cage in the clubhouse to take swings. It led to one of the most dramatic at bats in baseball history. It was of course handled like a pro by Scully. 

High fly ball into right field, she i-i-i-is… GONE!!! “

Following the call, the pictures took over. Gibson, limping around the bases. Dodgers’ fans going crazy. A dejected A’s dugout. A jubilant group of Dodgers greeting Gibson at home plate. It was insanity. All the while, the great Scully said nothing. Nothing. For just over a minute (1:08 to be exact) he was silent. Then came back with the line: 

In a year that has been so improbable… the impossible has happened!

Hair raising. Can you imagine if Scully had muddied it all by speaking over the pictures? The moment was so much more captivating, due to the silence. 

1974 – Hank Aaron’s 715th Home Run 

Scully also nailed a famous radio call, when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record. Scully described the action as Al Downing delivered the pitch to Aaron that he hit over the left field wall. Here was the call that April night in 1974: 

“There’s a high drive into deep left-center field, Buckner goes back… it is gone!” 

Then Scully said nothing for about 25 seconds, as Aaron rounded the bases and joined his teammates at home plate. Scully felt that hearing the crowd cheering and fireworks going off told the story better than he could. He was right. By the way, 25 seconds of silence seems like an eternity on radio. He made it work. Not shocking. 

1997 Masters – Tiger Woods 1st Green Jacket

Jim Nantz was a witness to history back in 1997. 21-year-old Tiger Woods won his first major and it came at Augusta National. Woods won the tournament going away, by 12 strokes, which set a record for the lowest score. The event was capped off by a short putt to end the tournament. Nantz, certainly aware of the magnitude of the moment, simply said:  

“There it is, a win for the ages.”

What followed was 40 seconds of silence. Again, the pictures were allowed to tell the story. A young golfer in a red shirt, pumping both fists in the air, hugging his caddie and seeking out his parents. The beauty of television and the beauty of a broadcaster that understands that there are no words you can say that will match what people are seeing at home. 

2019 Masters – Tiger Woods ‘Return to glory’

This is an example of letting the game breathe that could be taught in broadcasting classes. 

Nantz covered yet another Tiger Woods win, this one came out of nowhere. Woods’ win at the Masters in 2019, was much more improbable than the 1997 victory. Nantz was right on in his commentary leading up to the final clinching putt, comparing the two events as basically night and day. Leading up to last putt, “this is the minute that millions around the world have waited for, waited for years, many doubted we’d ever see it, but here it is,” said Nantz, then Woods completed the tap-in to win it all, with Nantz exclaiming: 

“The return to glory!”

That sentence was followed by nothing for 2 minutes and 42 seconds. That is a lifetime of silence. 

“After that putt dropped on 18, there wasn’t a chance in the world that I was going to say anything.” Nantz told the Sports Business Journal shortly after the tournament. Nantz was in Butler Cabin already, Nick Faldo was in the 18th Tower and the production team was of course in the truck. 

“As soon as the ball dropped, I said to [producer] Lance [Barrow] on the talk-back switch, ‘I’m not saying anything for a long time.’ Lance and I wanted to make sure that since none of us were together, the next time somebody spoke it was going to be me. We were going ride this thing out and sit back and enjoy it. I never would have jumped on a moment that was that big. It was just so big. There was nothing you could do to add to it. You could only ruin it.” he recalled.

He couldn’t have handled it any better than he did. There is pressure on us, as broadcasters to make these moments iconic. Being prepared for the broadcast, being able to build drama and set scenes always help going into these situations. A confident broadcaster, one who has command over the story, will be able to step aside to allow for the participants to shine. That broadcaster will remember the lessons we were all taught, less is more. Much more indeed. 

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BSM Writers

NBC Must Develop a Real No. 2 NFL Crew for Playoffs

Is the network’s only other option Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett?

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Several years ago, the NFL objected to NBC wanting to employ Mike Tirico as the lead play-by-play voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts. The league preferred Al Michaels because he was NBC’s No. 1 NFL play-by-play announcer and wanted the TNF telecasts to carry the same prestige as Sunday Night Football.

Following the network’s heavily-criticized broadcast of Saturday’s Wild Card playoff game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars, the NFL may want to impose its authority again and insist that a top-tier broadcast team call the action of an important postseason game.

The consensus among fans and media watching Saturday’s broadcast was that Michaels and analyst Tony Dungy were surprisingly low-energy for an NFL playoff game, let alone one that became so exciting with Jacksonville rallying from a 27-0 deficit for a 31-30 victory on a last-second field goal.

Such a lackluster broadcast led to questions of whether or not Michaels was now past his prime after a season of calling subpar TNF games for Amazon and what initially appeared to be another snoozer when the Jaguars fell behind by 27 points. Pairing him with Dungy, who was a studio analyst all season, certainly didn’t help.

Dungy was as basic as a game analyst could be, typically narrating replays viewers could see for themselves while adding little insight. Worst of all, he demonstrated no enthusiasm for the action, leaving Michaels to fill most of the airtime. The veteran broadcaster showed that he can no longer carry a broadcast by himself. He needs the energy and back-and-forth that Cris Collinsworth or Kirk Herbstreit provide.

So how did NBC get here?

Most football fans know that the network’s top broadcast team is Tirico on play-by-play alongside analyst Cris Collinsworth. But they had their own assignment during Super Wild Card Weekend, calling Sunday night’s Ravens-Bengals match-up. With the postseason field expanding from 12 to 14 teams, resulting in six games being played on Wild Card weekend, NBC was awarded one of the additional playoff broadcasts.

Thus, another broadcast team was needed for that second Wild Card game. Fortunately, NBC had a renowned play-by-play man already in place. Michaels finished out his final season as SNF‘s lead voice by calling Super Bowl LVI, part of a powerful one-two combination for NBC Sports coming toward the end of its 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics coverage.

Ending his legendary career with a Super Bowl broadcast would’ve been a wonderful final note for Michaels. That appeared to be a natural path when Tirico moved from ESPN to NBC in 2016. Network executives admitted that a succession plan was in mind for Tirico to take over SNF eventually. At the time, Michaels also likely thought he would retire by then.

But when confronted with the possibility of retirement, Michaels realized he wasn’t interested. He was still enjoying broadcasting the NFL. His skills were still sharp. And perhaps most importantly, he was in demand. Amazon wanted Michaels as the lead voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts, bringing instant credibility to a streaming venture that drew some skepticism. ESPN considered him as its Monday Night Football play-by-play man.

As it turned out, ESPN made a bold move for MNF, swiping Fox’s No. 1 NFL crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. That left Amazon for Michaels, and the streaming giant paid him a commensurate salary with the top broadcasters in the industry as part of his three-year contract.

Yet Michaels wasn’t done with NBC either. After his agreement with Amazon became official, NBC announced that its relationship with Michaels would continue in an “emeritus” role allowing him to broadcast the network’s Olympics coverage and that additional Wild Card playoff telecast.

NBC can’t have been happy that most of the social media chatter afterward focused on the broadcast, rather than the game result. Especially when the discussion centered on how poorly Michaels and Dungy performed in what turned out to be a thrilling playoff game. That’s a pairing that the NFL probably doesn’t want to see again.

Michaels will likely call at least one more Wild Card playoff game for NBC since he intends to work on the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. He’s also under contract with Amazon for another two seasons unless he decides to retire before that deal expires. So perhaps the simple solution is keeping Dungy out of the broadcast booth and giving Michaels a better partner.

But can NBC drop in another analyst who hasn’t worked with Michaels all season? Anyone would arguably be an improvement over Dungy. Is it at all possible for Herbstreit to be hired on for a one-off playoff broadcast, thus ensuring that the broadcast team will have some on-air familiarity and chemistry?

Otherwise, NBC’s only other option may be its Notre Dame broadcast team of Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett. (The network tried that last season with Tirico and Drew Brees, only for Brees to wilt under the harsher NFL playoff spotlight.)

The pair also called USFL broadcasts for the network, so at least there would be familiarity rather than trying to figure each other out during a telecast. Yet Collinsworth and Garrett aren’t terribly popular with viewers. And as with Brees, that crew will face intense scrutiny with a larger playoff audience.

Unfortunately, NBC appears to be stuck here. Unless the new Big Ten broadcast team of Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge gets a shot. That might be the best option! Other than Notre Dame or USFL games, where are the other opportunities for NBC to develop a No. 2 NFL broadcast team? No one wants to put Al Michaels through Chris Simms in the broadcast booth, right?

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BSM Writers

Al Michaels Has Options But He Has To Make a Choice

“It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.”

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I don’t ask much out of game announcers; get excited when appropriate, get the simple information correct, don’t get so caught up in your shtick you put yourself above the game. Al Michaels has been doing all those things well for the better part of half a century and few would argue that he’s not one of the best to ever do it. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose his fastball.

Before you read any longer, I am not here to say Al Michaels has lost his fastball. What I am here to say is Michaels has all too often this season seemed upset with and disinterested in the game he is calling. That isn’t entirely surprising when you consider some of the Thursday night action he called on Amazon Prime where the average margin of victory was almost nine points per game.

On top of that, the Amazon schedule had a dreadful two week stretch with Colts 12-9 win over the Broncos in Week Five and the Commanders 12-7 win over the Bears the next Thursday. It was in that Broncos-Colts game Michaels asked Herbstreit if a game “can be so bad it is good?” Herbstreit’s answer was “No”, by the way. It was the full 15 game schedule that Michaels told The Athletic’s media critic Richard Deitsch was like trying to sell a used car.

All of that is fine, the inaugural Amazon Prime season was not a smashing success. The streaming giant missed audience projections and will lose advertising revenue because of it. The lackluster schedule did not help that. But Michaels was given a second life; he was the NBC play-by-play announcer for the Saturday Night Wildcard Playoff game between the Chargers and Jaguars. It initially looked like Michaels might be the problem as five first half Jags turnovers had them in a 27-0 hole. But the home team staged a nearly unprecedented comeback for the win.

It was the performance by Michaels and, to a lesser degree, his analyst Tony Dungy that has led to criticism. Criticism might be too soft of a word, Michaels was roundly dragged for his lack of enthusiasm during the comeback and specifically on his call of the Jacksonville game winning field goal. The enthusiasm of the call of the game winner had a mid-3rd quarter of week four feel to it.

Me telling Al Michaels how to do play-by-play of an NFL game would be the equivalent of me telling a physicist how to split an atom. So, this isn’t just a Michaels criticism, few things bother me more than hearing a game announcer complain about the length or quality of a game as if he’d rather be anywhere else. It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.

How many NFL viewers would sit in the seat Michaels, or any NFL announcer occupies, for free? They’d feel like they won the lottery if they also were getting the money those announcers are getting paid to be there. The guy that works a 12-hour Thursday construction shift just to get home and crack a beer for the NFL game probably doesn’t want to hear how tough that game is to announce.

On top of all of that, Michaels was given the gift of one of the wildest NFL Playoff comebacks you’ll ever see and, at times, sounded as if he was completely disinterested in being there. Pro tip: the best NFL announcer in those moments is Kevin Harlan (see: Miami at Baltimore from earlier this season. That has nothing to do with my lifelong Dolphins fandom). Michaels’ lack of enthusiasm was compounded by the exact opposite from Mike Tirico on the very same network for the Bengals-Ravens Wildcard game Sunday night. 

Tirico, like Michaels, has a sterling resume of play-by-play accomplishments. The difference is Tirico sounded like he was having the time of his life on Sunday night. 

To be fair, their two styles are different. Michaels has a very old school, Pat Summerall approach. Summerall, Vin Scully and Dick Enberg came along at a time when announcers were far more likely to let the pictures tell the story. More new school guys like Harlan and Tirico approach it differently.

Look, Al Michaels helped us believe in miracles. His place in the Sports Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame has long since been cemented. Being a hall of fame inductee doesn’t mean your style will forever be accepted by the masses. That leaves you with a few options; you can continue your style and accept or ignore the criticism or you can ride off into the sunset and enjoy the fruits of your decades of labor.

Al Michaels has what we all want; great options. He can choose any of them and be a winner in the game of life. It doesn’t matter if he enthusiastically embraces them, or not. 

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BSM Writers

Bernie Kosar Was the Victim of a Policy That Doesn’t Work Anymore

“The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.”

Demetri Ravanos

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One week ago, Bernie Kosar lost his job on the Browns Radio Network for placing the first legal sports bet in the state of Ohio. Kosar, just like Jets coach Miles Austin weeks earlier and Calvin Ridley last year, violated a league policy that forbids team employees from placing a bet on any NFL game.

The integrity of the games still matters. The belief that what we are all seeing is being fairly contested is what gives those of us that like to have a little vested interest in the outcome the desire to lay our money down in the first place. I get the league’s discomfort with a coach on the staff of a team in the middle of the playoff hunt making bets. I get its fear of the message it sends to have players making bets.

Roger Goodell and the 32 team owners are well within their rights to object to men that can potentially control the outcome of a game or postseason seeding doing anything that even appears to jeopardize its fairness. Even perceived impropriety can compromise the league’s tremendous value.

But Bernie Kosar doesn’t have that kind of influence on the outcome of a game. He is just a broadcaster and not even a game analyst. He is part of studio coverage.

I am far from the first to point this out, but in 2023, the NFL has three official sports betting partners. Just last week, it approved the first ever in-stadium sportsbook, which Fanatics is set to open inside of FedEx Field. If the NFL is comfortable enough with the reality that its fans like to bet to make those things a reality, then Kosar losing his gig is absurd. It is the result of nothing other than “well, that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking.

Maybe Kosar was terrible on the radio and the team was looking for a reason to move on. I don’t live in Cleveland and I am not a Browns fan, so I have no idea.

How many times have we heard that NFL owners hired Goodell to “protect the shield”? I’m not even really sure what it means or when it applies anymore. If I had a vested interest in the public perception of the league, I know that I would want someone to do the PR math on this situation.

Bernie Kosar isn’t an addict that can’t watch a game without the high of winning or the emotional distress of losing everything at stake, at least not as far as we know. This was a bet made through an advertising partner, to benefit charity. He even said on his podcast this week that the purpose of making the bet was to generate some money for former players in need of help.

This is like Disney threatening daycare centers with lawsuits for painting Mickey Mouse on a classroom wall. The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.

Surely you have seen Garrett Bush’s impassioned rant on the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show about the obstacles facing Damar Hamlin because of how many hoops the NFL makes former players jump through in order to get some kind of pension.

On January 2, we were all united in our concern for a guy that hadn’t even completed his second full NFL season. We didn’t know if he was going to live, but if he did, we all knew that the NFL had done everything it needed to in order to protect itself from ever having to pay a dime for his medical care. Less than a week later, Bernie Kosar was fired for what amounted to a charity stunt that was meant to raise money and attention to very similar issues.

At both the league level and the team level, there was incompetence that lead to a man unnecessarily losing a gig and to the Browns and the NFL looking horribly out of touch with reality.

Are we acknowledging that people gamble or not? Are we acknowledging there are responsible ways to bet on football and are interested in generating revenue off of it or not? Because it doesn’t seem to me that the same league that just gave the thumbs up to open a sportsbook inside of a stadium is really that concerned with people that cannot affect the outcome of games betting on those games.

Has the NFL come out and said that it is going to cover every medical bill for everyone that has ever played the game? We know that this is a brutal game that leaves a physical and physiological impact on the men that played it. Why would we make it harder for someone that knows that pain to help others do something about it?

I feel awful for Bernie Kosar. Whether he needs the money or not, it is embarassing to be at the center of a controversy like this, particularly because in the NFL in 2023, there is no reason for a controversy like this to exist.

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