Professional sporting events are best experienced in person, when fans can join together to cheer for their teams and to boo their opponents. Unfortunately for one reason or another, the average fan is usually lucky to make only one or two sporting events per year. Thankfully there are alternatives to watching (or listening) to games, whether it be on television, radio or online. It is the job of the play-by-play announcer and analysts to convey to the audience what they may be missing by not being there, and to inform the casual fan about the game and its players.
Play-by-play announcers are the backbone of a sports broadcast, and often become the face or voice of the network they represent. But just like a President needs a Vice President, so too do play-by-play announcers need solid color commentators in order to have a successful broadcast. Color commentators are like the icing to a cake, filling in the creases and crevices that the play-by-play announcer can't hit, and bringing a different point of view and insight to the broadcast.
Last year, I was fortunate enough to be named the color commentator for Lady Royals basketball at the University of Scranton, alongside play-by-play announcer Dean Corwin. Our audience can listen on the radio or watch the game live online, so the broadcast must be tailored to meet both of those needs. There are many keys to becoming a successful color commentator, but listed below are what I feel are the most important.
Any sports broadcaster will tell you that the most important thing about being an announcer is to research, research, research. It's one thing to be knowledgeable about a certain sport, but it's another to not only be knowledgeable about the sport, but also about the teams, players, coaches, history, etc. The amount of preparation that goes into a broadcast can hardly be put into words. Announcers must know who and what they will be talking about before, during and after the game. It is the job of the color commentator to bring more to the table than just the events that are happening. They must be able to tell the audience why it is happening and what impact it may have on the game. The insight of a color commentator is necessary during a broadcast, but would be useless without research.
There is a definite difference from what you see while playing a game, while watching a game and while covering a game. Players may notice something that the casual fan may not, while commentators may see something that the players may not. The color commentator must convey to their audience the intricacies of the game that they may not have seen, such as a particular defense or offense being run. Play-by-play announcers will tell the audience the facts of what's going on, while color commentators will tell them why it's going on.
Successful color commentators feed off of their play-by-play counterparts. They should understand that their role is to not soak up the limelight, but remember to not live in their partner's shadow. Play-by-play announcers will offer plenty of lead-ins and opportunities for their color commentators and analysts to speak. During these times, it is important to not say too little, but to also not say too much. Over time, these opportunities become easier to fill throughout the flow of the game, and broadcasters will develop a chemistry to work off each other as the game progresses. It's also important to remember to be personable and outgoing when talking to your audience. This will help make the audience feel like they are a part of your conversation and will make the broadcasters much easier to understand.
As mentioned before, there are countless other factors that go into the preparation and execution of the broadcast for the play-by-play and color commentators. But with a solid understanding of these three keys, the foundation will be set for a successful career in the broadcasting industry.