Tuesday, September 15, 2009

NFL Announcers

NFL Beef #1

I'm going to try to make this a running thing, that is, my unending beef with the NFL. Some will be shorter than others and that should not signify some sort of importance or ranking system on the growing list of problems that make the NFL such an offensive product. Nor should the order in which I write.

Before this begins, please allow me to offer this short disclaimer. Many of you close to me have offered the opinion that my growing distaste with the league has more to do with my beloved Cleveland Browns' failures than anything substantive. This is simply not true. The Cleveland Indians, who I love equally, if not more, than the Browns, are as inept as the Browns and possess an arguably weaker future. I still love baseball. In fact, I think that baseball's steps in the last several years—MLB Network, MLB.tv, lower ticket prices—have been great for the consumption of the game. Perhaps it is because I live in Southern California, away from the throngs of irrational Browns fans that piqued my interest in the NFL's off months in years past. I don't know. I would like to believe it is merely a legitimate distaste based on logical and simple criteria that I have been able to finally realize as the issues grow, and my interest fades even more.

Also, it should be noted that I LOVE college football, and still get amped when watching old clips of football games. I think NFL Films is a treasure, and many of the game's personalities still interest me. This is merely a harsh criticism of one of the most popular entertainment options in the nation that I find offensive and backwards.

Today I will discuss the announcers.

In other team sports, almost every game is broadcast by a local TV affiliate and announced by employees of the team. In baseball, the Tribe is called by Rick Manning and Matt Underwood, neither of which do anything to enhance the experience, but neither do anything particularly offensive either. Most importantly, not only do they spend the season following the team, but they call the games to a local audience trained on the players' names and histories. The games are called with an expectation of familiarity with the characters and story lines within the organization. Cavalier games are called by Fred McCleod and Austin Carr. Sure, Carr turns many fans off with his over-the-top uses of the same four phrases, and McCleod has turned off a lot ex-TV man, Michael Reghi's fans, but the same knowledge and familiarity is expected in their calls and information is more-often-than-not directed at fans of the team.

Throughout the year, and much more often in the case of the Cavaliers, games are broadcast nationally. Depending on the network and time slot the game is on, this broadcast can be the only broadcast of the team, even in the city of Cleveland. While national broadcasts are directed towards a national audience, significantly less familiar with the teams than local broadcasts, the games are usually one of the only games being nationally televised so that viewers are treated to a top-tier broadcasting team. Personally, I would rather listen to loud dogs barking than endure a baseball game called by Joe Morgan or Tim McCarver, but I respect their calls as legitimate and their opinions—though I essentially universally disagree with everything they say—rarely am overly offended by an opinion they offer.

This trend holds true with college football as well. Nationally-televised games feature top-notch announcing teams that, often, enhance the experience. So in most sports—meaning all other than the NFL—the two options are either a local broadcast directed at a small sub-section of the sports' fan base, complete with inherent knowledge of the events and characters that that sub-section shares, or a national broadcast featuring many of the game's top announcing personalities. These options aren't always ideal, but they are rarely offensive, and often offer great additions to the sport.

The NFL is different. During the regular season, every game outside of two each week are broadcast by CBS or Fox. Because all the games are played within a six hour period of one another, networks are forced to provide upwards of nine productions per week. Meaning, unless your game is the featured game of the week, you are forced to listen to bottom-tier announcing teams. Furthermore, the games are presented as if they are on national TV (which is only half true as most games are just broadcast to the two cities playing each other). So, instead of getting local teams, super familiar with the team and treating their jobs as liaisons to the team's fans, we get garbage teams, without any knowledge of the teams, outside of the handful of days spent in the days leading up to the game, speaking to general football fans, despite their audience being almost wholly composed of rabid fans without interest in general football activities. So, as a result, a fan, not even a particularly rabid fan, but a fan somewhere in between "casual" and "moderate" will consistently have more knowledge of the team than the announcers.

Furthermore, while the play-by-play man is usually the 2nd-9th best play-by-play man in the company, the color guy is always an ex-player/coach who has no choice but to view his current position as a vacation from his tedious and demanding old job. Color guys rarely exhibit the effort required to study the teams, the seasons, and the changing rules and trends within the league. We often get information and ideas that are simply being regurgitated from the tiresome and redundant pre-game shows and talk-radio forums from the previous week.

This, at least to this observer, is offensive. I follow my teams. When we have the Broncos next week, I do my best to learn about the Broncos and go above and beyond the easy and lazy opinions written by the Peter Kings and argued over by the Phil Simmses of the world. By Sunday, I will know far more about both principles than the seventh-best CBS broadcast team that I will be forced to digest for 200 minutes.

What sucks is that I am rarely, if ever, enlightened. I am often given bad or at least gratuitous information. And I am treated as a "general" football fan with interest in all thirty-two teams, despite my utter apathy towards thirty-one of them. I didn't like Brian Billick as a coach, but I took pleasure in seeing him on the sidelines because of his lack of common sense and the chance that that inability to consistently make the right decision would benefit the Browns. Now I am forced to listen to him pretend to know about the Browns and do his best to weave his favorite Brett Favre musings into the game. In any other sport, Billick would be lucky to be calling games for a local broadcast, but at least there his limited ability to learn would be focused on one team. Here, we get his opinions of a team he has spent two hours a day studying for three days.

The other insanely annoying aspect of the announcing is a residual effect. Given the NFL's wildly growing and uninformed fan base, Billick's presence on one of sixteen official NFL broadcasts passes as some sort of verification that he is a sage of information or knowledge in the complex world of the NFL. Things he says, opinions he has, are instantly credible in the world of the worst fan base on Earth. He now has the ability to affect NFL news cycles and form the paradigm from which we consume the NFL. Much like Vin Scully defining the Dodgers, or Keith Jackson elevating the game of college football to the levels it is now, the NFL is defined by the likes of Ian Eagle, Rich Gannon, Solomon Wilcots, and Billick, further dragging the games down to the levels that have turned off at least one formerly rabid consumer.

This problem will never change. Most people are unaffected by this and within the local markets, have an alternative—to mute the game and put on the local radio broadcast. However, this is one of the primary things that has turned me off in an NFL game. I spend more time critiquing the broadcast and complaining about how annoying certain announcers are than I do actually enjoying and consuming the game. That something this distracting and easily fixable is not a bigger complaint amongst the fan base I regret, but this blog post felt cathartic.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Would it be possible for game announcers to just call the game?
Whitin the first couple of play series I know which team they are for! Even if I like that team, I'd wish the announcer would just shut the heck up on his team! Call the game for both side with the same tone and leave his choice thoughts out of the game calling plan!