From a technical standpoint, sports anchoring is not difficult. Thanks to modern conveniences such as the teleprompter, it involves nothing more than sitting in front of a camera and reading material you've already written.
The real trick comes in the delivery, style, and presentation of the anchor. Most stations generally have the same stories, the same interviews, and the same hilights. The challenge is to present that material in a way that engages the audience and sets you apart from your competition.
Ask a hundred different people in the industry how to do this, and you'll probably get a hundred different answers. But most news directors, sports professionals, and television consultants agree that good sports anchoring includes some very basic elements.
Perhaps the most important element is that the sports anchor be in control. Control includes several elements, including look, knowledge, and voice. Basically, it simply means that the audience sees the sports anchor as someone who knows what he or she is talking about and can communicate that information with confidence. That means the ability not only to communicate, but to handle anything that comes up, including technical problems, disruptions, and other almost daily occurrences.
Look and voice are a big part of control. Most news directors want a mature, established presence on the anchor desk, which is especially difficult for sports broadcasters just starting out. Television news director Joel Bernell says Hatly, "I want someone who would fit in with the makeup of our anchor team, not somebody who looks like the news anchor's son." Obviously, there is very little you can do about how old you look, but you can certainly convey a more mature attitude in other things you do as an anchor.
One thing is to act more relaxed. This is also difficult for young sports broadcasters, who are bound to be nervous. It's also difficult to get relaxed after a long day of producing, writing, and editing, especially if you have to work against a tight deadline. But in one sense, relaxation is simply a matter of avoiding extremes. You're looking for the middle ground between hyperactive anchoring (a trap easy to fall into in sports) and low-energy anchoring. By definition, most sports anchoring requires a higher level of energy and enthusiasm than news or weather. But it's impossible (and irritating) to maintain a Dick Vitale-style of anchoring for every show and every story. And it would put the audience to sleep to deliver the show in a boring monotone.
Relaxation and control come mainly from confidence that you've done your homework and now feel comfortable in front of the camera. Viewers can tell when an anchor is confident and in control, just as they can sense when he or she is scared or nervous. So far, the only known cure for nerves is practice. You have to get in front of the camera and keep working on your delivery and style until you feel comfortable with it. This is why it's so important to get as much experience as you can, either with internships or at school. Establishing your comfort level as soon as possible puts you that much farther ahead when you go to get that first meaningful job.
Knowledge about the subject also gives the anchor confidence. This is generally not a problem for most people getting into the business, who grew up as sports fans. But the job also demands knowledge of the local sports scene. Viewers can immediately tell if someone mispronounces the name of a school or team, which can create a credibility problem. For example, the athletic teams at Wichita Falls, Texas, High School are the "Co-yotes," not the "Co-yotees" and it's important to know the difference. Television news director Paul Conti says, "Know your material. It's horrible when someone tries to fake it and gets it wrong. Sports viewers are the most unforgiving viewers in TV"
Without a doubt, the one piece of advice given by most professionals is to be your self and develop your own style. Too many people starting out try to imitate a successful broadcaster or even sound like him or her. Just as viewers can tell when a sportscaster doesn't know sports, they can also spot a phony. Television news director Joel Streed says, "If you're going to do sports, be yourself and don't copy anyone else's style. There's enough Chris Bermans out there." For some reason, Berman has touched a nerve with local news directors (Figure 7-2). "Don't try to imitate Chris Berman," says Conti. "The student has to have his own style and go with what comes naturally. If you have a sense of humor, that's fine. But don't manufacture one."
On the subject of Berman, NFL Network anchor Rich Eisen worked with him at ESPN and says the act is completely sincere. According to Eisen, Berman has the same personality when he's off-camera as when he's on-camera. "I think that's the key to succeeding or failing," says Eisen. "Be yourself. Anybody can smell a fake and they won't care, they won't watch and they won't trust you."
Because of people like Chris Berman, Stuart Scott, and Kenny Mayne at ESPN, young sports broadcasters now think they have to have some sort of comedy act to get noticed. But those people make it work because it suits their personality. The key is to find what suits your personality and develop it into a unique and distinctive style.
"Too many sportscasters look and sound alike or try to mimic national sportscasters," says television news director Ron Lombard. "We like to see people who are natural communicators and can do it with their own style."
There are several ways sports anchors can make themselves unique and set themselves apart from the competition, without going overboard on the personality. You can develop and emphasize a particular aspect of your presentation, such as the photography, storytelling, or interviewing. Most sports interviews consist of sticking a microphone in an athlete's face and asking about a certain play. Very few sportscasters, such as Roy Firestone and Jim Rome, have developed a more sophisticated approach and turned in-depth interviewing into a career.
Many sportscasters develop their own style by doing nothing more than speaking their minds. The trend has really taken off in radio, where opinionated sports talk hosts such as Chris Russo and Mike Francesa have one goal in mind-to provoke the listeners to react. People who listen to these shows may not agree with the host, but
they're still listening and driving up ratings.
Anchors on television usually don't act quite as opinionated or brash on the air, but they have the same purpose in mind. "I hear all the time about people who say, 'I don't care about sports, but I tune in to you all the time'," says Ted Leimer, who worked for years at KFMB- TV in San Diego. "That's exactly what I'm trying to do.
People will tune in because they just want to hear what this jerk has to say ... or because they think it's interesting or funny or whatever."
Obviously; what works for Ted Leitner probably wouldn't work for Bob Costas, and vice versa. The important point is to find what works for you. Experiment with different srvles until vou find the one that suits your unique personaliry and then stick with it.
While sports broadcasting is often a difficult and demanding job. vou should never forget that it's not life or death. Certainly, sports include some verv serious issues involving topics such as money, drugs, and crime. But to most fans and and most people who read about it in the newspapers or watch it on television, spans are a form of excapism. Former U.s. Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren once said that he read the front page of the newspaper to learn about man's failures and read the sports section to learn about his sucesses.
People watch sports to feel good about themselves, share a cultural experience, or see something they've never seen before. In many cases, the actual event itself takes a back seat to the televised experience. Howard Cosell was one of the first to realize this when he worked on Monday Night Football. "I bridge the gap between entertainment and journalism," said Cosell. "I'm a communicator with the human perspective." At one point, Cosell even had his own short-lived variety show on ABC.
When Cosell decided to leave Monday Night Football in 1984, he did not want a well-known sports broadcaster to take his place, but instead suggested television star Bill Cosby. "He's a brilliant communicator and his performing skills are beyond reproach," said Cosell. "First and foremost, Monday Night Football is prime-time
entertainment." While ABC decided to pass on Cosby, it broke new ground in June 2000, announcing that stand-up comedian Dennis Miller would join the Monday . Night broadcast team starting that fall. "We want to make the game relevant to the hard-core fan, accessible to the occasional fan and unpredictable to both," said new Monday Night producer Don Ohlmeyer. It was an interesting experiment, but sports fans didn't buy it. Miller was considered too esoteric and lasted only two seasons.
This does not mean that there isn't a place for serious sports journalists on the anchor desk. But you don't have to look any farther than the success of pro wrestling or similar events to realize that sports today have become major prime-time entertainment. Of course, that also doesn't mean you have to forgo the serious sports
journalism. But more and more news directors want someone who can present serious information in an entertaining way. Paul Conti says, "I consider sports to be an entertainment product that happens to air in my newscast. Therefore, I want the sports anchor to be entertaining without looking foolish."
Sitting down at the anchor desk to deliver a show is probably the most nervewracking experience for young sportscasters. The only sure-fire cure is practice, because very few people are born with the proper control, confidence, and personality to deliver a quality product. Practice as often as you can, keeping in mind the tips listed in below.
Brad Schultz is an assistant professor and head of the broadcast sequence in the journalism department at the University of Mississippi. Prior to entering academia, he spent fourteen years in local television and has experience as a sports anchor, producer, reporter, photographer, editor and writer. He covered the NFL, NBA, major league baseball, PGA, NCAA, and Indy 500 among other events. Dr. Schultz is the editor of the Journal of Sports Media and has published several articles and conference papers on local sports broadcasting.