No doubt being a sports anchor isn’t what it used to be.  You can’t just put up highlights and scoreboards and survive.  Many are being asked to one man band.  Some stations are getting rid of sports departments and many others have already done it.  Yet sports still dominates many conversations among regular people, daily.  We all know that ESPN has changed the playing field. So what does a sportscaster do, to not only stand out but possibly keep his/her job at all?  One phrase (and it’s one we at love) storytelling.

Often when I would tell sports anchors to do more of this, I would get puzzled looks and the sports anchor would walk away shaking his/her head.  So let me spell it out.  Playing and watching sports are commonplace among many of your viewers.  Leisure activities involving sports are an integral part of many people’s lives.  You just have to think of sports as more than the latest college or pro game on the weekend.  And when you do cover those weekend games, you need to make them have impact. Before you shake your head in confusion and disgust, look at these key ways to provide that impact.

Storytelling During Sportscasting

  • Let’s hear it
  • Memorable moments
  • Character build
  • Make it real

First let’s hear it. Use a lot of natural sound throughout your sportscast. Think about it, what are the latest techniques you are seeing when watching national games?  The networks are taking you into the event with mic’s in places they’ve never been before.  The commentators stop talking and take those special mics so you hear the cars screeching around the track in NASCAR, you listen to the quarterback call plays in mic’d up segments during games.  You hear players talking on the sidelines for a few seconds.  No you cannot do the exact same thing, but take the general idea and run with it.  This is a type of storytelling using natural sound.  You can ask to mic up a player during practice.  You can set a lav mic up when you do stories to catch ambient sound, you can use natural sound in vo’s and vosots and packages throughout your sportscast so viewers are engaged.  Going to cover a sports event, be it a practice, newsconference, or game and thinking about the natural sound will help you look at the event in a different way.  You will become more engaged and notice things you may not have caught onto before.  This could help you find interesting elements the other sports anchors and reporters in town aren’t doing.

Which leads to our next point:  Creating memorable moments.  You will hear a skilled EP tell his or her producers this all the time.  Photojournalists really get this concept as well.  Memorable moments are partially visual, but the key is that they play out emotions.  Sports are full of emotion.  They are utterly human.  You see incredible joyous moments, incredible pain, anger, angst, fear, intense drive, painful defeats and wondrous victories.  Looking for memorable moments each day in sports should be like the old saying… “shooting fish in a barrel.”  Even news conferences have emotion behind them.  Play it out. Search for the emotion in the sound bites, and the backstories to what lead up to the news conferences. You follow players’ tweets, you monitor sport blogs.  The emotions are all there, easy pickings.  Use them.

Again, I remember the head shaking, followed by “I only get 2 minutes and I have to get these highlights in.”  If the ratings fall off during your sportscast then, no, you do not have to show the highlights like you traditionally would.  You can take one key element, let it play with nat sound to create a memorable moment, then throw up a score board if you need.  Take the viewer into the event.  Don’t just cram a million factoids into a 2 minute segment.  Fans watched the game, saw highlights on ESPN, got onto the internet to check out their favorite blogs, are signed up on Twitter to check out what their favorite players say etc.  Think about what makes you love covering sports.  That’s why fans love watching sports.  The memorable moments are the draw.  The emotion of it all.

Early in my career there was a sportscaster at a competing station, who won Emmy’s for his sportscasts all the time, often beating veteran sports journalists in much larger markets.  I started watching his sportscasts to see why.  The answer: memorable moments. He made each sportscast interesting.  They did not look like all the others in town.  And this sports journalist was making a big name for himself.  He also would turn in packages every year and beat out reporters for Emmy’s.  He was a storyteller that just loved covering sports.  Believe me, this guy never worried about his sports time getting cut.  He became a real draw in a small community that didn’t have any professional teams to follow.  What did he even have to talk about?  Plenty.  He also did pieces on local sporting events, by character building.

So what is character building exactly? It is centering a story on someone who can really help you explain the issue or to simplify even more:  someone that spells out the point of your package. (see storytelling on a dime.) It also means branching out.  Sit your assistant news director or executive producer down and ask them what the trends are in town for recreation.  Chances are they have seen research and know what topics (i.e. – sports) people in town love to do.  Let’s take biking for example.  Many places have incredible trails families explore each day.  Hit the trail on a Monday or Tuesday when you only have retread elements on the professional or college games and start looking for characters.  Ask people why they ride.  Ask the history of the trail.  Listen to what people are talking about.  You will find stories. Contact the local Y and ask about inspiring athletes on and/or coaches for their different teams.  Check out the intramural leagues in the area.  You will find amazing slice of life stories with cool characters doing a sport.  Before you know it, you will have compelling packages to air on those hum drum Mondays and Tuesdays.  Your sportscast might just be a package those days.  And they might get a bump in numbers when viewers catch on.

Then carry the character building into your coverage leading up to the “big games.” It’s like watching the incredible pieces about athletes before Olympic events.  These stories about particular athletes or coaches or fans, make viewers care more about the event itself and what you will have to say about it.  Finding the characters will take you into the sports you cover, not just make you a seemingly detached sideliner.  This will help you make connections with coaches as well.  Maybe more exclusives will come your way.

Finally make your sportscasts real.  When you sit on the set, talk to the viewer.  Don’t just throw a million one liners and stats and quick highlights at people.  And please, don’t yell at the viewers for two straight minutes!  Making the sportscast real means using the statistics to add color to the story, instead of making the stats the story.  Think Dan Patrick.  He always makes sports issues really conversational and boils controversies down in ways even a casual fan can easily follow.  You can do this visually by taking the viewer into the event with nat sound and characters and memorable moments.  That will help the viewer connect with your content and you.  This should help make your sportscast raise the roof each night.


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