Sports commentators describe on-the-field action and provide analysis throughout a live sporting event, over a television or radio broadcast. More commonly called sportscasters or announcers; their goal is to enhance the viewing experience with voice over commentary as the game unfolds. Though the early 1900s typically saw one announcer presiding over a game, recent times have made the “two man booth” standard for most sporting events. Each announcing booth has a primary voice, the play-by-play announcer, who must articulately describe what they see without overloading fans with too much information. Secondarily, a color commentator adds in-depth analysis providing perspective to what fans are watching. Both types of announcers must be well-spoken and quick at reacting to whatever may transpire. Former coaches or players make great color analysts because of their past in-game experiences. Play-by-play announcers are typically the broadcast professionals, schooled in journalism and communications and well-versed in the intricate details behind a broadcast.
The traits of successful sports broadcasters vary but the
best of them have several common characteristics. A distinctive, non-monotonous
voice keeps listeners engaged without taking away from the event itself. Not
only must your voice be expressive but your entire audience has to understand
you. Those with a choppy communication style, a heavy accent or an uncorrectable
speech impediment aren’t a great fit for the job. Live events come with their fair
share of unexpected situations and immense pressure to deliver a quality show.
Quick reacting, calm-and-collected broadcasters will earn respect from current
and future employers. Though most sports commentators spend little time on
television, being comfortable in front of a camera and microphone is an obvious
requirement. And versatility across sports will present opportunities to
sportscasters who are otherwise pigeonholed. Notable announcers at the college
and professional level, like Joe Buck, can lead broadcasts across multiple
sports making them more recognizable and, therefore, more desirable to
networks. Beyond the actual play-by-play call, a broadcaster must fill hours of
air time. Production staff can feed massive amounts of statistics and related information
to the broadcast booth. But announcers who don’t put in the effort to know the
rules, inside-and-out, and be informed on current events within the sport are
bound to fail. Like most media positions, sports commentary requires a diverse
skill set and many hours of hard work before, after and during the event.
People who are media savvy, willing to relocate for career growth and have the
ability to engage an audience will make excellent sports announcers.
Talking about sports doesn’t make you a viable candidate for sports announcing. Al Michaels studied radio, television and journalism at Arizona State University and Mike Tirico earned a degree in broadcast journalism studying at Syracuse University. A bachelor’s degree in broadcasting, communications or journalism is the first step in learning how to become a successful commentator. Broadcasting school will teach you the finer points of what goes into a successfully produced event. You’ll learn on-air skills including voice dictation and how to pace a broadcast. Sportscasters own the broadcast presentation, supported by of dozens of production staff, so learning its technical aspects like equipment functionality and the production process is also taught.
Aspiring broadcasters have an advantage over those in most
other fields of study. While someone interested in marketing or accounting
can’t immerse themselves in it until their first professional job, there are
opportunities in college and even high school for sportscasters to hone their
craft. While an education is important, real world experience will make you
stand out amongst the crowd. From the moment you determine this is your career
path, take every opportunity you can to get behind a microphone or television
camera. Work for your college radio station and talk to your school’s athletic
department about becoming a part of the team’s broadcast. Internships are
another chance to better your skills and build your resume. Paid or unpaid, an
internship may not put you behind the microphone but you’ll become more
familiar with the equipment and the broadcast process while developing a great
network of contacts. To get on the air quickly, you’ll need to start in a
smaller market. Alternatively, you can work behind the scenes with a larger
market broadcast while you learn the business and contribute to pre and post
game discussion. Either way, the road to becoming a top flight sports
commentator is long and will require several relocations along the way but a good
education, a strong network and persistence will give you the opportunity to
The Money …
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the median annual wage of radio and television announcers as $26,850 as of 2010. While the lowest 10 percent earned less than $16,590, the top 10 percent earned more than $72,500, with the best earning over a million dollars per year.
Elite sports commentators earn in the seven figures but most bring home a much more modest salary while building name recognition and moving from smaller markets into larger ones. Becoming one of the top 10% salary earners only happens by getting into a larger market. Be willing to relocate often and work across multiple sports to advance your career and your paycheck. Like many sports industry jobs, it isn’t all about the money. Sports commentary is an engaging job for those who love sports and the art of communication. It is one of the few jobs out there that makes going to work exciting, not excruciating.