Les: Do TV Announcers Matter?

They're one of the most-discussed elements of a football game: the announcers. A play-by-play man for over thirty years, Les Levine looks at the relative importance of TV announcers to the experience of watching a football game, and his conclusions might surprise you...

I see where Cris Collinsworth is going to be the latest announcer to bolt for the greener pastures of NBC, once they are part of the NFL TV package in 2006.  He probably will be teamed with Bob Costas as a studio co-host.  Earlier it was announced that John Madden will be leaving ABC to go to NBC, while Al Michaels will soon decide what to do once the Monday Night package goes to ESPN.

ABC paid big money to Michaels to have him do NBA play-by-play this past season, but the ratings never showed any really response to that.  I don't know why ABC should be surprised by that.  At the risk of putting down the fact that I have done play-by-play for over 35 years, only one announcer in history has made a difference in the ratings---and that was Howard Cosell.  Obviously some announcers are better than others, and Michaels is probably the best ever, but a trained monkey could do Monday night games and the ratings wouldn't change.  It's the game match-ups and importance of the games (and sometimes the star players) that matter.

It might be a little different with each individual team's broadcasts.  Generally the Browns, since returning in 1999, rarely rated getting higher than the fourth or fifth play-by-play pairings.  No more or no less amounts fans would turn the TV sound down to listen to the local radio broadcast based on which guys were doing the play-by-play.  There is no way that the fourth or fifth teams can have better access to what is going on with a local team than the radio team.  No matter how much they prepare, that preparation is based on game notes supplied by the team, as well as a compilation of newspaper articles, along with staged meetings with the head coaches the day before the game.  It is a common occurrence to hear network announcers mis-pronouncing names and not being aware of things that the average fan knows about---injuries, off-season events, etc.

Besides, it is rare that fans are happy with the regional presentations of games.  Fans are convinced that there is a bias against their teams, based on what they perceive they are hearing on the broadcasts, when, in reality, the announcers, crew and networks are only interested in having a well-played, exciting game that goes down to the wire.  I'm not sure that the average fan could name half the guys who have called the Browns games on TV for Fox or CBS since the team returned.

The bottom line is that Michaels and Madden are probably the best guys in history (although I always liked Jack Buck), but they aren't worth the kind of money that they have been paid over the years.  At least not as far as producing ratings is concerned, because the game is the story---not the guys telling you about the game.

There has been a lull in activity for several weeks, but that will change soon.  People continually ask how the Browns are going to fare in 2005, and that is a question that can't be answered until the third or fourth exhibition game.  But I find it hard to believe that the Las Vegas oddsmakers have the over/under at 4 wins.  It's tough to only win four games the way the NFL is set up these days.  It is set up so that everyone is a .500 team, and then injuries or hot streaks take over.  Right now, I just think that this will be the most interesting and fun Browns team to watch and cover since the late ‘80's.  I can't put the amount of wins on that just yet, but I'm really looking forward to this season.

"More Sports & Les Levine" can be seen M-F from 6-7pm and replayed at 11pm on Adelphia Channel 15 in northeast Ohio.  E-mail msandll@aol.com or www.leslevine.com

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