Football Play-by-Play: Tips When You Can’t See Jersey Numbers

Years ago, I broadcast a high school football game in the worst conditions imaginable for a broadcaster.

Dense, impossible to see through fog.

At kickoff, the fog was hanging threateningly low over the field. By the second half, I couldn’t see fans sitting five rows in front of the press box, much less the field or even the sidelines.

I was reminded of this experience after receiving the following question:

“How do you handle a team with brutal uniform numbers, or uniforms without numbers and names that can be seen or read – especially with poor sight lines or tough light like at a football game?”

Here are three tips when you can’t see jersey numbers:

1. Study personnel packages

Knowing which players are likely to be on the field in certain situations helps player identification. The skill position players on offense are often different on first and ten than on third and seven.

2. Watch body types instead of numbers

YouTube makes it easier to study players so you recognize them by sight. Even if you can’t see the number on the tall, lanky receiver split to the far side, you still know who it is.

3. Listen to the PA announcer

You should do this anyway. I’ve always advocated one-ear headphones where you keep one side of your headset behind your ear so you can hear ambient sound like the public address announcer. He will often identify players before you do.

If all that fails and you still don’t know who the players are… guess!

How do you handle hard-to-see jersey numbers? Please leave your suggestions in the comments section below.

Give it a try

Joining STAA gives you access to a pool of resources to help you polish your play-by-play so you’ll be ready to move up next season.

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4 Comments

  1. Sebastian Moraga

    shoes help sometimes. I broadcast soccer and the days where all the players wore the same color cleats are long gone. That helps a little.

  2. Joel Hillsman

    In basketball especially since I may not be on the floor and I know before the game that one team is going tough to see for numbers I take my scorebook/spot chart and note something beside them that makes them standout (hair, arm sleeve, headband, shoes, wristbands, leg sleeve/knee brace). For Football if I can’t see it just say the position (especially on defense) and then try and follow him until I can see it for future reference or if I know one players name/number and not the other just stick with the player name I know and smoothly just transition until I get the name/number of the unknown player. Sometimes during a timeout in football especially in HS you can ask the coaches in the box and they’ll tell you.

    • Jon Chelesnik

      Along a similar line, I used to draw basketball rosters as stick figures. Players’ heights would be proportionate to each other and I would include distinguishing characteristics like long hair or tall socks. When I arrived at the gym, I felt like I had already “seen” the opposing team. (This was all before you could find anyone’s picture on the Internet).

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