Two Tips For Great TV Football Play-by-Play

Ray Scott and Pat Summerall are among the greatest TV football broadcasters of all-time.

They were masters at talking less.

That’s the first of three keys to great football play-by-play, and for broadcasting any sport on TV:

1. Don’t tell me what I can see

In radio, you paint the entire picture. In television, you simply caption the pictures.

When Summerall was working the Masters one year, his producer told him, “People can see if the ball went in the whole. If you ever say ‘he made the putt,’ or something that people can see for themselves, I’ll fire you.'”

Summerall followed that advice the rest of his career.

Again, provide captions for the pictures. Ex:

  • “Montana to throw. Fires downfield for Jerry Rice. Touchdown San Francisco.”
  • “Hornung and Taylor set behind Starr. Taylor six yards to the Giants 27. Tackled by Sam Huff. Brings up second and four. Packers leading 7-0.
  • “Starr. Dowler. Touchdown Green Bay.”

Word economy is wonderful for TV play-by-play. Make it your goal.

2. Showcase the analyst

On a TV broadcast, the first star is the picture; the second star is the analyst. The play-by-play guy takes the third seat. John Madden said a lot of play-by-play guys think they have to lead the analyst. However, they end up just leading them into a corner. What Madden said Summerall did so well was call the play, stop at the end of the play, give all the information, then let Madden go. If Madden didn’t speak, or if Summerall wanted to add his own comments following Madden’s, he could.

Today, everyone does the opposite.

3. Be the reporter of the story, not the creator

Don’t be bombastic on the air if that’s not how you are off air. Some play-by-play guys are unnaturally enthusiastic when that’s not really them. Being anything other than yourself — elevating yourself to more than the third star on your TV broadcast — will hurt you in the long run.

Remember: talk less, showcase your analyst, and don’t be the creator of the story.

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