The View: Play-by-Play

By Beckett Sanderson

Sports broadcasting is the dream job of many young adults around the globe. It makes sense; who wouldn’t want to be paid to watch sports during the day, talk about it for a few hours, then go home to relax? But the reality of the industry is a little different than how it’s perceived.

The truth of the matter is sports broadcasting is like an iceberg – 90% of the iceberg is unseen underwater, similar to how the majority of the work broadcasters put into their craft often goes unnoticed. Sports media has garnered a reputation as a field that is easier than other forms of media, but the backbone of the industry rests in hours upon hours of work behind the scenes followed by the few moments of the dream job people imagine.

Bill Spaulding, a play-by-play commentator for Northeastern’s sports, USA Track & Field, and the NBC Olympics, emphasizes how false that reputation is. 

“As a commentator, most of your work actually comes before the game in terms of how much you prepare for it,” Spaulding explained. “The game’s the easy part.”

Preparation is the key to success and being able to enjoy “the easy part” however. “If you show up to a game unprepared, you will be exposed very, very quickly,” Spaulding said. “You probably put in at least 10 to 15 hours of prep work for the two-hour broadcast.”

Fourth-year Mike Puzzanghera, a lead play-by-play commentator with WRBB – Northeastern’s student-run sports radio station – and sports news correspondent with the Boston Globe, echoes this sentiment.

“I feel like sometimes people think that their favorite broadcaster just goes to the arena, or goes to the field, and talks, and it’s just a perfect broadcast,” he said. “But behind the scenes they’re preparing really hard trying to find any possible storyline to talk about.”

This behind-the-scenes work is reflected in the prep sheets Puzzanghera takes into every Northeastern hockey game he commentates. This 11 by 17-inch sheet of paper is like a geometry cheat sheet. It’s meticulously crafted and contains as much information as it can possibly fit, covering player stats such as height, weight, game statistics, and hometown, as well as team stats such as power play info, league standings, and upcoming schedule.

The sheet even contains fun quips no one would think could impact a sports broadcast. For instance, there are lines describing how freshman forward Matt Choupani “cut his hair, but used to have some nice lettuce” and denoting junior forward Riley Hughes as “speedy.” 

While the hardcore preparation can a lot of times feel fun, it’s not a quick process. Puzzanghera creates prep sheets and memorizes all the information on them for both teams before every game he broadcasts – a task that often takes him 6-8 hours a week.

However the application of this work for Puzzanghera and many other broadcasters is changing daily. Those looking to follow in their footsteps may find the industry in a far different place now than where it was several years ago.

Streaming and individual productions are increasing in popularity and that combined with a shift out of traditional broadcasting roles has new age broadcasters embracing sports media using their own ingenuity and technical prowess. Dr. Jon Lewis, a sports media professor at Northeastern and the sole writer for Sports Media Watch, a website tracking all current sports media news, has paid particular attention to how the industry appears to be evolving.

“I think what’s really happened is that doing your own thing is now more of a priority for everybody in the industry. I mean, ESPN isn’t the dream anymore, SportsCenter isn’t the dream anymore,” Lewis said. “There’s a certain level of being able to kind of create your own content, control your own content, and the tools are available now that weren’t available [many years ago].”

With the sports broadcasting industry embracing new methods of controlling and producing content, it has never been more important to be willing and able to adapt. Luckily, this is a shift Northeastern is prepared to take in stride. With streaming service contracts with NESN and FloSports as well as student focused groups like WRBB, all the pieces are in place to absorb this change.

“Northeastern has been one of the standard bearers among the early adaptors to the streaming world, producing a lot of broadcasting that other schools are just trying to catch up with,” Spaulding said. “Northeastern, punches above its weight class when it comes to productions for sure.”