Sadly, those in charge of directing sports broadcasts seem to be more interested in the arts than sports. (Perhaps sports’ fans only recourse is to send our athletes in to direct their operas.)


I: EMPTY NET WORK (you are here)

As the hockey playoff season toys with addicted viewers such as myself, I am reminded of a tragic flaw possessed by certain hockey broadcast directors. Often, the best moments of a game are brought to us by its final minute—in particular when one team has a precarious one-goal lead over the other. On such an occasion, the team that is behind will trade in their goaltender for an offensive player. My concern, then, is with NHL broadcasters, who—in such a crucial moment—insist on cutting our view away from the frantic play so that we can witness the vacating goalie on his journey to the players’ bench.

Given the frequency of one-goal games that yield this scenario during an NHL season, you would think that somewhere between 99 and 99.9% of NHL fans would understand and believe the play-by-play commentators when they tell us: “The Canucks’ goalie has left his net for an extra attacker.” Nevertheless, the broadcast director—who apparently hates to see a relevant image go to waste—often invades our viewing of the excitement so that we can verify that the announcer isn’t lying to us:

“Yup, I see the goaltender is, as described, skating to the payers’ bench.”

For the skeptical, hearing impaired, or otherwise confused fan, I wonder if 2011 broadcast technology might allow a wee “picture in picture” to show the detail of the goalie leaving his cage? Yeah, I think that might to do it. But, if not, personally I think it’s worth allowing the estimated* .1 to 1% who are confused to ask their fellow viewers for assistance.

*Note: these statistics are based on a double blind guess by this author.

Perhaps broadcast directors have trouble making this obvious decision because they fancy themselves to be artists instead of documentarians. It’s the standard blunder: when the author of any tale gets too caught up in the artistic tricks of his or her craft then they can easily lose perspective on the actual tale they’re depicting.

The same infliction sometimes overcomes sports broadcasters who put together “plays of the week” as they are overcome by an urge to smother the footage with special effects. As a sports fan, I find these various digital treats make it difficult to follow the plays that I’ve come to watch.

The only solution I can think of to this problem is for a boycott. I suggest we all turn off our TVs when broadcasters ruin our view with unnecessary closeups. Yeah, that’ll show ‘em!

For more on this topic, see THE ARTFUL SPORTSCASTER sequel coming to Sethblogs December 2011.


I: EMPTY NET WORK (you were just here)

5 thoughts on “THE ARTFUL SPORTSCASTER I: Empty Net Work”

  1. I’m going to have to disagree on this one.

    Seeing the losing goalie skating as quickly as his heavily-burdened legs can carry him is a fun image, as is the stark reality of an unguarded net.

    TV is different from live, in that some cinematography and phrasing is part of the presentation.

    And were you at an actual game, would you not spare a glance over at the goalie abandoning his post?

  2. I agree with Tarrin. I would be just as (if not more) interested in the story of goalie’s tortured trek to the bench as in the game itself. Amusing observations and commentary though:)

  3. Thank you, Tarrin and Natalie. It sounds like, for you, following the play precisely isn’t necessarily the most interesting on-ice action available. And so, if a goalie is attempting an amusing or epic “sprint” back to his players’ bench, that’s just novel enough to be more enjoyed by you than whether the player carrying the puck is about to unleash a brilliant move around the opposition defence while miraculously staying onside. I don’t take issue with your preference, but I wonder, without betraying blogger-fan confidentiality, if you’re both somewhat occasional hockey fans, and so for you watching a hockey game isn’t necessarily as detail-oriented as an obsessed fan such as myself. I think most permanent fans would say that disrupting the view of the play for a human interest story, such as the goalie exiting his net, or the the coach sharing a joke with his assistant, would be akin to covering a significant portion of a great work of art with a picture of the artist. An interesting detail, maybe, but why not separate the two? Simply by showing a replay of your goalie drama between plays (or within a picture in picture during the play as I suggested in the blog entry), you can still witness the operatic race to the bench without ruining the view of those of us who specifically watch hockey for the hockey.

    (Meanwhile, to answer your question, Tarrin: if I were at a game, I admit that it’s possible that I would glance at the goalie leaving his net, but I would only do so in a split-second on a clearly non-eventful moment in the play. Broadcasters offer no such consideration.)

  4. Funnily enough, as I was sent the link for this article with the description of ‘hockey broadcasting pet peeves’ my immediate thought was “I hate when they cut to the goalie skating off the ice for an extra attacker”.

    I know the technology is there to show the small picture in picture in the bottom right corner, as I recall this during broadcasts in the 80’s (with the loveable Dick Irvin providing his usual insightful commentary)

    There are flaws in the way games are broadcast, but anyone who has watched ‘classic’ games can attest, broadcasting has improved. Fewer closeups of the action is required with the invent of HD and larger screens. More action can be captured with the wide shot.

    That said, improvments are there to be made, TSN has started with Pierre McGuire’s voice disaprearing from their audio feed.

  5. Thanks Kerbjack (any relation to KoJack?). I agree with your agreement with me.

    And you make an interesting point that HD and wider screens have improved broadcasts because these modern conveniences have decreased the need for closeups. You may be right that the anti-audience behaviour happens less often nowadays; nevertheless, in spite of their modern excuse not to zoom in on irrelevant (or distracting) detail in the middle of a play, broadcast directors still go ahead and do it shockingly often. Perhaps it’s a job-preserving behaviour. After all, In reality, during a hockey game, the best thing to do is to keep one wide shot throughout the entire play (and then to utilize the interesting counter angles during between-play replays), but that perhaps feels like not enough directing to justify their salaries.

    Similarly, I continue to be distraught by the “plays of the week” editors who impose their fancy editing and graphic powers on the week’s athletic achievements, thus disallowing their audiences a true view of the supposedly celebrated events. But, if those editors simply let us watch the action unencumbered, such editing each week would be a relatively simple task that might be seem unworthy of significant financial compensation.

    P.S. That was a nice dig you snuck in there at your old rival, Pierre Maguire. In your honour, I’ve taken him to task as well here.

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