Ever notice our best broadcasters never played the game – and vice-versa?

Charlie Lawry Roar Guru

By Charlie Lawry, Charlie Lawry is a Roar Guru


95 Have your say

    Do sport broadcasters actually care about our viewing experience? Or are they content just to set up cushy gigs for the boys?

    It can be hard to gauge the popularity of pundits. First and foremost, as an audience, we’re fans of sport – we’ll watch the product regardless of who’s talking over it. Thus, viewing figures are not a reliable metric.

    On face value, it makes sense to funnel some of the game’s icons into the commentary box, as they’ve got sufficient cultural capital and fan recognition in the bank. But to hire solely on the basis of on-field CVs is absurd.

    Late comedian Mitch Hedberg had an apt routine:

    “When you’re in Hollywood and you’re a comedian, everybody wants you to do other things. Alright, you’re a stand-up comedian, can you write us a script? That’s not fair. That’s like if I worked hard to become a cook, and I’m a really good cook, they’d say, ‘OK, you’re a cook. Can you farm?'”

    And so it goes with sport punditry. Show me a highlights package of Andrew Johns or Wally Lewis any day, but I can do without their musings on most things. Darren Lockyer, meanwhile, sounds like he’s gargling gravel.

    The responsibility of broadcasters is to make it worth staying home to watch the games we love. Yes, sport should be entertaining, but note that’s not synonymous with stupidity. If your biggest contribution is to the blooper reel, you’ve got a problem.

    Across the board, insight has given way to backslapping and guffawing. The NRL is by no means the only offender. Nine’s bloated cricket collective is much maligned, serving up the same reheated banter each summer. Shane Warne is a longstanding farce, Ian Healy, Michael Slater and Mark Taylor manage to flounder despite their experience, and Michael Clarke still finds charisma elusive.

    Elsewhere, Fox’s rugby team is blinkered by bias and hyperbole. Greg Martin’s criteria for Wallabies selection appears to be whomever he last saw break a tackle or win a turnover. Phil Kearns is stale.

    The point is that you don’t become a sage by virtue of having played the game at the top level. In many cases, the opposite is true. What good is knowing how it feels to take the first hit-up in Origin if you lack the ability to articulate it?

    There are so few Richie Benauds in the world ‒ those who can master the game and the microphone with such poise and longevity. I’m not saying you have to be Stephen Fry to warrant a commentary gig, but moving away from the lowest common denominator can’t hurt. We need light and shade in a broadcast ‒ a balance of the emotional and the cerebral. Not three blokes in a pub.

    If the USP of the ex-pro is to know the game inside out, then are they really delivering on that promise? More often they can be found using their status to act extra matey in post-game interviews.

    Maybe years of vanilla press conferences and simple mantras is enough to drain the character from most players. Maybe it’s the simple fact that they’re not professional broadcasters or journalists ‒ those who can frame a question, contextualise analysis and, crucially, call bullshit.

    Which begs the question: how many capable, trained professionals are being shoved down the queue while yesterday’s punch-drunk heroes provide Batman sound effects (‘Phwoarrrr’ etc.) on our screens?

    At worst, sport broadcasting is trending wilfully towards anti-intellectualism. At best, banality. So, who are the best broadcasters out there at the moment? We’re talking temperament, insight, humour, passion, clarity and listenability.

    Personally, I favour Ricky Ponting for the cricket, Simon Hill for football, and Peter Sterling for the league. I don’t watch enough AFL, but no one comes close to the recently retired Dennis Cometti. Meanwhile, the strongest presenters are Yvonne Sampson, Mel McLaughlin and Lucy Zelic by some distance.

    For too long, sporting coverage has been crippled by poor recruitment. Nepotism and gender imbalances remain entrenched. For the sake of the fans, commentary boxes must become more hospitable to those equipped to add value, not just cachet.

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    The Crowd Says (95)

    • Roar Guru

      April 19th 2017 @ 8:40am
      Magnus M. Østergaard said | April 19th 2017 @ 8:40am | ! Report

      Andrew Johns is fine when he’s analysing the game. As a live commentator tho? Rubbish. Mind you there are plenty of fine former rugby league players as commentators.

      • Columnist

        April 19th 2017 @ 8:48am
        Brett McKay said | April 19th 2017 @ 8:48am | ! Report

        Likewise, Shane Warne in field setting or bowling plan analysis mode is outstanding. When he ventures toward his favourite night out on the 2001 Ashes Tour, not so much…

        • April 19th 2017 @ 9:10am
          spruce moose said | April 19th 2017 @ 9:10am | ! Report

          I honestly can’t recall when Shane Warne last talked analysis or tactics.

          He surely doesn’t have the time in between sharing anecdotes of his nights with the boys, or his endless rants on people he doesn’t rate.

        • Roar Guru

          April 19th 2017 @ 10:46am
          Charlie Lawry said | April 19th 2017 @ 10:46am | ! Report

          True, Brett. I find Warne strays off topic more and more these days. Even his tactical analysis is increasingly impatient. He can’t stand it when things aren’t happening, which is admirable I guess. But for me, I feel like he’s lost a lot of his early promise.

          • Roar Guru

            April 19th 2017 @ 11:19am
            JGK said | April 19th 2017 @ 11:19am | ! Report

            Warne is better when commentating outside of Australia and isn’t surrounded by his mates from his playing days.

            • April 19th 2017 @ 11:33am
              spruce moose said | April 19th 2017 @ 11:33am | ! Report

              he was deplorable in India, JGK.

              He had more than enough mates by his side. Clarke, Hados, Lee…

              • Roar Guru

                April 19th 2017 @ 12:20pm
                JGK said | April 19th 2017 @ 12:20pm | ! Report

                Sorry – I should have said “when not commentating on Australian games”.

            • Columnist

              April 19th 2017 @ 1:03pm
              Mary Konstantopoulos said | April 19th 2017 @ 1:03pm | ! Report

              JGK, very random question here – what is your connection to the LBW Trust?

              • Roar Guru

                April 19th 2017 @ 7:17pm
                JGK said | April 19th 2017 @ 7:17pm | ! Report

                No connection as such – just a big fan of their work.

              • Columnist

                April 19th 2017 @ 9:14pm
                Mary Konstantopoulos said | April 19th 2017 @ 9:14pm | ! Report

                Wicked! I sit on the board. Thanks for your support.

              • Roar Guru

                April 19th 2017 @ 9:55pm
                JGK said | April 19th 2017 @ 9:55pm | ! Report

                Nice. Been a fan of there’s since Kersi and Vinay Verma (both Roar Experts) introduced me to it.

                I see you work at Clutz as well.

      • Roar Guru

        April 19th 2017 @ 10:22am
        Epiquin said | April 19th 2017 @ 10:22am | ! Report

        Johns’s analysis of on-field tactics is actually outstanding, but he shouldn’t be commentating and, even moreso, he shouldn’t be asked to comment on off-field scandals. He will almost always take the side of the player who most recently did something incredibly stupid and is completely out of touch with community standards.

        • April 20th 2017 @ 4:05pm
          Knight Vision said | April 20th 2017 @ 4:05pm | ! Report

          Community standards ? Come on fella, these days a young bloke on the piss with a poodle is a major scandal and not up to community standards. The Australia of today has become a piss poor shadow of its former self. No sense of humor and holier than thou attitude makes me wanna puke.

          • April 22nd 2017 @ 2:26pm
            Sharkattack said | April 22nd 2017 @ 2:26pm | ! Report

            Knight vision, I like your post. I don’t go to footy matches any more because I am afraid I will get lumbered next to Daddy and his little girl who was probably a good footy bloke before becoming a daddy; suddenly, it’s “don’t say naughty words in front of my daughter” These days, going to footy is as much fun as staying in a library all day where we can’t swear. Footy used to be a release for me, but now I like it better at home where I don’t cop these sanctimonious hypocrites. Look for the great George Carlin on YouTube, he has something to say about these types.

      • April 19th 2017 @ 8:50pm
        Bludger said | April 19th 2017 @ 8:50pm | ! Report

        Maybe Johns would be better at rugby union, soccer or AFL commentary seeing he never played those sports and it fits this mad theory.

        Not sure I agree.

        Richie Benaud, Bill Lawry, Peter Alliss, Nick Faldo, James Hunt, John Newman, John Madden to name a few were all top level at their sports and they were superb commentators.

        • Roar Guru

          April 20th 2017 @ 7:28am
          Magnus M. Østergaard said | April 20th 2017 @ 7:28am | ! Report

          Not exactly sure what you disagreeing with? Johns just isn’t very good at live calls. Put him in prematch analysis and he is very good.

          There are plenty of players who are good at live calls.

    • April 19th 2017 @ 8:41am
      no one in particular said | April 19th 2017 @ 8:41am | ! Report

      Doc Emrick is the best broadcaster in world sports. Not my sport, but he is brilliant

      Locally there isn’t much to choose from. I like Warren Smith, the others are either bland (Matt Russell) or think they need to be Darrell Eastlake. Of the former players Sterling is the best by far, Alexander is good and Anasta has potential. Johns is good when he is serious.

      In other sports Hill is good, and Andy Harper is a good analyst. Craig Foster is horrid and probably the worst analyst in Australian sports. McAvaney is so over rated. The AFL is the only sport in the world were the commenters compliment each other on their call during the games. Jason Dunstall isn’t a bad in-game analyst, not afraid to be critical. Cricket has been bad for 30 years ( except Richie) and it doesn’t look like changing

      • April 19th 2017 @ 12:33pm
        Albo said | April 19th 2017 @ 12:33pm | ! Report

        I would pretty much agree with all you have said here ! But I guess it mostly depends on what you want from your sporting coverage / entertainment. For those that take their sport seriously, they don’t have much time for frivolities and banal banter throughout the match coverage. They like an accurate call ( Warren Smith) and some expert analysis ( Sterlo & Alexander) rather than the histrionics of a Warren or Eastlake type call and the giggling innuendo littered comments of a Fittler & Johns. But then there are others who might prefer the less serious coverage of the game and prefer their entertainment as “light “. Some commentators are too wrapped in themselves ( Foster) or in their confected brilliance for words & stats ( McAvaney) to offer much to the serious sports viewer, but they might leave others in awe of their perceived knowledge. Each to their own !

    • April 19th 2017 @ 8:55am
      AGO74 said | April 19th 2017 @ 8:55am | ! Report

      Ex NRL player commentators on fox shame their equivalents on 9 when it comes to overall quality of performance.

      • April 19th 2017 @ 9:55am
        andrew said | April 19th 2017 @ 9:55am | ! Report

        Part of the reason for that is they don’t have the job security which Nine seems to offer its callers. So these guys, the better ones, prepare.
        It has been noticeable, behind the scenes, certain ex players who were on Nine and have now moved over to Fox, are finding out quickly that the good colour commentators turn up with a couple of hours early with note pads full of scribble, and media kit notes with highlighters through them; not 30 minutes before they have to go to air so they have enough time to get make up done and joke about how drunk they were last night.

    • April 19th 2017 @ 9:11am
      spruce moose said | April 19th 2017 @ 9:11am | ! Report

      The best, rest in peace, was Sid Waddell with the darts.

      Sharp and incredibly witty.

      Who knew that reading history at Oxford would translate to becoming a huge success in darts.

      • Roar Guru

        April 19th 2017 @ 11:21am
        JGK said | April 19th 2017 @ 11:21am | ! Report

        My favourite Sid Waddell quote:

        “When Alexander of Macedonia was 33, he cried salt tears because there were no more worlds to conquer … [Eric] Bristow’s only 27.”

        • April 19th 2017 @ 11:34am
          spruce moose said | April 19th 2017 @ 11:34am | ! Report

          Mine –

          “It’s the nearest thing to public execution this side of Saudi Arabia.”

    • April 19th 2017 @ 9:12am
      kk said | April 19th 2017 @ 9:12am | ! Report

      Very good read Charlie. Your concluding paragraph is a knockout.

      League dominates my TV diary. Slowly but surely Kevvie Walters is the one male who improves
      with every visit to the studio.

      Queenslander’s Only, Sterlo’s 1on 1’s, Sunday Ticket, League Life and 360 in that order for mine.

      When it comes to calling a game of League no one does it better than ABC Grandstand. If only
      I could synchronise their call. TV wise, the Kiwi callers are far more entertaining than the Aussies.

      • Roar Guru

        April 19th 2017 @ 11:22am
        JGK said | April 19th 2017 @ 11:22am | ! Report

        You can live pause the TV to synch up to the radio.

        • April 19th 2017 @ 12:39pm
          kk said | April 19th 2017 @ 12:39pm | ! Report

          Many thanks JGK. IOU a BIG ONE.

        • April 19th 2017 @ 7:51pm
          Griffo said | April 19th 2017 @ 7:51pm | ! Report

          When live pause is not far behind live coverage i fond younget stuttering and cuts back to live

    • Roar Guru

      April 19th 2017 @ 9:18am
      Edward Kelly said | April 19th 2017 @ 9:18am | ! Report

      Many good points here Charlie. The problem is that there are simply too many sportspeople who are seeing the media as an extension of their career, whether they have any talent or not. The overall effect, as you mention, is a dumbing down of the commentary. Blocker Roach is a prime example, but to the owners of the channels and radio stations, Blocker is hitting a target audience and has appeal to that audience. I’d rather have the professional commentary you get with the Premier League where the commentator just calls the game. The agendas and shouting can go into some other program at another time.