The Sports Commentator:
A Brief History & Job Description

(Courtesy of Wikipedia)

In sports broadcasting, a commentator gives a running commentary of a game or event in real time, usually during a live broadcast. The comments are normally a voiceover, with the sounds of the action and spectators also heard in the background. In the case of television commentary, the commentator is on screen rarely if at all. In North American English, other general terms for a commentator are announcer, presenter, or sportscaster. ("Sportscaster" may also refer to a newscaster covering sports news.) In British broadcasting, the presenter of a sports broadcast is usually distinct from the commentator, and often based in a television studio away from the sports venue. Often, the main commentator (called a play-by-play in North America) is assisted by a color commentator, and sometimes a sideline reporter.

Types of sports broadcasters

Play-by-play announcers are the primary speakers, valued for their articulateness and ability to describe the events of an often fast-moving contest. Color commentators are valued for experience and insight into the game, and are often asked questions by the play-by-play announcer to give them a topic for analysis. The latter most often have gained their experience in the sport as a player and/or coach, while the former is more likely to be a professional broadcast journalist than a participant in the sport, although there are numerous exceptions to these general trends.

The most common format for a television broadcast is to have one of each type. An example is NBC Sunday Night Football, which is called by Cris Collinsworth, a former NFL receiver, (formerly by John Madden, a former head coach), and Al Michaels, a professional announcer. In the United Kingdom however there is a much less distinct division between play-by-play and color commentary, although two-man commentary teams usually feature an enthusiast with formal journalistic training but little or no competitive experience leading the commentary, and an expert former (or current) competitor following up with analysis or summary. There are however exceptions to this - all of the United Kingdom's major cricket and snooker commentators are former professionals in their sports, while the legendary Formula One racing commentator Murray Walker had no formal journalistic training and only limited racing experience of his own.

Another difference between the two types is that color commentators will almost always announce only a sport in which they played or coached, while play-by-play announcers - such as Michaels, Mike Patrick and David Coleman - may have careers in which they call several different sports at one time or another. However, Brad Daugherty, a former professional basketball player, currently appears on coverage of NASCAR auto racing on ESPN.

Although the combination of a play-by-play announcer and one or more color commentators is standard today, in the past it was much more common for a play-by-play announcer to work alone. ASA Hall of Famer Vin Scully, longtime announcer for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, is one of few examples of this practice still existing today. Others currently in this capacity include Rich Schvotkin, (psychiatrist and play-by-play/color analyst for Georgetown Hoyas basketball games), and Dave Johnson, radio broadcaster for the Washington Wizards.

While there were sports broadcasts from 1912, the first sports commentary was broadcast in April 1921 by Florent Gibson of the Pittsburgh Star newspaper covering the fight between Johnny Ray and Johnny "Hutch" Dundee at the Motor Square Garden, Pittsburgh.[1]

In the United States, nearly all professional sports teams, most collegiate teams—as well as a dwindling number of high schools have their own Sports commentators, who are usually recognized as the voice of the team on radio broadcasts and are often identified as part of the team like the players or the coaches. In addition, television networks and cable channels will have their own stable of play-by-play announcers that work with various teams.