The last few months without sports have not been easy for everyone.
Sports broadcasters and play-by-play announcers need sports to do their jobs. They are among the many who’ve had to adapt to the changes brought by COVID-19.
Kevin Kugler, who calls game for the Big Ten Network, Fox Sports and Westwood One, has not announced a live sports event in months.
“There’s not a whole lot to do, and there’s not play by play to do for a play by play announcer, so you work on trying to get better,” Kugler said. “I’ve watched a lot of my old games, I’ve had meetings with producers and other folks who are in the same industry or the play-by-play people across the country, and we’ve watched games together and given each other feedback or critiques.”
For Kent Pavelka, the voice of the Huskers men’s basketball team, the summer has not been so unusual.
“This summer hasn’t been any different for me than any other summer,” Pavelka said. “It’s just looking forward to what may or may not happen this season, that occupies my mind.”
Greg Sharpe, the voice of the Huskers football and baseball teams, has been occupied all summer with his evening talk show “Sports Nightly,” even without live sports.
“Our talk show was still going on, so every day preparing for the talk show we’ve had to be creative there because there’s not a lot of sports to talk about,” Sharpe said. “You’re speculating so much about what the fall may look like, and sometimes being more creative takes a little more thought processes to keep going and putting the three-hour show together every day.”
It is hard to predict the future, but what could it look like for broadcasters and play-by-play announcers in the booth?
“It’s a question that all of us in the industry asking right now, where will we be for games?” Kugler said. “I firmly believe that if fans are in stadiums, we will be there as well.”
TV booths in stadiums are huge and there will be plenty of room for announcers to be six feet away from their partners or other crew members.
“You’ll try to find places to remove a person here or there, but unfortunately, there may not be as many interns or as much help,” Kugler said.
Without access to the stadium booth, announcers would call games in a studio, watching the action on a TV monitor.
“For the radio side, the conversations have come, will we be broadcasting NFL games on-site? Or will those have to be in a studio? And no decision has been made,” Kugler said. “Obviously the best option is for us to be in the stadium, it’s better for us as play-by-play announcers and better for the broadcast.”
Pavelka says with reduced stadium capacity the radio and television broadcasts will be more important than ever.
“There may not be any fans in the stands to watch, so people will kinda depend on radio and television,” Pavelka said.
A smaller crowd also means different energy for the broadcasters in the booth or on the field.
“I think one of the biggest things is going to be if we play how many people will be there at the game, and having a game of 10 or 20 thousand people in the stands will be different,” Sharpe said. “It’s going to be really odd and strange, and I think it’ll add different energy or a lack maybe of energy to the broadcast, and I think that could be the biggest adjustments we’ll have to make.”
Usually, home announcers travel with their teams to away games, but that could look different this fall and winter.
“There are way more questions than there are answers,” Pavelka said. “We travel with the team, we stay at the same hotels, we take the same buses, we eat with them, so are they gonna continue to consider us part of the group and are we going to be able to travel with them? Are we going to have to take commercial flights?”
No plans have been set and according to Kugler plans for broadcasters are some of the things that can be determined last.
“You don’t have to make a decision in July where I’m going to be come September, so I think those are decisions that’ll come down the road once we figure out where are we playing,” Kugler said. “They figure out what games are on television, then what television entities have them.”