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October 3, 2009 8:20 AM   Subscribe

I like watching sports but don't particularly like listening to the commentators. Surely I am not alone in this. So why don't they broadcast commentator-free audio on the SAP channel?

Yes you can mute the audio, but I'd like to hear the sounds of the game.

I can understand that for some sports commentary can be useful to fill in all the time when nothing is happening (football, baseball) or where it is impossible to show all the action on the screen (hockey) but for sports like basketball, soccer and tennis having commentary actively detracts from the experience (think Tommy Smythe). To me anyway.

I don't see how this would cost very much, if anything, to implement but I know nothing about broadcasting. Are there large costs involved with this? Am I the only one who would like the option to disable commentary? And if it doesn't cost much to implement how could I go about convincing sports broadcasters to give us this option?
posted by any portmanteau in a storm to Media & Arts (18 answers total)
I'd love it, but there are so many sponsors that are mentioned you'd probably have to pay extra for it.
posted by starman at 8:26 AM on October 3, 2009

They tried this in the NFL on reg'lar TV. I think it was nixed because too many people complained that they didn't know what was going on, where to look etc.
posted by Max Power at 8:33 AM on October 3, 2009

Don't know about the technical aspects of making this available, but NBC did experiment with an announcerless game--just crowd noise and graphics to give down-and-distance, stats, etc.--way back in 1980. Jets vs. Dolphins. It was a little bit eery, to tell you the truth--you don't realize how much you are accustomed to the constant blather until its gone. The other thing is that without the audio clues, you miss what's going when you glance away or run to the fridge.

My solution, for soccer at least, is to switch to the Spanish language channel if Marcelo Balboa or some other numbskull announcer is driving me crazy. Though I still don't understand the commentary (after 30 years!) I can follow the ebb and flow of the match just by the intonations of the announcers, and they're always better at conveying the passion.
posted by stargell at 8:35 AM on October 3, 2009

Tommy Smyth is horrible but he's no longer doing Champions League, since ESPN lost the rights to Fox. Thankfully, Fox uses the on-site announcers who know how to let the match "breathe".

There's really nothing you can do- save turning on the mute.

If I don't like the announcing, I turn to something else. And commentary and broadcasting style is one of the reasons why I stopped watching the NFL and started watching soccer in Europe. The announcers know when to shut up and no one reads promos or ads during the match.
posted by Zambrano at 8:41 AM on October 3, 2009

I suspect you would find a genuinely commentary-less game to be somewhat confusing. For evidence, try to find a copy of Football as Never Before, a film from the early 70s. It follows one player (George Best) for the entire game, the cameras never move from him. There is no commentary, no sounds other than crowd noises picked up by the microphones. It is not at all easy to watch.

Seeing as you specifically mentioned soccer: I suspect the problem is with the commentators on American channels, not commentary per se. They are (especially Smythe) appalling. They don't describe the play, except to throw superlatives following a goal. They just witter on about whatever takes their fancy, ignoring the play itself. Whereas a good football commentator would at least give some idea about the tactics that a team is using, how they are changing over the game, and where players are positioning themselves (not always obvious on TV, as the camera follows the ball).

One option that has worked for me is to watch the TV with the sound down, and listen to the radio coverage of the match. This works for cricket in New Zealand, and for soccer in the UK. I suspect that there isn't any US radio coverage of soccer games, but possibly it would work for baseball or football?
posted by Infinite Jest at 8:48 AM on October 3, 2009

I agree with you. I don't have an answer for you but there was a strike at the CBC (or maybe just Radio-Canada) in spring 2002 and management aired the Montreal Canadiens playoff games without commentators. And it was awesome. True you missed out if you looked away but it was riveting stuff. The crowd told you what was going on with gasps, cheers, boos. Kyle McLaren gave Richard Zednik the forearm shimmy in one of the games and knocked him cold. The crowd gasped, then a continual murmur while he was on the ice and applause when he was taken off. Maybe it was partly because it was Montreal Canadiens crowd (knowledgable and vocal fans with long-time rival in the arena), but the game was quite adequately commentated by the fans.
posted by philfromhavelock at 9:07 AM on October 3, 2009

Response by poster: I don't think the George Best example works. In that case the cameras were focused on one person, removing him from the context of the game around him. You can easily follow and enjoy a game with either the sound off or with foreign commentary and adding the ambient noises would only enhance that experience.

As far as soccer commentary is concerned, it is bad throughout the English speaking world (I know this thanks to having watched numerous internet feeds of foreign matches) and if the excessive time spent talking is any indication, is bad throughout the non-English speaking word as well. Perhaps in comparison to North American standards they let the game "breathe" more in Europe but they're still keeping the oxygen flow pretty thin.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 9:52 AM on October 3, 2009

At least for cycling, broadcasts without commentary. It's pretty awesome, but does get a bit confusing at times. Of course, in cycling, there are ~200 riders from ~20 teams out there at a given time, so other sports may be better in that regard. I don't know if they broadcast other sports without commentary, but there is a soccer section on the site.
posted by The Michael The at 10:27 AM on October 3, 2009

I'd think if they do use SAP, it'd be for Spanish anyway, at least in some, if not most, markets. I have no idea if it's possible to have multiple SAPs.

As an Angels fan who has to listen to one of the worst play-by-play/color combination in sports (Physioc and Hudler), I've long wished that there were an announcer-free audio track available.

On rare occasions, Fox Sports West in Southern California, which has two channels, has shown NHL and MLB games (not sure about NBA) in regular broadcast format on one station, and shown an announcer-free game on the other... exactly the way you ask about. During some commercial breaks, a reporter would walk around the stadium and give sort of a behind-the-scenes tour. I'd love to see it more often, but I wouldn't be surprised if they felt it wasn't financially practical to show two versions of the same game.

Some people here have touched on the notion that it's too awkward listening to a game without an announcer, but I got used to it pretty quickly. Basically it's like being at the game, only without sitting next to an obnoxious drunk guy.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 10:54 AM on October 3, 2009

"There's the call to the bullpen. And this pitching change is brought to you by (insert sponsor name here)."

"Next week don't forget to come down to the stadium to see your team take on the Blasters. It's Joe's Casino Night and the first 3000 fans get a free keychain. "

And so on. The commentary is valuable broadcast real estate for the teams, networks, and advertisers. It's not the only reason, but it is a big reason you're not going to get a commentary-free option.
posted by azpenguin at 11:28 AM on October 3, 2009

Find non-US channels showing the sports. The BBC is usually pretty solid and terrible commentary seems to be uniquely American.
posted by turkeyphant at 11:35 AM on October 3, 2009

. . . and terrible commentary seems to be uniquely American.
posted by turkeyphant at 11:35 AM on October 3 [+] [!]

This is patently not true.
posted by proj at 12:22 PM on October 3, 2009

I said it seems to be so from my experience. I readily admit that I have not seen sports broadcasts in many countries but the only commentary I have encountered that is so bad I'd consider muting is in the US. I'd be interested to hear what else you object to.
posted by turkeyphant at 12:46 PM on October 3, 2009

The mention of Universal Sports reminds me that the live feeds from Beijing on were often (always?) without commentary. This included not just the basketball tournaments, where it was easy to follow the action, but IIRC stuff like kayaking, equestrian, and judo—where an uninitiated viewer actually needs a knowledgeable announcer to explain what the heck is going on.
posted by stargell at 1:06 PM on October 3, 2009

Perhaps you could try what my family and I used to do everytime Madden was working a Bears game: Find a radio broadcast that isn't outright awful. Most radio broadcasts, at least when we were doing this ten or twelve years ago, were much more insightful and informative since their job was narrating the game, not grandstanding. Muting the TV while turning on the AM sports radio carrying the game might help.

(It's definitely better, say, listening to a former Bulls player talking about the game on the radio than listening to Reggie Miller doing... that thing he does where he's annoying... oh, yeah, existing)
posted by Ghidorah at 4:36 PM on October 3, 2009

And so on. The commentary is valuable broadcast real estate for the teams, networks, and advertisers. It's not the only reason, but it is a big reason you're not going to get a commentary-free option.

This crossed my mind, but I figured they usually put a graphic up anyway to accompany the announcer's plug, but yeah, I guess it makes sense. Or it makes enough sense to the sponsors at least.

As far as listening to radio while watching a game on TV, I've found that there's often a delay on the TV side (probably in case they need to edit out language or something on the fly), so it can be a bit frustrating when the radio announcer says the hitter struck out a second before you actually see it.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 10:05 PM on October 3, 2009

I often watch sports on mute. I once had a stereo with a "karaoke" function hooked up to my tv. It did a surprisingly okay job of dousing the commentary but keeping the crowd sounds loud.
posted by oddovid at 5:22 AM on October 4, 2009

Unfortunately, baseball -- with which you don't have a problem -- is probably the only game this works for since I don't think others get much radio coverage, but I used to watch baseball games on TV while listening to the call on the radio. Radio baseball call is much more descriptive of what's happening and much less blather, blather, since the assumption is you can't see what's happening. Mind you, I did this not for the improved commentary but because the volume on my television was broken and baseball with the radio commentary became the only thing I could actually watch as a result.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:21 AM on October 4, 2009

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