Five Tools In-Depth: Quality of Information

We continue our in-depth look at Growcasting’s Five Tools of Effective Broadcasting with my favorite industry topic–Quality of Information.

It’s well-understood that because the live action accounts for only a small portion of a three-hour baseball game, a quality broadcaster has to fill the downtime with complementary information.

All types of radio broadcasters strive to avoid sustained periods of “dead air,” and the best baseball announcers are the ones who provide fresh and engaging complementary information every night.

Complementary (or supplemental) information refers to anything you say that is not an actual description of play-by-play.  The quality of this information is determined by two elements: substance and relevance (we’re assuming accuracy, because if you’re not being accurate, substance and relevance are, well, irrelevant).

“Substance” is measured by how compelling your information is to the listener.  “Relevant” means your information relates to the teams or players involved in that particular game.

The following statements all deliver the same message, but they gradually become more substantial:

“The Giants and Dodgers are tied for first place in the National League West.”

“The Giants and Dodgers are tied for first place in the National League West, a battle they have fought since divisional play started in 1969.”

“The Giants and Dodgers are tied for first place in the National League West, a battle they have fought since divisional play started in 1969.  Of course, their rivalry dates all the way back to when the teams still played in New York.”

“The Giants and Dodgers are tied for first place in the National League West, a battle they have fought since divisional play started in 1969.  Of course, their rivalry dates all the way back to when the teams still played in New York.  Interestingly, despite the historical success both clubs have enjoyed, they have never once met in an official postseason series.”

All four statements are accurate and drive home the intended point (where the teams currently rank in the standings), but the final statement clearly paints the best picture in the mind of the listener.

Are you telling the listener something they already know, or are you delivering the type of information that compels them to think?  The more often your complementary information falls into the latter category, the more impact it will have on the listener.  This doesn’t mean you have to turn every broadcast into a baseball version of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!,” but the broadcaster whose information is regularly backed by substance is more likely to keep the listener tuned in from start to finish.

The same can be said for the broadcaster whose information is always relevant.  Compare the two statements below:

“Jones steps in, 1-for-1 tonight after a home run in his first at bat.  First pitch, outside for ball one.  Jones granted time.  He steps out of the box and begins to re-tie his cleats, tugs at the belt, and adjusts the batting gloves.  Now he steps back in, and here’s the 1-0 pitch…”

“Jones steps in, 1-for-1 tonight after a home run in his first at bat.  First pitch, outside for ball one.  Jones granted time.  Before tonight, Jones had gone 17 games without a home run.  Earlier today, though, he hit four balls off the scoreboard during batting practice, and it looks like that confidence has carried into tonight’s game.  Now he steps back in, and here’s the 1-0 pitch…”

Assuming that Jones really did attempt his best Nomar Garciaparra impression, and that he really did put on a show during batting practice, both statements pass the accuracy test.  Both are mechanically sound, have the ability to fit into a cohesive broadcast structure, and can be delivered to the listener charismatically.  You can even argue that based on their level of detail, both statements contain substance.

Nevertheless, statement number two is of much greater quality, and there’s really no comparison.  The second statement offers a high degree of substance and relevance.  The first statement is pure fluff.

Fluff is irrelevant information that adds nothing to the listener’s experience.  Filling in a proverbial blank with fluff is the broadcasting equivalent of giving away an at bat or not hustling to first base.  It’s painfully obvious to the entire audience, it insults the listener’s intelligence, and it degrades our industry as a whole.  Resort to fluff enough times, and you’ll become the type of radio guy where listeners tune in “just to hear the score” and then go back to whatever else it was they were doing.  When this happens, every one loses out (the listener, the team, the sport, and the actual broadcaster).  Don’t be a fluffcaster.

Why such an emphasis on avoiding fluff?

The greatest gift anyone can give you is their time.  When someone tunes in to your broadcast, they are giving you three-plus hours of their precious time.  Filling any portion of that time with fluff only serves to waste it.

A quality broadcaster should be able to fill an entire game–on their own–with complementary information that is both substantial and relevant.  And if you work with a partner or partners, there is absolutely no excuse for your team not to stay on point for a full nine innings.

The last three paragraphs may have come off as ogre-like, so let’s tone things down a bit.  You’ll be happy to know that a degree of flexibility does exist when it comes to keeping your information relevant.  For example, discussing the particulars of a game that has implications on your team’s position in the standings, such as a specific player hitting a game-changing home run, is perfectly acceptable.  The team and player from that out-of-town game may not be directly related to your broadcast, but both fit under the umbrella of being relevant to the bigger picture.  Staying on point doesn’t mean you have to hit a home run (awful attempt at a baseball pun) with every morsel of information.  You just have to keep everything relevant.

What you need to avoid are things like talking about yourself, your kids, where you plan on golfing on the next off day, or which fans in the crowd are using their smartphones.  If you reach hard enough, something like this might be acceptable if a real connection actually exists.  Maybe you bumped into a player at a restaurant that morning and ordered the same meal, or maybe your kid goes to the same day care as the manager’s kid.  More often than not, this won’t be the case, so it’s best to save the personal stuff for your social media accounts.

Running through an entire Major League scoreboard is another crutch minor league broadcasters need to avoid.  It’s low-quality information that eats up valuable time you could otherwise devote to the teams and players of your game.  You could make an exception for your parent club (if you’re in affiliated ball), or if your team plays in close proximity to a Major League team (Kansas City, St. Paul, and Traverse City being good examples).  Still, it would only be appropriate to reference the score of the Major League team in question, and not the entire circuit.

Returning to the cleat-tying example from earlier, if you reach a point in the broadcast where you really can’t think of anything to say, you’re better off just letting the game breathe for a couple of pitches.  Adding fluff will only make the situation worse.

So how can we do a better job of always staying on point?  Picture a forest full of trees.  Each tree represents one game, and the individual branches on each tree represent specific pieces of information related to that game.

The tree trunk is the foundation, such as the team’s ultimate goal of winning a championship.  As you work your way up the branches, you realize that to win a championship, you first have to reach the playoffs.  To reach the playoffs, you have to win a certain number of games.  To win one game, in the individual players have to contribute.  Each one of the players is at a different stage in their career and development.  How did the players arrive at this point?

If your complementary information applies to one of these branches, then the information is relevant.  Taking the metaphor one step further, all of the trees in the forest are related, so calling back to previous games is justifiable in the right situation.

I mentioned at the very beginning that Quality of Information was my favorite industry topic.

As the examples pertaining to substance and relevance demonstrate, you can make a case that Quality of Information is actually the least essential of the five tools.  If your broadcasts are accurate, mechanically sound, structured, and charismatic, you can do a passable job with a quality of information that is merely average.

However, you can also argue that Quality of Information is the most influential of the five tools, and the single greatest differentiator between an average broadcaster and a good one.

I love this tool the most, because within your Quality of Information lies a limitless potential for improving the listener’s experience.  If executed properly, it’s the tool that will most effectively resonate with the listener, and keep them tuned in regardless of the score.  Quality of Information is unaffected by the law of diminishing returns, so take advantage of that by outhustling your competition.

Don’t buy into the idea that adding fluff to a broadcast is inevitable due to the game’s aggregate amount of downtime.  That is the biggest misconception in the industry.  With a proper commitment to research, you can have nine innings (or more) of relevant information at your disposal every night.

11 comments

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