A spotting board can be a tremendous resource for broadcasters of any sport. One of the core concepts we drove home in our discussion about broadcast structure was organizing and consolidating as much information into as few sheets of paper as possible. The more you consolidate in advance, the less time you’ll spend looking for the information during the actual broadcast. Spotting boards might be the poster child for structure and consolidation in sports broadcasting.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a “spotting board” is essentially a hyper-detailed version of a team’s roster. A spotting board includes relevant statistical and biographical information for each player in addition to the “names and numbers” found on a traditional roster. By consolidating information for every player on a single sheet, spotting boards assist the broadcaster in delivering high-quality information to the listener in a timely manner. They are especially useful in sports like football, hockey, and basketball where the players on the field/ice/court are often in motion at the same time and moving in different directions. Football spotting boards usually resemble a traditional “formation,” and organize the players by position. This helps the broadcaster visualize the location of a player on the field, and really comes in handy when trying to identify who executed a key block or tackle. Hockey spotting boards are generally organized by line or defensive pairing, and as a result, are commonly referred to as “line charts.” Below is an example of a football spotting board.
Interestingly, there are very few spotting boards designed for baseball. I’m not sure if this has to do with the natural pace of the game versus other sports (baseball lends more time in between plays to consult non-spotting board resources), the fact that the players generally stay in the same area versus other sports, or the mere presence of a scorebook (baseball is the only sport where the broadcaster can sequentially document every play while still calling the game, so a scorebook serves as something of a “real time” spotting board). I’ve seen plenty of baseball broadcasters utilize portions of the game notes pertaining to the starting pitchers, the hitters, or the bullpens. They serve the same purpose, but aren’t necessarily true spotting boards, because they span multiple pages.
Whatever the reason is for the relative lack of baseball spotting boards, baseball broadcasters can absolutely benefit from using one. Below is an example of my spotting board (which I’ve always referred to as “notes boxes” due to their appearance. Moving forward, the two terms will be used interchangeably). The notes boxes template has been a true game-changer for my broadcasts since I first started using it in 2011.
In our first post on keeping score, you might remember the space on the right-hand side of my scoresheet dedicated to “first-time-through-the-order” statistics and freehand notes. The freehand space was meant for additional key statistics, a one- or two-word reminder about an important storyline, or perhaps the fact that it was a player’s birthday.
I’ve seen many broadcasters employ a similar consolidation method, even if their personal scorebooks don’t have explicit space for the information (if this is the case, they will just write in whatever free space they have available). Consolidating information that has a high likelihood (and sometimes a guarantee) of making its way into the broadcast makes obvious sense. It eliminates having to fumble through multiple pages from the game notes or statistics package. Having the foresight to consolidate and collate your best information simply makes your job easier.
Take a look at the filled in 2016 scoresheet below. You’ll notice the “first-time-through-the-order” statistics and freehand notes column are completely blank. You’re probably thinking, ‘he just explained the value of consolidating key information. Why isn’t he taking his own advice?”
It’s a fair question, and the answer is that all of that information (and then some) now lives in the notes boxes.
I want to make it clear that maintaining a spotting board/notes boxes system in baseball does require a daily time commitment. In football, for example, games are played once a week, so you could spend the six days leading up to your next broadcast to complete your spotting board. The nature of baseball’s schedule means that you’ll have to update your notes boxes on a daily basis for the information to be valid. Once again, I promise you that using a spotting board system as a baseball broadcaster is 100% worth the daily time investment. But before getting into some ways you can optimize your own spotting board or notes boxes, it’s important to illustrate the one major downside of using your scorebook as a destination for consolidation.
Below is another previous scorecard, this one from 2009 in which the Wichita Wingnuts played the Sioux City Explorers.
In this example, you can see the “first-time-through-the-order” statistics and freehand notes are filled in for each player. Try to envision the game at the start (without any of the plays filled in), and you can immediately see how convenient it is having all of that information in a readily accessible place. There’s no need to remember where you stored the statistics package, or any risk of reading the wrong line item because you’re glancing back and forth between the field of play and several sheets of paper. Consolidation before the game allows you to devote your full attention to the field of play during the game. This is a critical step in establishing a good broadcast tempo right from the first pitch.
However, the lone (but potentially catastrophic) downside of consolidating information directly onto your scorecard is that everything is dependent on 1) having the starting lineups, and 2) nothing changing in the starting lineups. If one of these conditions is absent, consolidating onto your scoresheet becomes very challenging. Look at Sioux City’s defensive alignment at the bottom of the page. You’ll notice that SIX of the position players have been scratched out. And as you’re about to learn, these were not merely defensive substitutions late in the game.
Below is Sioux City’s side of the same scorecard:
We received Sioux City’s starting lineup in plenty of time, but a last-minute injury (which can happen quite often) triggered the six changes from what was originally posted. The result? Nearly all of the meticulously consolidated information on the right-hand side of my scoresheet no longer corresponded with the correct player.
Rewriting and reorganizing information into a central hub is extremely valuable, but if you choose to do so on your scorecard (as many broadcasters do, and as I had done in this example), the fruits of your labor are now at the mercy of factors outside of your control.
One, the lineups could simply arrive later than usual. There are plenty of valid reasons (a player could be sick, the manager is waiting on the status of a day-to-day injury, etc.). You may not receive the lineup until 10 minutes before you’re scheduled to go on the air. When this happens, you have to rush writing in your additional notes in hopes of beating the clock. If you run out of time, then you go on the air without being fully organized. And even if you do manage to scribble everything down before your pre-game show, writing that quickly increases the chance of making a copy error or not being able to decipher what you wrote when the information needs to be accessed. You’ll also fall into a rushed state of mind, which could lead to the broadcast getting off to a poor start. Every baseball broadcaster has experienced this, and it’s no different from a starting pitcher who has a rough first inning. Sometimes you don’t recover, and even if you settle in, the rough start can still weigh on your mind for the rest of the night.
You’re also at the mercy of any last-minute lineup changes, such as the example from 2009. This scenario can be even more challenging than receiving the lineups right before you have to go on the air. You may have both lineups before batting practice begins, leaving plenty of time to consolidate your key information. At this point, you’re under the impression that a large part of your broadcast structure is complete. But even one late lineup change will thwart the structure and layout of your consolidation. In the 2009 example, you can see that I tried to “save” the scoresheet by writing the names of players on the right-hand side. For instance, Nick McCoola (eight-hole) was originally slotted in the two-hole, so his name is written and highlighted under the supplemental information in the second row. It was a nice attempt to try and fix the problem, but moving my eyes up and down the sheet to match the players with their corresponding information became so cumbersome that it would have been just as easy to read off the game notes or statistics package (which defeats the purpose of consolidation in the first place). The other potential solution would be to rewrite an entirely new scoresheet, but that would also require a rewrite of Wichita’s side of the scoresheet (including all of the supplemental information for their players). Given the last-minute nature of the changes, I would have definitely faced cramming problems.
Obviously, a situation like this isn’t anyone’s fault (yours, the manager’s, or the player’s), and this was a very extreme case with six total lineup changes. However, it does highlight the danger of consolidating information directly onto your scorecard–it could end up creating more problems than it solves.
So if consolidating quality information is recommended, but doing so directly on your scorecard comes with high risk, is there a more bulletproof method for a baseball announcer to streamline the preparation process?
Enter the notes boxes.
It took nearly two years after the 2009 game in Sioux City (and battling a few more last-minute lineup scrambles along the way), but I finally realized that using a notes boxes/spotting board system would allow me to consolidate information on my own terms while permanently eliminating the effects of a late lineup change.
2013 Notes Boxes-RailCats
(Note: to get the most out of this post, I recommend opening the PDF in a separate tab or window so that you can flip back and forth as different sections are discussed.)
The design is very simple with four rows of three boxes for a total of 12 boxes/players. The players are ordered numerically, but you could arrange them alphabetically if you prefer (I find the jersey numbers easier to locate, both on the notes boxes sheet and on the field of play). I’ve mentioned before that the American Association plays with short rosters, so very rarely do teams carry more than 11 position players. If you’re broadcasting in a league with larger rosters, you can add boxes to your template as needed.
Beneath the player’s name and number is a pre-formatted line for “first-time-through-the-order” statistics. The remainder (and majority) of each box includes everything I used to write in the freehand notes portion of my scorecard. The boxes have significantly more space than the freehand column, which allows me to store even more information on each player.
At first glance, the entire document might seem overwhelming to read, but each box is structured exactly the same. The first line of the “body” is for games played and runs scored (last year, I added doubles and triples on this line). The next three lines cover three of Growcasting’s “big four” splits (home/road, left/right, and situational). The fifth line is reserved for anything noteworthy on defense (#2 and #24 are catchers, so their caught stealing percentages are listed. #30 led the league in fielding percentage among third basemen. #36 was tied for 10th in the league in outfield assists.). The top-right corner is used for leaderboard appearances (#5 was tied for second in sacrifice bunts and tied for fourth in sacrifice flies). The bottom portion of each box is for recent trends (the fourth of our “big four”) and other noteworthy accomplishments (#20 had a pair of 10-game hitting streaks in the range of dates listed, and finished the year 7-for-45 in his last 14 games after a “hot” .318 clip in his previous 42.). Leaderboard appearances in “first-time-through-the-order” categories are listed in parenthesis (#36 ranked first in the league with 78 walks).
Typing everything into a spreadsheet template ensures the final product is neat and legible for every game. If you keep a separate excel tab for each team in your league, the daily adjustments also become much easier to manage. For example, once you’ve completed your notes boxes for the first game of a series at home, you only have to adjust the “home” averages for your team and the “road” averages for the opposing team. Likewise, if no left-handed pitchers worked the previous night, the players’ averages against lefties stay the same.
Typing your notes boxes might seem obvious, but I’m pointing it out, because I hand wrote everything into the boxes when I first started using the system.
As is the case with your scorekeeping method, the design template for your notes boxes and whatever information you choose to fill them with is completely up to you. My template is essentially the daily statistics package reorganized by player rather than stat category. Everything I need for the relevant game situations is localized on a single sheet of paper (as a comparison, the daily statistics package we receive is usually 10-plus pages). You might prefer loading your boxes with different information. Do what you are most comfortable with.
The point is that you should have a structure like this in place to assist in your on-air execution. If you don’t currently use a spotting board, it will take time developing a template that best fits your league’s roster size and the type of information you want to consolidate. It will also require a time commitment putting it together each day. Like anything else, though, you’ll learn to complete your spotting board faster with practice and as you fine tune your personal system.
Some of you might think it’s an inefficient use of time to rewrite/retype information that will be available to you in the game notes and statistics package anyway. For me, the on-air convenience is worth the investment of time. We’ve established that the “big four” splits can be relevant at almost anytime during a broadcast, so let’s use them as an example. Without a notes boxes or spotting board system, you would have to tape four individual sheets of paper (one with each split report) to the wall for, or at least have them in an accessible place nearby. Those reports are usually sorted by batting average, though, meaning the names will be in different locations on each sheet. Unless you can memorize the order of names on all four sheets (which is impossible), you’re going to waste “live” broadcast time searching for what you need. Even one or two seconds of pause leading up to the execution will demonstrate to the listener that you weren’t 100% ready for the situation. Sure, maybe you have a color commentator that can filibuster while you’re locating the information. Maybe you “punt” the information altogether and fill the downtime with something else (this would be a disservice to the listener, though). Your broadcast structure comes down to personal preference. However, this is a black and white example of how 10 minutes of reorganizing earlier in the day can save you that two or three seconds of awkwardness in which both you and the listener know you could have done a better job.
Most importantly, the greatest benefit of a notes boxes system is that the information is always locked in place. The lineup could change multiple times from what was originally posted, but your notes boxes are unaffected. The names and numbers will always be accompanied with the right information. You never have to rush. You never have to go on the air with shaky confidence. You never feel like you’re less than 100% ready.
Notes boxes/spotting boards are about feeling confident in your ability to deliver high quality information to the listener, just as much as they are about the physical reorganization of that information. That final window of time before you go on the air (typically from 6:00-6:30ish p.m.) can now be used to chat with the other broadcaster, grabbing a bite to eat, or just giving your brain some well-deserved time off. Utilizing a spotting board/notes boxes guarantees that time will never be spent feeling pressured to finalize your broadcast structure. What is that peace of mind worth to you?