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.
Our next few posts will cover several techniques you can use to enhance your scorekeeping. Keeping a basic scorebook should be a given for every baseball broadcaster, but the more details you can capture on a regular basis, the greater the quality of information you will pass on to the listener.
There is no right way to keep score. As long as you can retrieve a previous game and easily recreate what happened, then use whatever method you are most comfortable with. With that being said, specific emphasis is placed on “easily” and “recreate.” If it takes more than a couple of seconds to decipher what you wrote down (I’m referring to penmanship and not the mechanics of your scoring system), then you should probably make a concerted effort to improve your handwriting. You may not have more than a few seconds to locate and interpret a piece of information from a previous scoresheet, which runs the risk of time-sensitive information expiring.
Additionally, I used the phrase “recreate what happened” as opposed to “understand what happened,” because utilizing a scoring system that captures as many details as possible will pay major dividends on future broadcasts. If you’re reading this, then you probably have a fairly sophisticated system already in place, but can you pluck any game from last year’s scorebook and know exactly how many times a runner went from first to third? Are you able to compare the total number of line drives versus the total number of popups? If not, these next few posts can help.
Our scorekeeping “hacks” were designed to fit my own personal system, so they will be introduced as such for ease of explanation. By no means, however, am I trying to force you to adopt my scoring system. Our hope is that you find value in one or two (or more) of the hacks, and manage to incorporate them into the system you’re already using.
Let’s start with the most basic element of keeping score–your scoresheet or scorebook.
Like your scoring system, the type of sheet or book you use is entirely up to you. Pick whatever you are most comfortable with. I do recommend customizing and printing your own scoresheets instead of purchasing a pre-made book. Designing your own template allows you to tailor the scoresheet to your own specific system. Pre-printed books might be convenient, but force you–at least to some degree–to conform your scoring style to the layout of the book.
I promise this isn’t meant to be a crusade against pre-made scorebooks, but another limitation of a ready made book is the finite number of individual sheets. I’ve witnessed broadcasters run out of sheets due to rainouts, making a mistake when filling out a lineup, or simply buying a book that didn’t have enough pages for the entire season. They were forced to purchase a second book to finish the summer. Since it’s highly advisable to have every game from that season handy, it meant they had to lug around two full-sized scorebooks over the final couple of weeks. Sure, you could purchase a pre-made book with enough pages to afford you some mistakes (say 125 sheets for a 100-game season), but then you’re leaving (and paying for) blank pages that eventually go to waste. And if you’re thinking, “well, I’ll just use the remaining blank pages to start the following season,” you will undoubtedly run into the same dilemma of having to carry around two books (and for a much longer period of time than described in the original scenario).
A quality broadcast is delivered in an organized and coherent manner. You can be accurate, mechanically sound, and have a talent for gathering relevant and interesting stories, but you will fall short of your potential if you are unable to cleanly articulate these thoughts on the air.
In our discussion on Quality of Information, we indicated that with the proper amount of pre-game preparation, you should be able to compile more than enough relevant facts and storylines to fill an entire nine-inning broadcast. That means some information will be left on the cutting room floor. While signing off the broadcast with excess information is a great problem to have, whatever is left over should never carry more relevance or substance than what actually made it into the final product. A structured gameplan allows you to maximize the quality of what information gets used.
This is not meant to imply that a broadcast should be scripted word-for-word (this would be impossible to execute anyway). Your gameplan will very likely require on-the-fly adjustments. For instance, if the starting pitcher works extremely fast, incorporating all of your supplemental information becomes more challenging. In this example, you’ll have to be extra selective so that your best material is used first.
With that being said, structure is an essential component of a quality broadcast. You should absolutely have an approach heading into each game in the same way the best hitters have an approach heading into each at bat.