ESPN televised the UH versus Tulsa game from Hofheinz Pavilion on Thursday night. It was a live broadcast going into the heart of primetime East Coast college basketball viewing. And it involved two teams from a conference to which ESPN paid lots of money for the broadcasting rights. The game wasn't very good -- the Cougars scored only 10 points in the second half and lost 57-44.
Though broadcasting the game, ESPN didn't bother to send an announcing crew to the game. The spots at the press table reserved for ESPN's announcers were empty. There were no TV monitors, no producers, no sideline reporters. Nada. The announcers watched the games on monitors in Bristol, Connecticut and relayed what they saw from those monitors to the viewers watching at home. This was at least the second time this season this had happened with ESPN and the Cougars -- the UCF game at Hofheinz was also broadcast with announcers watching the games from monitors in Bristol, Connecticut.
This happens more often than one would think. Most Formula One races broadcast on NBC Sports Network are done with the broadcasters watching off monitors back in the United States -- any races in U.S., Canada, and Mexico are done with the broadcasters on site, and a full crew is sent out to Europe for the Grand Prix of Monaco. And many soccer games broadcast from Europe are done with the announcers in the U.S. calling the game over the monitors.
This makes sense for overseas events, especially for regular season or exhibition events. The Formula One events usually have at least one person on the grounds of the event, and the ability to pick up the radio communications from the drivers and the crews and between crews and track officials provide as much important event information as any announcers at the event can convey.
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Announcers calling games from monitors in Bristol haven't spoken with the coaches and players before games. They have no idea what's happening with the team, what the coaches are working on in practice. They don't know who sat out of that day's shoot-around because of illness or who's going to try and play through a hamstring that was tweaked in a workout or an ankle that was slightly twisted that morning. There's no way to give a feel for the mood of the arena, and they're left as clueless as the viewers if a player is injured during the game. There is one other issue of course, and it's a rather major one: if the satellite feed is lost and the visuals are lost, the viewers are left with no knowledge of what is going on. When announcers are on location, audio landlines can be, and are used, to relay audio feeds from events when the visuals are disrupted. They can continue to broadcast play-by-play or if something really serious has happened that caused the visual interruption, they can provide on-sight reporting.
But while this does make sense for international events, it makes zero sense to broadcast events based in the United States with announcers calling the games from television monitors in ESPN's Bristol headquarters. Yes, the Houston Cougars are not very good, but Thursday's game featured Tulsa, the first place team in the conference. And if the American Athletic Conference is really supposed to be a major conference, then when its games are broadcast on ESPN its announcers should be at Hofheinz Pavilion and not in Bristol. If ESPN can send announcers to cover SWAC games, it can certainly send announcers to cover a Houston Cougar game taking place in one of the country's supposedly preeminent basketball conferences.
In the short term this all means nothing. When the Houston Cougars become a team, the ESPN announcers will call the games in person. But for viewers the trend sucks. There's no way to know the entire of the story of the game when the announcers aren't present. There's no insight from coaches, players, trainers. They're not getting updates on field conditions or with problems in the arena.
After all, that's one of the reasons bloggers are still belittled when it comes to stuff that's written about events we don't attend, that we don't really know what happened because we weren't there, didn't see something happen in person, didn't talk to a coach or a player before or afterwards. So really, shouldn't ESPN be held to the same standards as us bloggers? If they're going to broadcast an event, the announcers should be at the location of the event.