Marc Zumoff, longtime play-by-play announcer of the Philadelphia 76ers, shares his insights on the changes he experienced while covering the NBA team.
Broadcasting is not what it once was. Sports are broadcast in top-notch quality, in-game statistics are shared live on your screen and OTT allows us to enjoy games at any time and from anywhere. There are more camera angles than ever before and additional broadcaster options that cater to varying fan preferences. Technology has dramatically changed not only how games and content are produced, but the amount created and how it is presented to fans.
While fans and content consumers are experiencing these changes in one way, those behind the scenes continue to experience them in different ways.
Infront Lab chatted with Marc Zumoff, the recently-retired, longtime play-by-play announcer of the Philadelphia 76ers, about the biggest changes he experienced throughout his career.
The production truck and instant replays
“I think about the production truck,” says Zumoff when asked about the biggest technological changes he experienced during his long career.
“I remember when I first started, there were these big, we call them almost tubs,” he reminisces. “There were videotape machines with one inch videotapes.” In order to show a replay live during a game, editors would have to mark the beginning of the play, rewind and hit play when the producer or director told them to do so. Now, not only are live trucks no longer as prominent at games and events - and remote broadcasting is now an option - but editors can clip, edit and air replays all while continuing to record, never missing a beat.
Social media and instant feedback
Social media has made feedback instantaneous.
“I would always say that you could do a broadcast and hear from all of your critics right after you're done,” says Zumoff.
“You don't have to wait for a newspaper article to come out or a letter to the editor or anything,” he adds. “People are on you, they're on you during the game. Sometimes during commercial breaks, you'll respond to them or you'll interact for other reasons.
I would say purely from a play-by-play standpoint, that was one of the bigger changes.”
While instant feedback required rapid adaptation on the broadcasters’ part, social media as a whole had a larger impact on their game-day preparations. Social channels allow play-by-play announcers such as Zumoff to follow beat writers, bloggers and other broadcasters who are covering opponents, learn about the teams from them from their perspective, and engage with colleagues from across the league. These feeds and interactions bring added value to any broadcast. They also opened the door for anyone to become a content professional and share images and news of games and sports, posing both a challenge and an opportunity for the industry.
Sometimes the smallest changes can make the biggest differences for those sitting in front of the camera. This rang true for Zumoff when HD television was introduced. When HD cameras became common, “they handed me some makeup and said, ‘you got to use this for every game,’” Zumoff recalls. Broadcasters could also wear certain items that they weren't able to wear in the past, such as polka dots or stripes, because the standard definition couldn't capture it.
The viewing experience for those at home all of a sudden looked sharper in high definition, and therefore all broadcasters had to dedicate more time to their appearanceץ
“Controlling” the TV set and fan-centered broadcasts
“I would say for the first ten or 15 years of my 27 years, we had control of your TV set,” says Zumoff.
“We decided what you were going to see, and when you're going to see it. Now fans have the opportunity to tune in, and let's say they're streaming a game on their phone, they can go to different services, which provide different camera angles.”
Even more so, fans can track what players are wearing, click on the shoes and be taken to a website where they can purchase the sneakers.
Fan experiences are improving due to enhanced, democratized data-access as well as additional sources of information and different types of broadcasts. Meaning every fan can experience the game in the way he or she wants to.
“Not only are you watching the game, but you have that second screen where you can look up information that before this was strictly proprietary to the announcer, they had control and they told you what it is that you needed to know.
“Now the fan can almost tune out the announcer and say, ‘You know what? Here's something that I want to know and I can look it up on my second screen.’ So it really has empowered the fan to do some things that the first ten or 15 years you couldn't even imagine.”
These changes have meant a constant alertness and flexibility to adapt for broadcasters such as Zumoff. While we have already experienced a great shift in the way games are produced and broadcast, the introduction of AR, VR and, now the Metaverse, ensure broadcasts will continue to change beyond our wildest dreams, and definitely past what Zumoff had imagined when he began his career.