I don’t know why this kind of stuff interests me, but it does.
CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell blogged today about the future of live sports broadcasts on the radio, reporting that the New York Islanders are becoming the third NHL team to do away with their radio broadcasters in favor of a TV simulcast. That got me thinking: what if the Braves did the same? Who would they keep, and what would it sound like?
Before I look at the Braves broadcast crews, let me share about my viewing and listening habits. I would guess that I follow approximately 2/3 of Braves broadcasts either by TV or by radio. Sometimes I’m busy doing something else and can’t follow the game live. If I plan in advance, I’ll DVR the game and watch parts of it later. Of that 2/3, I probably spend 70% watching on TV and 30% listening on the radio (usually in the car). If I’m listening on the radio, I’m almost certainly multitasking (mostly driving), but I also multitask a lot at home. So keep in mind that the Braves don’t always have my full attention, but with 162 games a year, it’s not hard to get a feel for the broadcasters in spite of that.
Now, let me start with a brief ranking, my own opinion of the relevant Braves announcers.
- Jon Sciambi
- Joe Simpson
- Chip Caray
- Others – Marc Fein, Ron Gant, etc.
- Don Sutton
- Jim Powell
- Chip Caray
- Mark Lemke
- Others – Marc Fein, etc.
The Braves have relied on a wide range of broadcasters over the years. After the passing of Skip Caray last year and the retirement of Pete Van Wieren, they only brought on one truly new team member – Jim Powell. Sutton was working with the Nationals, but most Braves fans don’t have to think far back to remember his days with TBS.
On TV, we’ve primarily seen Joe Simpson as color analyst for both FOX and Peachtree TV games (Sport South is a FOX network). Sciambi is the FOX play-by-play guy, and Caray is the PTV guy. Sciambi does some offseason work, primarily in basketball, and Caray also serves as the TBS Sunday national game’s play-by-play announcer. On the radio, it’s a rotating crew, but the primary team is Sutton and Powell.
Generally, I prefer Sciambi on TV because he tells you what’s going on, tells interesting facts about the players, and he’s a fan of objective baseball analysis, frequently name-dropping FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference. Simpson plays off of him well, but his traditionalist leanings occasionally get in the way of his analysis. He’s far better than Joe Morgan, but still a frequent stick-in-the-mud, and he’s not as eloquent as a lot of other broadcasters.
Chip Caray plays better off of Simpson ideologically, but he doesn’t give you much of a feel for his personality, so a lot of the time, his words come off as mindless corporate-speak, kind of like a less-famous Joe Buck. His dad and grandpa were far more endearing for not toeing the corporate line. There haven’t been many fill-ins (and I didn’t even see Fein when he was on), but Gant is not astute enough to be a regular color analyst.
On the radio, I generally like Sutton despite his tendency to lean (like Simpson) toward simplistic traditional answers for strategy. He paints a pretty good picture of what’s going on, and of course it’s interesting to listen to a HOF pitcher’s perspective (especially one who can form complete sentences). I’m just getting used to Powell, but he comes across similarly to Sciambi: a little younger, not afraid to throw out a few strange ideas. He’s got a strong voice for radio, too.
Chip Caray’s about the same on the radio as on TV, so I won’t beat that point into the ground. Lemke, when he fills in, is not particularly good. As a member of the 1990’s Braves, he’ll always have a job in the organization, but he desperately needs someone else leading the way in the booth with him. Listening to him read off scores during a rain delay was an excruciating experience.
With that bit of sharing out of the way, what would it sound like if the Braves did away with the radio team and let the TV guys do both?
There are obviously different goals for the TV and radio as separate crews. The TV crew will talk less about specific details such as the count, baserunners, and score. They probably rely more on prepared discussion topics than the radio guys. Some of that would be interesting to hear on the radio, but it’s difficult enough when I’m only listening to pick up the score and other game details, especially when I’m driving and perhaps holding a conversation at the same time.
I like the idea of keeping the broadcast teams separate as long as the media outlets can afford to do so. With the hockey teams in Rovell’s article, we’re talking about corporations that held both the TV and radio rights, so the Braves are a ways away from doing that kind of thing. Also, the hockey broadcast is different from baseball, with far fewer “game state” specifics to change on a regular basis. I’m not sure it would be an enjoyable experience having to rely on the Sciambi-Simpson TV team to keep up with the game on the radio (even though I like Sciambi a lot), so I’m hoping we won’t see that with the Braves anytime soon.