Making it Look Easy

by @DavidAPortney

Broadcasters. It might be the only job in television where the consumer believes in their heart of hearts they can do a better job. However, in reality it’s an incredibly arduous profession that blends the skills of preparation, voice inflection, story-telling, and articulation to even perform it at an adequate level.

As a one-time aspiring sports broadcaster, I can confidently say I totally sucked. After broadcasting everything from high school football to collegiate lacrosse halftime shows, I knew my time was up. I tap into my experience to impartially analyze up-and-coming or well known broadcasters on both the national and local level.

With that being said, I want to give a special shout out to ESPN announcer Adam Amin. I first saw Adam when he announced volleyball matches on the ESPN family of networks, and I remember then thinking he was just a little different. He had a presence, personality, voice, and didn’t over-talk. It sounds counter-intuitive, but too many play-by-plays feel the need to TALK CONSTANTLY to a point where it sounds more like a radio broadcast. His voice was strong enough that it sounded natural, and not what we say “Joe Broadcaster,” which is when he or she explicitly adjusts their voice to how they think it should sound.

He quickly ascended through the ranks to more prominent games in mainstream media sports. Even in that ascension, he took time out of his chaotic schedule to drive over to our AVCA office in Lexington, KY when he was in town announcing a UK basketball game. Even though he doesn’t do much volleyball anymore, as a former player himself he still has a passion for the game. We spent an hour chatting about announcing in general, volleyball, and his career, and he couldn’t be more generous.

That’s why when he was on the call for this past weekend’s absolutely incredible NCAA Women’s Final Four, I was stoked he had that opportunity to show off what he can do on that huge stage. With the seemingly plethora of buzzer beaters, we saw something all play-by-play broadcasters should take note of: call the action then let the audience simply enjoy the moment. Previously, the late and great Dick Enberg was the best I’ve ever heard at doing this. Knowing when to shut up is a skill.

Here he is on the call as Notre Dame won the NCAA Championship:

 

There aren’t a lot of sporting events that I’d watch solely because of the announcer, but Adam has joined the great Doc Emerick in that regard.

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Do Social Media Managers Need to be More Careful?

by @DavidAPortney

As someone who manages social media accounts of a combined 200K followers, I know the struggle involved being in the constant rat race of shares, comments, retweets, impressions, and on and on. It can get freaking exhausting. We often talk about issues surrounding managers, but what about to the consumers of the content we’re creating?

Last week I attended the Social Media Marketing World Conference in San Diego, and one of the keynotes was from the incredibly intelligent and well spoken Brian Solis. He spoke at length and shared studies about the often addictive nature of our cell phones and more specifically, social media. It was extremely refreshing to hear someone within social media talk about the potential dangers of our work. I won’t get into too much detail, but a light bulb went off and I asked myself, “Is what I’m doing dangerous?”

It can’t be! I’m wonderful! My mom says so! Well, the honest answer is maybe. I’m always looking at the data to see what’s creating “engagements” – the absolute buzz word in social media to see if what we’re doing is resonating with our followers. However by doing so, I could be creating an atmosphere where in my ideal scenario, our followers would NEED to keep checking our accounts to see what we’re doing. This perpetuates the addictive cycle of refreshing the feed to see what next is out there.

This affects almost every person who has a smart phone. I want to put my phone away as I do others when I’m out and about, but we just can’t. How much of it is because accounts are constantly trying to find ways to keep you looking? Do we as social media managers have a responsibility to society to take our foot off the gas? Should it be self regulated? Are we simply chasing the coveted retweets and comments at the expense of posting things that are actually important? Do I just like asking myself questions to make me look smart?

Again, I don’t know the answer (I’m not that smart apparently), but these are conversations we need to have before it’s too late.

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How is the Media Covering the Latest NCAA Basketball Scandal?

by @DavidAPortney

The latest NCAA Basketball scandal is in full swing, and as a result the media machine is now roaring at full speed.  With the 24/7 media cycle, there should be plenty of space to have difficult conversations like truly identifying the problem, and offering solutions to those problems. Is the media doing this?

By and large, no. Predictably, media members have already made up their mind on the problems and solutions, so when new information and scandals make head they retreat to their pre-defined positions. If we’re being honest with ourselves, this is an ultra complicated issue.

Sorry Jay, this is difficult (for the record, I think he’s a great basketball analyst)…

“Pay the players!” is the most common exclamation we hear. However, without any further explanation of how it’s an incredibly lazy argument. Questions like: “How much?” “Who exactly gets paid?” “Will paying athletes mean they won’t just accept more money” “What about Title IX?” are all required to be discussed before the “pay the players” argument can be realistically made. Perhaps surprisingly to some, Bill Walton raised those questions last night during the broadcast of the Arizona-Oregon game last night. None of us, including me, have those answers, but because we don’t have them doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be addressed.

It is the media’s responsibility to not just throw out talking points for click bait. I’m all for taking an angle and explaining it, but only as long as they acknowledge the potential consequences or unanswered question(s) surrounding it.

Sports Illustrated‘s Andy Staples does a good job of digging a little deeper. Even though I’m not a huge fan of the term “moving the goalposts” he makes in the article because that language implies he’s not taking a position that is more nuanced…

Lastly, I’m surprised that much of the media and non-media are taking the side of “The FBI needs to get out of sports!” Do you really think the government is willing to look the other way on potential money laundering/tax evasion? Sport is a multi-billion dollar industry. Tell me one other industry, large or small (but especially large), where institutions and individuals can get away with not paying the government what it feels it’s owed. I’m waiting.

No one likes complicated issues, but the sport media would be doing the public a disservice by oversimplifying the latest NCAA Basketball scandal. This is far from over.

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Take Back your Timeline

by @DavidAPortney

America is a complicated place. It’s the greatest country in the world, but we also have a ton of flaws. Because of that our timelines are often full of distressing news, opinions, blowhards, idiots (etc.) who find a way into in our own phones laptops, and emotions 24/7/365.

This isn’t healthy. Coming from someone who works in digital media I’m as guilty as anyone, but I’m now starting to develop more self awareness. Taking a break from social media is something I’d advise for at least the last hour before you hit the sack.

Outside of that, make a concerted effort to follow accounts that bring you joy. I’m a big baseball fan, so with spring training getting into full swing I’ve been following more accounts that are sharing pictures, videos, and news as a reprieve from the constant bombardment of politics and current events.

On the surface, this might sound like I’m separating myself from the issues that matter, but instead I’m giving myself a freaking break. In order to be at our best we need to be socially refreshed with a good laugh, so follow more accounts that do just that.

In the spirit of this blog, I leave you this…

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Is Embracing Debate Good for Society?

by @DavidAPortney

Ever since sports programming shifted away from its highlights format in the 21st century due to this thing called the internet, they’ve needed to fill that space with something stimulating. ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” blazed the trail with its debut on October 22, 2001, and it’s now coming up on 17 years with Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon. Since its inception, ESPN and other networks on TV and online have copied the rundown + debate format with mixed success. But is the “embrace debate” programming good for us in our own quest of pursuing knowledge and obtaining the tools to have meaningful discussions?

2010 -- Pardon the Interruption

Not always, but Kornheiser and Wilbon both showed the model on how to do it well in a way that entertains the viewer without feeling the need to take a shower when it’s over. They’re informed, contrarians, experienced journalists, but most importantly you always felt there was a mutual respect for one another. Lately however as others have tried to replicate that model, they’ve been using fewer journalists with informed opinions and more individuals into hot takes.

Obviously there are plenty of non-journalists or past journalists more than capable of having intellectual debates, but they still have that same responsibility to thoroughly research the topics to be discussed. I personally prefer journalists because their jobs inherently require them to do their homework. When hot takes are thrown around haphazardly, it leads to ignorant statements, which leads to a strong and emotional rebuttal. Then we’re off! All we’re left at the end is a bunch of blowhards name calling, and arguing the validity of their opponent’s perspective.

first-take-embrace-debate

This style of discussion and debate has now made its way onto social media. Due to the rundown format, topics on these programs aren’t typically discussed for more than 2-3 minutes. That makes them like the Twitter of TV. How quickly can they make the point with maximum impact? That mindset is a recipe for disaster. Whether we’re discussing race in America or if Eli Manning is “elite,” it can’t be done in a soundbite or a tweet.

So next time you’re watching a debate show in sports, news, or politics, make sure you know who the people are. Know their credentials on topics, and it never hurts to be skeptical. It’s no surprise you never see someone jump up and say, “You know what? I never thought of it that way!” then change their mind. Because, like in social media, they’re only there to tell us their side in the most reaction provoking manner possible.

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Is TV the Answer for Volleyball?

by @DavidAPortney

Photo courtesy AVCA

Photo courtesy AVCA

Let me ask you a question. What do you think should be the most highly prioritized method for people to consume our sport? I’ve posed this question many times to members, social media followers and players and 99.9% have the same answer: mainstream television exposure.

We certainly are on TV a lot now on many regional and conference networks, but I hear constantly it isn’t enough. The biggest qualm they tell me is it’s rarely on the mainstream stations like ESPN, ABC, FOX, NBC and CBS. That in order for volleyball to really hit it big in the media market it has to be on those networks. Getting on those channels isn’t easy as you might imagine. The market for TV ratings has to be proven where matches are already being aired before moving up to those channels.

With that being said, let’s take a look at some TV ratings. The 2014 NCAA Semifinals on ESPN2 registered a 0.26 rating, down from 0.34 from last year. The NCAA Championship Match garnered a 0.41 rating, down from 0.61. For context, last year’s NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship registered a 2.0 on ESPN.

At first I wasn’t too happy with the ratings, but after I took some time basking in the warm sunshine of South Florida for a post-AVCA Convention vacation, I was able to reflect and turn the question I asked others back on me. Maybe hitting those mainstream networks isn’t the be-all end-all solution. By no means is anyone here at the AVCA throwing in the towel, but numbers never lie. It’s well documented our main playing demographic in girls and young women are watching less and less TV, especially sports on TV. Is it worth the 100% time, money and effort to keep going after them in that medium or do we try reaching them elsewhere? This is the new question I pose to everyone reading this.

Perhaps we have to go where they are, which is online. Going after them there can be more targeted, easier to track return on investment (ROI) and can be a lot more bang for your buck. You probably already know this, but TV is incredibly expensive no matter where it’s on. However, the bigger the network the more money is at stake. Right now, is our sport willing to take gigantic financial risks to hopefully be right even though numbers indicate otherwise?

Again, I’m not jumping ship on mainstream television. I acknowledge its importance in also reaching the casual sports fan who already watches sports on TV. We’ve been kicking around some ideas here in the office along the lines of more advertising of the championship on currently televised volleyball broadcasts and furthering the education among TV producers just to name a couple.

We’re trying to figure out new methods to do a better job of reaching the most amounts of people in a measurable way that can sell. In order for a TV broadcast to be considered commercially viable, meaning enough people watching for it to make money, it has to be at the 1.0 mark. With our 0.41 championship rating, we are a significant way from reaching that number. While we will continue to try our best to get that number up, let’s all put our heads together to see if we can make our sport commercially viable in perhaps less than traditional sectors.

I also love feedback. Shoot me an email (david.portney@avca.org), or you can hit us up on Twitter (@AVCAVolleyball) and Facebook!

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Setting up for an unpredictable finish

As appeared on NCAA.com and the AVCA’s Coaching Volleyball Magazine

by @DavidAPortney

wisconsin-lauren-carlini

Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos

Gone are the days of hot and humid gyms of opening day weekend.

Gone are the preseason matches that see your favorite programs play schools you’ve never seen.

Gone is the time when the head coach doesn’t have a good grip on their team’s identity.

Now let’s replace that with crisp autumnal weather, heated conference rivalries and the coach making that tweak in the lineup at just the perfect time.

With the NCAA Division I Championship Selection Show set for 8:30 p.m. ET Nov. 30 (ESPNU), it’s crazy to think we’re in the final leg of the regular season. It’s been an unpredictable season thus far, and I don’t expect that to change before the 2014 NCAA championship trophy is raised above the victors’ heads this December in Oklahoma City.

Here are the top five things to keep an eye on as we head down the stretch:

Freshmen Phenoms

Remember when wide-eyed freshmen would join a team, and they, for the most part, just sat on the bench (or in volleyball, stood on the sideline) to let the upperclassmen do the heavy lifting? Those days are long gone as freshmen from all across the country are making a strong impact on their nationally ranked programs. One of the strongest resides in the swamps of Florida, where middle blocker Rhamat Alhassan has shown what an asset she is to the Florida Gators. Heading into the season she was viewed as a “project” with raw athletic ability and a 37.7-inch vertical, but maybe not quite at the All-American skill level. That couldn’t have turned out to be further than the truth. In just the third week of her career, Alhassan was named the Sports Imports/AVCA Player of the Week. If the Gators make a deep run in the tournament, look out for Alhassan.

However, she is hardly the only freshman proving her worth. A plethora of 2013 Under Armour All-Americans are making immediate impacts on contending teams. Starting in Penn State, if the Nittany Lions defend their 2013 championship and win their sixth in eight years, outside hitters Ali Frantti and Simone Lee will be a key reason why. Staying in the Big Ten, Wisconsin outside Kelli Bates has shown B1G volleyball is not too big for her, and with AVCA All-American setter Lauren Carlini dishing her ball, Bates could be huge down the stretch.

Heading out west to the Pac-12, Under Armour All-Americans once again make up a whole lot of quality freshmen. Washington outside Tia Scambray gives UW another great option to go along with AVCA All-Americans Krista Vansant and Kaleigh Nelson. At UCLA, Reily Buechler (daughter of three-time NBA champion Jud Buechler) has been hovering around three kills per set. While these are quality freshmen, there are dozens more out there worthy of mention if this could be a 20-page article.

The Class of the Pac-12

It’s no secret the Pac-12 Conference boasts some of the nation’s elite teams, but the way it stands right now there are two that stick out above the rest. Both Stanford and Washington are serious championship contenders; it’s just too bad their one matchup this season comes on Nov. 26. Both the Cardinal and Huskies have championship level talent. Stanford has the big middle Inky Ajanaku, who by the way is from Oklahoma, the site of the NCAA championship. Washington has the reigning 2013 AVCA Player of the Year Krista Vansant. Those two players will get their stats, so what separates the two teams is who gets the most help from their supporting casts. Since they’re both so even, make sure you tune into the Pac-12 Networks for that Nov. 26 matchup … it could double as an NCAA championship preview.

The wide open Big Ten

The Big Ten is also right there with the Pac-12 in terms of conference depth. However, at the moment there isn’t a clear team or two that have separated themselves from the pack. It’s tough to overlook Penn State, which has been the most dominant team of the decade and has reloaded this year. The only question is the Nittany Lions’ youth surrounding AVCA All-American senior setter and native Oklahoman Micha Hancock leading the squad. The Nittany Lions talent level is there, but playing on the big stage with the amount of youth they have is not easy to do.

The other half of the 2013 NCAA championship match, Wisconsin, is a team to be taken seriously. Like Penn State, the Badgers return their All-American setter Lauren Carlini and have another year experience after last year’s dream run. Purdue is having another tremendous season under head coach Dave Shondell; Illinois has notched victories in Penn State and Nebraska; Ohio State recently has been one of the hottest teams in the conference; and Nebraska is still Nebraska. This season has shown, especially in the Big Ten, that any team can beat another.

Is Florida State for real?

The Florida State Seminoles have become regulars near the top of the AVCA coaches’ polls for good reason. They’ve not only overcome the loss of All-American Ashley Neff, but they seem to have gotten better. Outside hitter Nicole Walch returned and has taken the majority of the swings this year averaging around four kills per set while also getting it done on defense. Speaking of defense, libero Katie Mosher is the program’s career record-holder in digs, and has a fearless attitude that permeates throughout the team.

Don’t let the Gators’ record fool you into thinking they’ve played a cream puff schedule. They’ve recorded wins on the road against Nebraska, Iowa State, American, Texas A&M (twice) as well as victories against Marquette, LSU and North Carolina. Also, the Noles aren’t new to the party. Remember the 2011 NCAA semifinals in San Antonio. Who were the four teams? Champion UCLA, Illinois, USC and who was that fourth team? Yup, Florida State! Head coach Chris Poole was there just three years ago, and with the talent he has on this roster he can get back there again.

Texas can do it again

For a team with a pedigree like the Longhorns, it’s difficult to not to envision them in the NCAA semifinals. In fact, they’ve participated in the event five of the past six years. At this point, there will be considerable surprise if Texas doesn’t win the Big 12 Conference and make a deep run in the 2014 NCAA tournament. With three-time AVCA All-American Haley Eckerman leading the way, she has a great supporting cast of Khat Bell, Molly McCage, Chiaka Ogbogu and freshman libero Cat McCoy. The same question is brought up when talking about Texas this time of year: “Have they been tested enough?” The Longhorns answer that question year in and year out with NCAA semifinal appearances. With the tournament culminating less than six hours north of Austin, expect the Longhorn faithful to take the trip if UT makes it six out of seven.

Notables

• Oklahoma — They may not be able to surpass Texas in the Big 12, but don’t sleep on the Sooners. They know the championship will be held in their home state, and there’s nothing they’d like more than to sneak their way there. Look for a strong conclusion to their regular season to be in the NCAA tournament mix.

• SEC — Florida may be the traditional Southeastern Conference powerhouse, but the rest of the conference is catching up. Kentucky is strong and will battle it out with the Gators, but it’s by no means a two-horse race. Arkansas, LSU, Ole Miss, Alabama and Texas A&M have proved worthy contenders on the national stage.

• Other schools to watch — You don’t need to be a school from a power conference to contend for a title. At the moment, Colorado State and BYU look to have the greatest chance of crashing the big party. The Rams’ Kelsey Snider is a beast in the middle averaging three kills and more than one block per set while hitting a robust .400. For the Cougars, opposite Jennifer Hamson is back on the volleyball court after taking off last year to focus on basketball. In 2012, she was an AVCA First-Team All-American, so two years later she’s been able to come back her same dominant self. It’s scary to think what her team is capable of if Hamson can somehow improve upon what she’s already done.

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