I’ve been working in volleyball for the last three years and in the media for the past decade, and I’m thrilled about the significant increase in TV coverage of the sport. Thanks to regional and conference networks such as Fox Sports, the Big Ten Network and the Pac-12 Network, and national powerhouse ESPN, more coverage of this great sport is hitting a television screen near you. I think we’re at a point where we can now take a look at the broadcasts themselves and see what we can do to make them even better. Here are my top-5 ways to improve them:
1) More end zone camera angles. Volleyball may seem simple and straight-forward, but there is a ton of strategy that goes into every play. The only way that can be appreciated is seeing the movement of the players from behind the net. At the very minimum, this would be ideal for replays so the color analyst can telestrate the play by tracking the player and ball movement. However, this angle would be great for live plays as well showed in real time game speed. This wouldn’t be too popular because networks don’t like shooting through the net, but I think showing it live for 5-10 points per match would be beneficial.
2) More replays. In any sports broadcasts, it’s all about seeing the replay immediately after the play is completed. They can be the aforementioned end zone angles or slow motion low angle for the fist pump “hero shot.” If each play has to be temporarily held up for another 5-10 seconds to give TV time to get out of the replay then so be it. Too many times TV quickly cuts back to the server to see him or her bounce the ball five times to get ready. That’s not something a viewing audience needs to see.
The television broadcast should come first. Ever go to a football game and just wait and wait and wait as the players just stand on the field? They’re waiting for TV to come back from timeouts or replays and no one complains about that, so why would they complain about a few extra seconds at a volleyball match?
3) Volleyball education. It’s tough to have the highest of quality broadcasts if not everyone is all too familiar with the sport of volleyball, most notably the play-by-play broadcaster and the camera people. Having an understanding of the sport and being able to anticipate what will happen next goes a long way in calling and shooting it. Why do you think the cameramen rarely get faked out on a play-action pass in football? It’s because they’ve been watching the sport long enough to just be able to tell it was not going to be a run. Finding these cameramen for volleyball broadcasts won’t be easy, but educating the ones in place is a must.
It’s probably less important for a play-by-play broadcaster because the color analyst can carry that load, but the more they know the better. If the PBP lacks strong volleyball knowledge then it’s imperative they make up for it in enthusiasm. Just being excited can go a long way to grabbing and holding the viewer’s attention.
4) Viewer education. Time to flip the script and look at the viewer’s education of volleyball. We can’t assume everyone who watches knows everything about volleyball, so the broadcast will have to play the role of teacher to some degree. I think Karch Kiraly does the best I’ve seen of explaining what exactly is happening on the court without talking down to the audience. Plus, he oozes credibility as the USA Women’s National Team Head Coach and widely regarded as one of the best volleyball players of all time. It would be great to have short, 30 second-1 minute clips that feature the basics of the game, similar to what we see at the Little League World Series. So keeping it simple and elementary for the viewing audience might keep them tuned in as they learn more.
5) More human interest stories. Just like any sport, volleyball has a ton of interesting back stories about the players and coaches, so it’d be nice to hear them once in awhile. Especially in between the second and third sets where the station has about 10 minutes of time to fill, wouldn’t it be nice if they spent 2-3 minutes talking about one of the players? Once the third set begins, the viewer will be looking out for that player because they now have a deeper connection with at least one person on that team. This might require a team SID to feed stories to networks to make them aware, but I don’t think that’s something too difficult to do.
So what do you think? What would you like to see with volleyball broadcasts, or if haven’t watched before, what would make you more likely to tune in?
(image courtesy of southland.org)