The CBC television network is showing Canadian Football League games without announcers.
It's not some bold experiment, the way a similar move by NBC was 25 years ago. It's the CBC reacting to a bad situation it created itself when it locked out 5,500 camera operators, directors and announcers who are members of the Canadian Media Guild.
Still, a good idea is a good idea, even if it happens by accident.
The network says complaints were minimal and ratings were strong last weekend for the first announcerless game, the Toronto Argonauts at the Edmonton Eskimos, though the Canadian Press reported that a blind lawyer filed a complaint with the national broadcasting regulator over the CBC's failure to provide commentary.
The CBC says it'll go without announcers again this weekend. The network is trying to sell the format as "the stadium experience from home," since it's replacing the commentators with boosted stadium sound levels. There were some complaints that the public-address announcer was difficult to hear on TV, among other minor problems.
With technicians walking the picket lines, managers worked the cameras, microphones and other equipment last week, with predictably amateurish results, according to press reports. The network says it hopes to improve those areas this week, but it will probably fail. You don't learn the nuts and bolts of broadcasting in a few days.
But ignoring the labor issues -- here's a good Montreal Gazette story that lays them out -- let's talk about no talking.
We're used to having them there, so not having them is something that would take some getting used to. A game with stadium or arena noise and no announcers just sounds kind of awkward to ears trained to either listen to or selectively tune out the omnipresent chatter that's accompanied action since the medium was new.
And make no mistake: We'll never have the chance to get used to such a thing. Announcers aren't there to provide insight and analysis or to identify players and describe action. They're required to do all those things, and we judge them on how well they do them.
But their primary purpose is to read promos. The networks and sponsors aren't giving that up. We're stuck with announcers for as long as we're stuck with money.
Maybe the ratings were good for that Argos-Eskimos game because people were curious to watch a game without announcers, and they'll fall for the encore. I don't think so, though.
The CBC says ratings held steady throughout the game, so folks must have been pleased. And for the most part they didn't complain, though the CFL did, arguing that the announcerless broadcast damaged the league's brand.
I think this proves my point. People tune in to any game in any sport because they want to see the game. An announcer 10 times greater than Vin Scully on his best day wouldn't convince more than a few people to watch a game they don't want to watch in the first place, and an announcer 100 times as annoying as Chris Berman wouldn't drive many folks away from a game they do want to see.
They'd just turn the sound down.
That's why the Dennis Miller experiment on "Monday Night Football" didn't work, but wasn't a disaster. It's why John Madden couldn't lift the Monday night ratings out of the doldrums. It's why, dare I say it, it just doesn't matter how bad Jeanne Zelasko is. We're still going to watch the World Series.
The CBC and the union will eventually work out their differences and the announcers will be back. In the meantime, if you're in position to catch this weekend's CFL game, check it out. You won't get many more chances to hear what you're not missing.
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Heartland attendance [PERMALINK]
A couple of clarifications about the column I wrote just before I went away for a while, about baseball attendance in the Midwest.
Reader Karl Appuhn correctly points out that I underestimated when I wrote, "There are only about 10,000 hardcore fans of any team, fewer in smaller markets, who'll come to the games no matter what."
What I should have written was that there are only enough hardcore fans of any team to create a nightly crowd of about 10,000, a little less in smaller markets. Obviously the same 10,000 people wouldn't go to every game, so the actual number of hardcore fans has to be something higher than 10,000.
More substantively, several people wrote to say that I'd ignored a major factor that holds down Chicago White Sox attendance: April and May weather.
It's true, I should have mentioned that. Cold weather limits South Side crowds for the first two months every year, and average attendance annually jumps in June.
In 2002, with the Sox in second place but losing ground, attendance increased 20.4 percent from May to June. In 2003, with the Sox in third but rallying from a bad start, the jump was 68.1 percent. Last year, with the Sox in first place -- they tanked in July -- the jump from May to June was 55.9 percent. This year, with the Sox leading the league, the jump was back down to only 24.5 percent.
That's because attendance was already rising in May. The Sox averaged 23,839 fans a game in May, 13.9 percent more than in May 2004, when they were also in first place but without having had such a dominant start, and 45.4 percent more than in May 2003, when they were going badly. When attendance began to pick up in mid-May this year, game-time temperatures were still in the low 50s.
Weather is a factor in April and May. But winning is always a factor. If the Sox don't collapse this year, they'll draw better next April and May than they did this spring, no matter how cold it is. Clip and save to hold me to that prediction.
Previous column: A losing division winner
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