King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Huge ratings for announcerless Canadian football games carry a message for U.S. TV: Fans want to see the game, not your gimmicky broadcast of it. Plus: Angels, A's and Griffey elude the spotlight.


Salon Staff
August 31, 2005 11:00PM (UTC)

Two weeks into the Canadian Football League no-announcer experiment, fans in the Great White North are voting with their remotes.

They're voting to watch. Announcerless games, which the public Canadian Broadcasting Corp. has been providing since it locked out 5,500 members of the Canadian Media Guild, are boffo.

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The league doesn't like it, and everyone with a vested interest in having chatterers chatter during ballgames is coming up with perfectly plausible reasons why the games are getting skyrocketing ratings, but the fact remains that the CBC has removed one of the most visible, obsessed-over, seemingly vital elements from its broadcasts, and viewers are loving it.

I can't tell you how much I'm enjoying this. I just wish it hadn't taken a nasty labor battle and a lockout to prove that people don't tune into games because of announcers, they tune into games to watch the games.

Now if the TV networks would only learn to show us the freaking games, to tone down the "interesting" camera angles and have the announcers and sideline reporters pipe down their incessant prattling once in a while, we'd really have something.

CFL telecasts average 408,000 viewers. The first no-announcers game, between the Toronto Argonauts and the Edmonton Eskimos on Aug. 20, drew 449,000. So, OK, novelty. People were curious.

This Saturday the B.C. Lions beat the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The audience: 580,000. That wasn't just the biggest audience of the season, it was the biggest by a ton. The most-watched game this year had been the season opener between the Lions and the Argos, with an audience of 492,000. The Lions-Roughriders game, sans commentary, beat it in the ratings by almost 18 percent.

And people didn't just tune in. They stayed tuned in. And more people joined them. By the fourth quarter of the Lions' 19-15 win Saturday, the audience had swelled to 746,000.

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You don't watch a game for three hours because you're curious to hear what it sounds like. You watch because you're interested and involved in the game.

"People love the game," former CFL player and locked-out CBC color man Chris Walby told the Canadian Press. "The CFL is a great football game. The fact is the game is what draws the people."

Right. That's what I said. Except I think Walby was actually being defensive there, saying that people were tuning in not because there weren't announcers, but in spite of that fact. He might be right about that, but it isn't exactly a rousing justification for one's own existence.

And not only are people tuning in despite the lack of announcers, if Walby is right, they're tuning in despite the fact that the technical quality of the broadcasts have been what the Globe and Mail has called "well below standard."

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Show us the game, people are saying. You don't even have to do a good job. Just point the stupid camera at the field and we'll watch.

The Lions are undefeated and the CFL's biggest ratings draw. People tuned in to watch the game. This is such a simple point. I've been making it for years: Show us the game.

You say it too. Nothing has ever caused an avalanche of "amen!" e-mails to hit my in box like a short item I wrote during the 2004 NBA Finals saying just that.

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I never see such unanimity of opinion as when I write about how I wish the TV networks would quit cluttering up sports broadcasts with gimmicky junk aimed at drawing in non-fans and just show the game so sports fans can watch it. Nobody ever writes in to defend creative camera angles, constant graphics or ceaseless talking by announcers. There's nothing that everybody agrees on -- except this.

I mentioned last week that no-announcer games won't happen, except as an occasional stunt, on U.S. networks because the real job of the announcers is to read promos. The networks spend so much on rights fees for the major sports that the broadcasts actually serve as loss leaders. They're valuable as advertising platforms for the rest of the network's schedule. Canadian broadcasters, Canadians tell me, don't shill nearly as much.

But maybe the networks can all take a lesson from the CBC's CFL ratings. That lesson, just to review: "We want to watch the game. Please show it to us and stay out of the way."

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Walby, the locked-out color commentator, seems to have picked it up. "There may be times when you can let a broadcast breathe a little more and let the game be the game," he told the Canadian Press.

CBC spokesman Jason MacDonald said the two sides were back at the negotiating table Wednesday and characterized the mood as "cautiously optimistic."

He also explained something I'd been wondering about: why managers have been used to replace camera operators and other technicians, but not announcers.

"A lot of the managers who are doing the camera work, that's the world they came from," he said. "They know how to do that job." Announcers tend to move on to better announcing jobs rather than taking promotions to management, MacDonald said, so there weren't any qualified announcers in the management ranks.

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Shh! Angels, A's and Griffey at work [PERMALINK]

If the Los Anahangeles Angels and Oakland A's played in the Eastern Time Zone, you'd be so sick of hearing the words "Angels" and "A's" by now that you'd be ready to take a hostage.

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With about as much national fanfare as an early-round doubles match at the U.S. Open, they played a beauty of a ballgame in Los Angeles of Anaheim Tuesday night in front of more than 42,000 people. That opened a three-game series for first place in the American League West as the Angels and A's head into their near-annual September battle for the division.

Barry Zito and Bartolo Colon hooked up for a nine-inning duel, each allowing a single run, Colon pitching into the 10th. Bobby Kielty hit a game-winning homer off Francisco Rodriguez in the top of the 11th for a 2-1 A's win.

The A's lead the division by two games now. The loser of this division -- looking like the Angels with the way Oakland's playing -- faces a tough wild-card race against the Cleveland Indians and the loser of the Eastern Division race between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

Johnny Damon has a booboo, so the East Coast media isn't paying much attention to any of this West Coast stuff.

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And speaking of national fanfare: Has so little of it ever accompanied a player as great as Ken Griffey Jr. having a season as good as Griffey's having after as many down years as he's had?

Previous column: Dodgers' chemistry experiment

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