The color commentator, also called an analyst works alongside a play-by-play personality describing and detailing the action in a sporting event. Think of an analyst as a translator for the audience.
Great Analysts educate viewers in engaging and dynamic ways. They are insightful and concise, comfortable on camera, and speak with good tone, pacing, and delivery. Analysts are typically former athletes or coaches, and employers often place a premium on their recognizability.
8 Things Good Analysts Do
EXPLAIN THE RULES
An analyst must have a deep knowledge of the sport they are analyzing. Color commentators are the experts in the room. They should be able to explain what is happening at any given time. They answer the what, why, how, and when. Their job is to tell listeners what they don’t know and validate what they do. The best in the business are like good teachers. It is the role of the Analyst to tell us why a particular type of contact constitutes a pass interference call. What specifically caused a traveling call in basketball or a double in volleyball? They are decisive and give strong opinions when needed, answering questions like what made it a lateral, when it went out of bounds, and why it was a foul or a goal. They should excel watching replays, quickly dissecting for the viewer what went wrong or right in a play.
MAKE IT SIMPLE
An audience has different levels of fans. A good analyst can connect with a sophisticated sports fan while distilling information into understandable, simple concepts and terms that novice fans can follow.
The breakdown of a play, a race, or a swing has to feel accessible to people who only have a general or limited knowledge of what they are watching. Rowdy Gaines is one of the best at educating the audience about the intricacies of a sport without getting caught in the weeds. His masterful calls on Olympic swimming during the Michael Phelps era should be mandatory viewing for all aspiring Analysts. Gaines captured fans by laying out terms and keys to races, which taught the audience about the sport and gave them things to look for during the competition, like turns, transitions, and start times.
Effective Listening is maybe the most crucial skill any broadcaster can have. Just like it is in a regular conversation, It is imperative to hear what another person says so you can engage and react appropriately. When audiences feel trust and chemistry between broadcast teams, it is rooted in fluid and connected conversations. Active Listening becomes even more critical in disagreements where two people have different perspectives and need to understand another viewpoint to counter or debate effectively.
KNOW THE NAMES, BACKSTORIES AND STORYLINES
Analysts have to prepare and do their homework. They must know the athlete’s names, numbers, stories, and backstories. An analyst can connect viewers to a game, athlete, or outcome. The Analyst helps personalize athletes. To do that, they need to know them. I hate it when an analyst says something like “Number 25 made the tackle” instead of the athlete’s name. I want the Analyst to tell me who the athletes are, what matters to them, and why I should invest my time watching them play.
CONNECT THE DOTS
They don’t just react to a play or a moment; they explain the how and why. Anyone can state the obvious by telling us it was a great catch or a missed pitch. I want to be told what it means and why. I.e., “This Catch is tough to make in this coverage because X, Y, and Z.” We can see a homerun is out of the park or a receiver shrugged off defenders to get into the end zone. How did it happen? What makes the athlete a good shooter, why do you need to get out of a break early, why do you have to get off the block a certain way, what does it look like when someone has good form, where did an unsound gap on the line allow for a touchdown.
Analytics and statistics play a HUGE role in sports, determining everything from coaching decisions to gambling odds. However, numbers will feel meaningless to an audience if they aren’t put into context. The launch angle of a home run won’t mean much to a viewer who doesn’t understand why a launch angle matters or what it is. A 44% Three-point shooting percentage might not mean much until it is qualified with data that the best 3-point shooter in the NBA shoots 45.7%.
Troy Aikman was caught off-guard in 2022 in Denver when Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett kicked a 64-yard game-winning field on 4th and five instead of putting the team’s fate in Quarterback Russell Wilson’s hands. I sat at home wondering the stats on 4th down conversations. Instead, Aikman rambled on about how the kicker was better on the road than at home, which didn’t matter. Only two kickers had ever made a field goal from that distance in NFL history, while 51 percent of NFL teams convert on 4th down, which was the stat discussion begging to be had. Aikman quickly recovered, summing up what happened perfectly and providing what would become the headline about Hackett’s coaching move, “The decision he made was that he trusted Brandon McManus more than he trusted having the ball in Russell Wilson’s hands on 4th down,” said Aikman, connecting the dots for us on what we had just witnessed.
Great analysts are good teachers who can easily convey their expertise. Think John Madden. They should be able to make educated guesses based on that knowledge of how a game or play will unfold. After listening to a good analyst, the audience should learn something about the sport. They should tell us why a play or a swing worked. What proper technique looks like. A good analyst can incorporate multiple things simultaneously, telling us how something happened and qualifying why it is good or bad while adding backstory. Kirk Herbstreit is good at this.
Fans enjoy listening to former Dallas Cowboys Quarterback Tony Romo call a game because he entertains them. Most of the time, we don’t see an analyst; we only hear them. So, I like a color commentator’s style and characteristics to be distinct enough to be recognizable and unique. But not so much so that it crosses over into schtick.