"Hey, That Guy Doing Stats is Good!"
Athens, GA (Nov 6, 2007) - This coming Saturday is going to feel pretty strange. For the first time since I moved to Georgia in 1994, I will not be working the CBS Sports broadcast of a Bulldog home football game. I have fallen victim to the fact that there is a new generation of "young folk" who travel, at their own expense, as part of the production crew every week. These young people fill the spots that I would normally be working in. This is much like what I did when I lived in Ohio and Washington, DC In order to make more money and see some great games, I would travel to work games if they were reachable by car. For many of the "younger" people, this is how they hope to break into a full time job. Perhaps the best example of this was John Kollmansperger of Virginia. He started out as a runner for CBS Sports back in the mid 1980's. Before you knew it, he was a full time member of the Sandy Grossman-Bob Stenner led CBS Sports "A-Team" supporting Pat Summerall and John Madden. He still works as a consultant to CBS Sports.
But does this mean I will not be working at the game? Not at all. In the past, if someone could not get work for the network broadcasting the game, they would not be working the game at all. This has all changed with expanded and new media. I will be working for the CSTV/CBS College Football pre-game show on Saturday. This past Saturday I worked as a statistician for Comcast Sports South for their tape-delayed coverage of the Troy-Georgia game (thanks to Claude Felton, the sports communications director at UGA giving them my contact information). The expansion of extended and new media means a greater demand for skilled people to provide these positions. The problem is often that there are not enough qualified people to fill the jobs.
They said that the introduction of computers into sports broadcasts would kill the need for human statisticians in sports broadcasts. Nothing could be further from the truth. The computers cannot identify trends and other related anomalies and get them to the announcers and graphics truck fast enough. Human's are still needed to interpret the data,. The skills are not the fact that someone can just look at data and crunch numbers. The skills are in understanding which numbers are most important for on-air broadcast, and that the fans would be interested in. The idea is to be able to "sell" something to the producer and then getting the internal satisfaction of seeing it get on the air. No one watching knows that it was you that came up with the "story", but you do which is in many ways much more satisfying. Unfortunately, what happens a lot is that the broadcasters will get students in these positions who have not worked in televised sports at all, and it is very hard to get the information needed when it is needed, or get done what is needed to be done. For example, I worked an UGA Volleyball match earlier this fall for Fox Sports Network. I had to leave my position in the "booth" to give on the spot training to the student working as the "red hat" (the time out coordinator) on how to call for and manage time outs. I also had to tell the "O-Stats" (official stats) person to put a headset on and what to give the people in the truck.
Undoubtedly, these "younger folk" will get better as they work more and more events. Until then, I will hear what I heard in the background while wearing my headsets last Saturday afternoon: "Hey, that guy doing stats is good! Where did we get him?" It is the little things like that that make the job fun and allow me to keep getting paid to see some great Athletic events. It provides a change of pace from my real life job, and it is something where you know immediately if you are doing a good job or not. I know I will never be as good as the great Marty Aronoff, stats man to the stars who seems to have worked every event since before television was invented. At 68 years old, he still works 250 events a year. But I have my little niche which is fun and demanding in a different kind of way that the normal day-today routine.
A Sad Footnote
In writing this story, I found out that in April of 2006, John Aronoff, son of Marty Aronoff, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. I worked with John at the Mizlou Sports News Network back in the early 1990's. My heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to Marty and his family on their loss.