Diary of a commentator

ConigliarosPotential

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I'm in my quiet period right now, but I did enjoy listening to the Bill Simmons podcast with John Skipper this past week. For one, I was curious to hear if Skipper would give anything away regarding DAZN's plans in America - he did talk about DAZN a bit, but nothing I heard made me fear any further for my future. However, I did really appreciate hearing Simmons and Skipper talk about the complexities and the politics of life at ESPN, particularly as I think I would generally benefit from being more politically savvy in my own commentary work. Generally, I'm always striving to produce the best work possible, but sometimes I offer opinions to - and make requests of - my producers in ways that might not always be appreciated, even if my heart is always in the right place. Going forward, there will be times where I think my career will be better suited by strategic silences, even if the productions I'm working on might not benefit from that approach.

One thought I've had about my tennis commentary: I've realized (through study) that it has suffered from my tendency to start sentences without knowing how I'm going to finish them. The right words usually come out, but too often with pauses during my sentences where I'm trying to find how to finish them. That's something I'll be concentrating on when I'm covering the Rome Masters in May.

In another vaguely interesting development, a good friend of mine from high school is getting married in Atlanta on the night before Week 2 of the forthcoming NFL season. I've been in touch with my producer at DAZN to see if it'd work OK for me to miss out on presenting duty that week, and he said it probably will be - they would just not do a featured game that week instead of trying to find a replacement for me. But he's asked for me to wait until the full NFL schedule comes out in a few weeks before we confirm that. Of course, my real hope is that the Falcons will be at home in Week 2 and that it might somehow be possible for me to attend that game and possibly call into the studio and still be involved in the broadcast somehow; I'm guessing that as an NFL rights holder, DAZN ought to be able to at least get me a media pass for a game, although I doubt we're equipped to set up a studio and run a full show from the game itself, fun though that prospect sounds to me in theory!
 

ConigliarosPotential

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Not that this is directly commentary-related, but I wrote my customary post-Masters column last night for The American magazine - normally I wait until the Monday morning, but the early finish gave me enough time to get it out yesterday. You can read it here, if you want:

https://dkilfara.jimdo.com/2019/04/14/tiger-takes-the-fifth-in-augusta/

The "No Laying Up" podcast guys noted last night that they'd hate to try and sum up Tiger's win and its historical context in 1,000 words, but here's my take in just over 800 words. It's funny, I feel like my golfing background and experience qualifies me more to write and talk about golf than any other sport, and yet a) my chances of ever getting a golf commentary job remain pretty slim, and b) I seem to be so out of touch with everyone in the golfing threads in the Other Sports forum, I usually feel like there's little point in posting there. But anyway, while this was my first golf column since my US Open recap last year, on account of all the commentary work I had last year, I plan to write more often this year, in part to hopefully impress my BBC production contact.

Meanwhile...that sports video game I referenced previously? It looks like this is actually going to happen - I'm not going to jinx it until we've fully agreed on our contractual terms (my fee has been sorted out, but I'm just looking to secure my intellectual property rights even while granting the game designer the rights to all of my recordings), but I'm really excited and figure to have a lot of unusual, unexpected and financially beneficial work forthcoming over the next few months. I'll confirm the details - and ask for some advice - once I'm definitely moving forward.
 

ConigliarosPotential

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So, about that video game...having had another email exchange with the game designer today, I think I'm pretty safe in announcing that I'm going to be doing the commentary for Tennis Elbow 4. The game itself is outlined here:

https://www.resetera.com/threads/tennis-elbow-4-alpha-release-planned-for-march-2019-online-play-for-september-2019-v1-0-june-2020.85204/

Tennis Elbow 3 (or Tennis Elbow 2013, if you prefer) is probably my favorite tennis game in terms of pure gameplay, and I've played quite a few of them - I played a modded-up version of TE2013 quite a lot a while ago, and that modded-up version included a homemade patch that added snippets of commentary from the then-number one commentary partnership at Tennis TV that I have now heard many, many times over. So when I heard the news that a new version of TE was being launched, I emailed the designer, introducing myself as one of Tennis TV's current commentators and pitching myself for the job...and several lengthy email exchanges later, here I am. I've offered to not only voice over the commentary but also to script all of the lines, and also (this is the hard part) to organize which commentary lines can be spoken in which match situations and after which shots, etc. And while this game is basically a one-man production, the designer does have a commentary budget, and I will be getting paid enough to make this whole exercise worth my while, with potential bonuses if it is eventually released on PlayStation and/or Xbox after its initial PC launch. My hope is also that I'll do such a good job with the game that it will become easier for me to get hired to do higher-profile tennis commentary, but we'll see about that in due course.

I'm certainly not aware of any sports video game in which an actual commentator has been directly involved in planning how the commentary in a game might function from the ground up. And I think TE4 is a perfect fit for me insofar as I trust the designer, both from my past experience playing TE2013 and from seeing him post on the game's discussion forums (and from seeing other posters react to his posts and rave about his design goals), to go the extra mile in getting the little things right, which is exactly my own intention. Tennis ought to be quite an easy sport to get right when it comes to video game commentary, because you're only ever describing events after the fact and never need to narrate them while they're happening...but the trick is to mix things up in such a way that you're not hearing the same lines over and over again, and to cover a very broad range of potential comment types in doing so. I have some ideas about how I might achieve this, particularly by taking a modular approach whereby every commentary segment between points actually consists of several different recordings that are pieced together at slightly randomized intervals which keep you from ever being able to anticipate what is going to be said and when it is going to be said (but without entering the uncanny valley where the gaps and the whole process feel robotic). I expect I'm going to spend a LOT of time getting this process right and scripting/recording/cataloguing the thousands upon thousands of lines of commentary that will be required, but if I can do this right, hopefully it might open doors for me in the video game world and not just the commentary world. Perhaps it's just as well that I don't have many actual commentary jobs on my plate this summer!
 

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MDLzera
Sep 27, 2016
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I can't take seriously the opinion of someone who prefers any tennis game over Wii Tennis. :)

That does sound like a good partnership to work with them directly on how it's used. Repetitive commentary in a sports game really does decrease the replay value. If possible, and if the game automatically loads updates online (since it's a PC game), you may want to think about proposing that you add more snippets over time, if only to add to the impression that new fresh things are happening.
 

ConigliarosPotential

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I'm just off a call with my NFL producer and a couple of assistants from DAZN in Leeds, and I've been told that for budgetary reasons, the Featured Game of the Week I hosted last year won't be happening in the 2019 season. Which obviously sucks, a lot. They're devoting their resources to producing more original content; if they get left a particularly good game by Bell Canada, particularly in Week 17, they may try and rustle up a studio show on short notice, but otherwise, that's another big blow to my commentary portfolio for 2019. Basically I'm down to CHL ice hockey, a bit of tennis (including that video game, which won't pay me anything until 2020), the very rare FIBA basketball game and the even rarer soccer match. I may be able to do some voiceover work for DAZN from home - I'm going to do an audio test early next week to that end - and other opportunities in Leeds may yet open up, but I'm kinda regretting buying the rather nice used car the other day I just bought instead of something cheaper...

Everyone, expecially Producer James, was very complimentary of the work I'd done - the whole thing is certainly no reflection on the quality of my work, just as was the case with my KHL commentary work before this. As it happens, during our call I also received an email from a US-based agency I've been liaising with; it was the most promising agency relationship I'd been developing, but the bottom line of that email was, "We think highly of your work and commentating experience, but we're just jammed up at the moment." There may be openings there in the future once some of their experienced guys are placed with other jobs, but for now at least I'm back to square one. It is actually nice to have my skills validated by James and this agency even though no jobs are coming, but I do have financial needs that pleasant compliments do nothing to meet. It's all a bit depressing - I want to work!
 

ConigliarosPotential

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A brief note to say that I'm back in action tomorrow and Tuesday, covering the ATP Rome Masters. Tomorrow I'm calling three matches on the Grandstand court (the second show court at the Foro Italico): Fernando Verdasco vs. Kyle Edmund, Lorenzo Sonego vs. Karen Khachanov, and Richard Gasquet vs. Jeremy Chardy. So I get to call a British player for the first time; I get an Italian up-and-comer against the 11th-seeded Russian; and an all-French affair which looks evenly matched on paper. But the first two matches are back-to-back at the start of the day (my call time at the studio is 9 a.m.), while the finale is a night match (6 p.m. start my time), so I'll have a lot of time to kill during the day while Venus Williams and Victoria Azarenka play their respective matches in the women's event.
 

ConigliarosPotential

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Blimey. I'm staying at a friend's house in north London, which means I have to commute about an hour each way down to Wimbledon today and tomorrow for my tennis commentary. Which means that I got about four hours' sleep last night, after staying up until nearly 2:30 a.m. researching today's matches. (I actually got to watch the end of the Raptors-Sixers game live, which gave me chills.) And now I've commentated on a pair of three-set matches already today, which means my night match will likely start late, which means I probably won't get home until very late, which means I'll be up late again research tomorrow's matches (which probably won't be decided until I'm commentating again). I'm glad I'm only doing two days of this instead of three this week.

Kyle Edmund vs. Fernando Verdasco was pretty ridiculous. Edmund led 6-4, 4-2 and appeared to be cruising, but he fell down 0-40 on serve - and then after getting back to 30-40, Verdasco had one of the luckiest net cords you'll ever see from the baseline, the ball popping high into the air and landing just on Edmund's side of the net. And then the next thing you knew, Verdasco had won nine games in a row, at one stage winning 23 out of 24 points...and despite a brief hiccup, he wound up winning 4-6, 6-4, 6-2. Certainly the worst collapse I've ever commentated on.

Lorenzo Sonego vs. Karen Khachanov was more consistently entertaining. The quality of the tennis was rather higher, and the pro-Italian crowd was more into it; Sonego was broken in his very first service game, and then there wasn't another break until the third set, after Sonego had won a second-set tiebreak. Sonego took a medical timeout after going down a break in the third, then broke back but was broken himself straightaway, and Khachanov held on for the 6-3, 6-7, 6-3 win. I enjoyed that one a lot.

Now I'm twiddling my thumbs, hoping that Venus and Azarenka can both win in double-quick time so my evening session can start on time. (I doubt I'll be that lucky, though.)
 

ConigliarosPotential

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Incidentally, regarding the Sonego-Khachanov match, I realized near the start of the match that I wasn't sure how to pronounce "Sonego" - whether the stress was on the first or second syllable. I had prepared to call him "Soh-NAY-go", and then I heard the female PA announcer call him "SOH-neh-go"...but I stuck to my guns. And then I thought I heard the (Egyptian) chair umpire call it my way at one point during the match and felt relieved, but then I heard him go the other way later on, and after the match I checked out forvo.com and found an Italian voice who definitely pronounces it "SOH-ne-go". Oh well. Of course, then when I went to the TennisTV website to watch the replay, a) my commentary wasn't even on the site, as the main commentary team in Rome called the match as well, and b) they pronounced it "Soh-NAY-go" like me anyway. So there you go.

(Another name which I got wrong was "Court Centrale" - I was pronouncing it in a much more French way than I should have, but I'm going to ham it up and go full "Chen-TRAH-lay" this evening and tomorrow. At least I can't mispronounce "Grandstand"!)
 

ConigliarosPotential

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Thank goodness - although Venus-Mertens literally just ended, Gasquet v Chardy has just been moved to a different court and will start very shortly. Saves my bacon, that does!

I have my lineup for tomorrow as well - Dimitrov-Struff, Basilashvili-Djere and Norrie-Coric. (Late start and possibly a late finish, but at least I should get some sleep tonight.)
 

ConigliarosPotential

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I can't pronounce any of your tomorrow sltae other than Struff.
Are you sure you can even pronounce "Struff"? (It's "Stroof" - it doesn't rhyme with "Stuff".) Luckily I know all of the other guys well enough, at least by pronunciation - even Nikoloz Bas-ih-lash-VEE-lee.

Meanwhile, Chardy-Gasquet reached one set all - of course - and then it started to rain: not heavily, but enough to make the lines slick and send the players off court. So I waited for about 20 minutes, and then the covers went on, and play was called for the day. Made it back to North London by 11:00 or so, and just as I'm sitting down to research my slate of matches for tomorrow - for which I was planning to report to the studio by around 11:00 or 11:30 a.m. - I've noticed that Chardy-Gasquet is now set to resume as the second match on my court tomorrow, so I may need to come in earlier to finish that off. Which would be easy enough to do, apart from the likely lack of sleep this might entail! So I'd better get to work...
 

ConigliarosPotential

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the amount of rooting you do for straight-sets sweeps is kinda hilarious.
Which of course is completely the opposite of my rooting interest when watching most tennis matches as a fan. And in truth, I actually rather enjoy when the matches I'm commentating on myself go to a third set - it's just the matches in between that I want to be short. Even better is when a player has to withdraw or retire early due to injury...hopefully food poisoning or something even more temporary, but yes, we're all horrible people for rejoicing at all in any sense when tennis isn't being played for medical reasons. (On the other hand, just as I type this, the Goffin-Wawrinka match on the Grandstand court in Rome is being held up due a fan in the crowd who has taken ill and needs an ambulance, which is the absolute worst...because not only is it sad for the person in question, but it makes your day as a commentator even longer, and yes, we're all horrible people for feeling sorry for ourselves and not the afflicted when someone falls ill like this. And I'm a horrible person for being glad the incident in question is on the Grandstand court when my own duties today are on Pietrangeli.)
 

ConigliarosPotential

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By the way, I did volunteer to come back in and call the end of Gasquet-Chardy, so this will be my longest day in tennis commentary: three full matches and the final set of a fourth - I'm at the studio now, waiting for Collins-Wozniacki to finish before Gasquet-Chardy goes on court. Of course, Collins-Wozniacki is 5-5 in the first set, so here I am again, being a killjoy and rooting for less tennis. Humorously, the engineers mixed up the feed between our two booths, so I've had to move out of my cramped booth from yesterday into the larger and much more comfortable room, even though I'm not the senior commentator for today as such. (My old friend Ravi is...although of course it's weird that he as the senior commentator is only calling one singles match and one doubles match today!)
 

ConigliarosPotential

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In the end, today ended rather differently to what I expected. Chardy whipped Gasquet pretty convincingly to finish out their match, giving me plenty of time to have lunch while Belinda Bencic rallied from 6-2, 3-0 down to win her match 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 (a scoreline which seems to mirror about 75% of the women's matches that play on my court on commentary day). Then came Dimitrov against Struff, which went three sets and lasted a shade over two hours: Dimitrov rallied in the second set to force and then win a tiebreak, went up a break at 3-1 in the third, and promptly lost the last five games and the match. All pretty routine, if the end result was somewhat jarring.

Then, almost immediately, came Nikoloz Basilashvili and Laslo Djere. Djere had won in Rio in February and was in pretty decent form, while Basilashvili was slightly off-kilter but had defeated Marton Fucsovics in straight sets in Round 1. What followed was pretty comical: in the first set, unforced errors outnumbered winners by I think between three or four to one, and at one point I said, "As the saying goes, if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all...but maybe that's not the wisest advice for a commentator." I was actually having quite a bit of fun with how bad the match was; sadly, the World Feed commentators a) were having rather less fun, but b) called the entire match, the latter meaning that my commentary is not available for me to review or record, etc. Basilashvili improved somewhat in the second set, but Djere didn't, and so Basilashvili won 7-5, 6-4.

As that match finished, Producer Harry came into my box and said, "Have you heard the news? Fognini pulled out of the doubles." Which didn't mean a lot to me at first, but as Harry explained, that meant Ravi had no second match to commentate on, and it seemed a bit unfair that Ravi should have to work only one short match while I did all of three matches and the final set of a fourth. So I was yanked in favor of a fresh reliever (and had to rather quickly extract all of my stuff from the booth to let Ravi in to takeover, which I managed to sort out only just in the nick of time). I was rather lukewarm about that, actually; I'd done all of the prep for Coric-Norrie, and I was rather excited about seeing Borna Coric again, and I would have been perfectly happy to carry on. But maybe it was all for the best: Coric blew Norrie off the court (6-2, 6-2 in less than an hour), playing apparently some of the best tennis he's ever played, and because it was over so quickly and there was no other men's tennis to be covered, Ravi's commentary almost certainly won't have been recorded for posterity either. So I managed to dodge an extra hour-plus in the studio and was able to to go a local Mexican place for dinner and still get back to North London by a very civilized 8:30 p.m. Luxury.
 

ConigliarosPotential

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Just a quick postscript to my tennis duty this week, now that I'm back at home in Scotland: today's entire slate of play got rained out in Rome, which means tomorrow's order of play is absolutely nuts:

https://www.atptour.com/en/scores/current/rome/416/daily-schedule

I'm curious enough about how this will be handled to have just emailed Agent Tim about it - I mean, our guy on the second show court (Grandstand) tomorrow might get to commentate on Chardy-Nadal, Coric-Federer and Djokovic-Cecchinato if the favorites win their morning matches (a lot of people have doubleheaders scheduled for tomorrow to get back on schedule), while even the third show court (Pietrangeli) has Thiem-Verdasco, Albot-Fognini and then probably Tsitsipas vs. the Albot/Fognini winner. Even the outer courts have some big names on them...I'm both disappointed not to get the chance to sink my teeth into some of these matches and relieved not to have had to spend ages tonight preparing for all of the potential permutations! But it could be a fantastic day of tennis if the weather holds...
 

ConigliarosPotential

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All remains pretty quiet on the commentary front, although Agent Tim has just booked me in for three more days of ATP 1000 tennis commentary - I'll call the first three days of the event in Cincinnati, from 11 to 13 August. I'm currently watching the action from Roland Garros and taking two different kinds of notes: one, whenever I hear a phrase I like or think of a phrase while watching a point that I could use myself, I make a note with a view to incorporating it or a variation of it into my tennis video game commentary script. And two, it's occurred to me that I ought to create a scouting report on any players I find myself watching, so whenever I hear a factoid which might be relevant in the future at some point, I can tuck that away for possible future use on air.

FWIW re: my previous post, I did find out that Tim has negotiated a flat rate per day of ATP tennis commentary - so that even if you get rained out and don't say a word on air in a given day, you still get paid in full. (That isn't always the case; for DAZN's women's tennis coverage, for example, I think you get paid by the match, so a day of rain means you don't get paid at all.) Also, I heard from Tim that one of the other commentators for the Italian Open was a bit irked by the fact that I had been named the senior commentator when he and I were working on the same day: I was assigned the more prestigious Grandstand Court, even though this other guy had more tennis experience than I do. When I asked how that happened - because it had seemed a little weird to me at the time - Tim said that he had made that call, and that he's trying to slowly move me up the batting order and increase my profile so that the ATP might eventually look at me as a likely option for more work on ATP 500 events or going to ATP 1000 events in person. I mean, tennis isn't my first choice for commentary work, but if I'm eventually invited to travel to Rome and Madrid and Indian Wells, etc., I'd very happily devote myself fully to tennis and make that sort of schedule work.

(I've been paying particular attention to Adam Fielder's career over the past few months; I've worked alongside Adam a few times in London as the junior commentator, including once earlier this season, and yesterday I heard him on Eurosport's French Open coverage, having heard him working onsite from Madrid earlier this month. He's got a good voice and I definitely rate him as a commentator; I'll need to buy him a drink when and if our paths next cross and pick his brain about how his career has developed.)
 

ConigliarosPotential

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So...today I received an email from the Olympic Broadcast Service with the subject line "Commentary at the Tokyo Olympics". Man, how I'd been hoping to receive that summons! The email says that my details were passed on to the OBS by Eurosport, and in it I've been asked if I'm available to work from 17 July to 8 August next summer (plus travel days before and after that). All very exciting...but then upon closer inspection, I noticed the following line in the email: "Obviously football is a key sport for us, and for the big matches we are looking for experienced commentators, who would work alongside an expert/analyst." They want me to work as a soccer commentator? I mean, I wouldn't say no - quite the contrary! - but soccer instead of baseball/softball or basketball? They know I have an American accent, right? I have the feeling some wires have been crossed somewhere; I'm just hoping they're the right wires from my perspective.

The email also goes on to say, "All facilities will be provided within the International Broadcast Centre - no commentary will take place at the respective venues." Now, at the Asian Games last year, the soccer commentators *were* working out of booths at the broadcast center and never worked onsite...but I'm pretty sure they're the only commentators for which that was the case. It would kinda suck to go all the way to Tokyo and commentate off-tube out of a tiny studio, wouldn't it? I mean, it wouldn't suck, but it sort of would. Anyway, as you can tell I'm a bit conflicted and have tried to ask for clarification without talking myself out of a gig. Hopefully I'll have more information to share in the next day or two!
 

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MDLzera
Sep 27, 2016
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awesome! The networking alone there, plus the resume bullet, would be totally worth it... even if they had you sit in a padded room 9-5 for 2 weeks, just in case some other commentator ate some bad sushi and needed a stand-in. I can only imagine how many sports producers are floating around that broadcast hub. Must be practically an industry convention for you.
 

ConigliarosPotential

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Whew...just heard back from the OBS, and they said baseball and softball would be the key sports for me, with soccer as a backup. So that's very much in line with what I would have hoped for and expected. (Still hoping that I might wind up in a stadium or two, rather than just in a studio, but I'll cross that bridge in due course.)
awesome! The networking alone there, plus the resume bullet, would be totally worth it... even if they had you sit in a padded room 9-5 for 2 weeks, just in case some other commentator ate some bad sushi and needed a stand-in. I can only imagine how many sports producers are floating around that broadcast hub. Must be practically an industry convention for you.
That's an interesting point...I wonder how much networking does go on at an event like this. Certainly I had some nice chats with my colleagues in Jakarta last summer, but that was a relatively small team; there were like 20 English-language commentators (if that many) for the whole Asian Games, so it made sense to stick together in that context. I can't imagine what an Olympics will be like just in terms of commentators, to say nothing of producers and other support staff!
 

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MDLzera
Sep 27, 2016
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and of course, they're going to have to give you accommodations sufficient for your entire family, you can't be expected to be away from them for 3 weeks straight, can you now.
 

jungleboy

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Mar 1, 2016
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Congratulations! I know a few people who do Games-time work for OBS, though in their case it’s mixed zone interviews and not commentary. I’m hoping to get some work for OIS (Olympic Information Service - my usual reporting role) or possibly OBS (in a broadcast mixed zone manager type role) for Tokyo, and in either case I’d obviously love to be assigned softball/baseball too. I’m off to the European Games in Minsk in 10 days so I’ll see if there’s any news with regards to Tokyo positions in my field.
 

ConigliarosPotential

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Congratulations! I know a few people who do Games-time work for OBS, though in their case it’s mixed zone interviews and not commentary. I’m hoping to get some work for OIS (Olympic Information Service - my usual reporting role) or possibly OBS (in a broadcast mixed zone manager type role) for Tokyo, and in either case I’d obviously love to be assigned softball/baseball too. I’m off to the European Games in Minsk in 10 days so I’ll see if there’s any news with regards to Tokyo positions in my field.
A SoSH work-related meeting in Tokyo would be very cool. Keep me posted!