Diary of a commentator

Conigliaro's Potential

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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!
 

Conigliaro's Potential

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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.
 

Conigliaro's Potential

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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
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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.
 

Conigliaro's Potential

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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!
 

Conigliaro's Potential

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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.
 

Conigliaro's Potential

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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.)
 

Conigliaro's Potential

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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"!)
 

Conigliaro's Potential

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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.)
 

Conigliaro's Potential

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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...
 

Conigliaro's Potential

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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.)
 

Conigliaro's Potential

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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!)
 

Conigliaro's Potential

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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.
 

Conigliaro's Potential

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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...
 

Conigliaro's Potential

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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.)
 

Conigliaro's Potential

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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
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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.
 

Conigliaro's Potential

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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
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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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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.
 

Conigliaro's Potential

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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!
 

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FWIW, I received my proposed contract for work on the 2020 Olympics today - in an email linking me to a bespoke OBS website set up specifically to facilitate contract offers like mine to who-knows-how-many people. The bureaucracy involved for a project like the Olympics must be truly staggering; I mean, it was crazy enough last year at the Asian Games, but I can't imagine how much exponentially larger a Summer Olympiad must be. Humorously, my contract doesn't tell me which sports I'll be commentating on - instead, it says that commentators "will have their sports allocated in advance; in extreme situations, though, they may be asked to commentate on a sport on short notice." I've asked for a clarification about the tentative scope of my work, and also asked a question about possibly traveling to Yokohama and/or Fukushima to commentate on baseball and softball games in person (in the guise of asking whether such travel arrangements ought to be written into my contract); the latter seems unlikely, insofar as the tentative venue for my work is listed as "T00 - International Broadcast Centre", but hopefully it doesn't hurt to ask.

Oh, does anyone vaguely remember me talking about Agent Tim asking me to provide commentary on a virtual reality basketball gambling game? Looks like that's back on for me, as a) the job somehow still hasn't been started, and b) the other guy who had been signed up by Tim to do the job, the aforementioned Adam Fielder, is basically touring the world full-time as a tennis commentator now and can't spare the time. I'll probably need to go down to Leeds for a few days at least once but otherwise should be able to do the work from home; even though it sounds like it should pay pretty well, and I might learn a thing or two from it to incorporate into my tennis videogame commentary work, it's not a job I particularly want to do, for multiple reasons. But I did promise Tim that I'd help him out if he were to find himself in a jam, and he's now found himself in a jam. Oh well.

In other news, a Talent Coordinator from Spalk reached out to connect with me this evening via LinkedIn. Is anyone familiar with this company or its product? The idea is intriguing, at least - a technology platform that allows commentators to work from home in calling their games, and also allows for multiple commentary streams to be linked to the same game (letting fans choose which commentary language or style they want to hear). So hopefully I'll find out more soon...
 

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MDLzera
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I haven't heard of it but from the game threads around here, I sense there's a market.
 

Conigliaro's Potential

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I haven't heard of it but from the game threads around here, I sense there's a market.
Yes, there might well be. Some internet sleuthing suggests to me that Spalk is targeting second-tier sports in America rather than the NFL-NBA-MLB-NHL axis, but actually, the really great idea I've come up with (if I do say so myself) is that Spalk ought to try and partner with the big leagues to provide alternative commentary streams designed to appeal to fans familiar with advanced statistics and which don't always cleave toward the lowest common denominator. I mean, imagine me commentating on an NFL game alongside, I dunno, Bill Barnwell or Robert Mays or Dan Orlovsky or Ross Tucker. The trick is that the color guy in this situation would need to be relatable as well as incredibly well informed, while his partner man has to be both conventionally good at the job of providing traditional play-by-play commentary *and* be statistically savvy enough to know how to tee up the color guy and react to the comments he's making. I wonder how that sort of pitch might be received, both by a company like Spalk and the leagues themselves? (I suspect it'd find plenty of fans here at SoSH, anyway...)

Meanwhile, on the Olympic front, I have had it pretty much confirmed that I'll be doing all of my baseball and softball commentary from the IBC in Tokyo. Which kinda sucks - I'd be hard-pressed to think of a sport which is less suitable to off-tube commentary than baseball, both in terms of seeing what's happening on a given play and in being able to fill the gaps between pitches with local color. I think I'm going to reach back out to Tom Valcke, the Hong Kong manager at last year's Asian Games and my color partner for the gold medal baseball game, and see if he has any thoughts to share with me about this, insofar as he called all of the Montreal Expos away games off-tube during their last season before relocating. (I did ask if I might at least travel to Yokohama and/or Fukushima to see the venues in person, and it sounds as though at least the former might be possible, but we'll see.)
 

cgori

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(I did ask if I might at least travel to Yokohama and/or Fukushima to see the venues in person, and it sounds as though at least the former might be possible, but we'll see.)
The travel from Tokyo to Yokohama is almost trivial, FYI, depending on exactly where the baseball/softball venue is. The big soccer (football) stadium, where they held Club World Cup is quite close to Shin-Yokohama - basically it's one stop from Tokyo Central to get there, maybe 10-15 minutes on the high-speed train ("shinkansen"). I think it costs $15 one-way, if I remember correctly. It's fast enough that you don't need to get a reserved seat, you can stand and not even notice. But your request is probably more about media credentials and access to the venue. You could certainly get to the general area on your own without much effort at all to do some site scouting, once they've gotten you to Tokyo.

I've never been to Fukushima but I just googled it. It's like 90min and $80-85 one-way, also served by shinkansen.

I haven't been to Japan in 2 years but even then they were getting VERY excited about the Olympics coming there. It will be awesome.
 

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In other news, a Talent Coordinator from Spalk reached out to connect with me this evening via LinkedIn. Is anyone familiar with this company or its product? The idea is intriguing, at least - a technology platform that allows commentators to work from home in calling their games, and also allows for multiple commentary streams to be linked to the same game (letting fans choose which commentary language or style they want to hear). So hopefully I'll find out more soon...
So I spoke with the guy from Spalk the other night. It was a very interesting conversation, and one which could lead to me getting more work in due course. He also very much liked my suggestion about alternative advanced-stats-friendly commentary streams on NFL/NBA/MLB games; I strongly suspect he's too low on the totem pole to influence policy, but if I've planted the seed for something that might bear fruit down the road...well, you can all thank me later.

(I'd be interested to hear who you guys would want to hear on an "advanced" commentary stream. Tear up everything you know about sports TV and start from scratch: looking at the major American sports, if you could partner a traditional play-by-play guy in the booth with any type of partner and not necessarily an ex-player, with the latitude not to have to dumb down your broadcast to the lowest common denominator fan, who would you pick? I'm thinking about the right combination of statistical friendliness, analytical insight and media savvy - the names that came to mind for me were Robert Mays for the NFL and Zach Lowe for the NBA, and maybe someone like Joe Sheehan for MLB, although I'm less familiar about who's good on the sabermetric front these days.)

Funnily enough, Agent Tim was supposed to have a chat with a couple of guys from Spalk the other night as well - not connected with me - but they've had to reschedule. In other news, yesterday Agent Tim offered me a rare soccer commentary job from Leeds on one of the money-spinning International Champions Cup friendlies later this month. He didn't say which game, but he did say the date and time, which means it's either Bayern Munich vs. AC Milan from Kansas City, or Atletico Madrid vs. Guadalajara from Arlington. But it doesn't matter, because I passed on the job - the kickoff is at 2 a.m. UK time on a Wednesday, which is horribly inconvenient in many different ways for me. And without the promise of a regular flow of soccer commentary work, these one-off sorts of assignments basically mean starting at the bottom of the learning curve every time, and there's no way all the work necessary to do the job well is worth the relatively meager pay and the horrible travel and scheduling. Also, as enticing as Bayern vs. Milan sounds on paper, how many different players would I have to prepare to potentially call? (Exactly.)
 

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Just a quick thread bump to mention that I'm off to London tomorrow for my next ATP tennis commentary assignment - I'm calling Sunday, Monday and Tuesday action from Cincinnati. Sunday will be a bit weird insofar as the first day of matches coincides with the final from Montreal, so I'm the only commentator on duty, and in fact I'll be calling matches on the main stadium court. My real hope is that Andy Murray - confirmed to be playing his first singles tournament since the Australian Open, and not seeded - might get an evening match on Sunday, in which case I'll likely be the only commentator anywhere calling his return match. But more likely, his debut will get pushed to Monday, and I'll be covering the third-choice featured court by then and not the first.

Apart from that, I've had some interesting nibbles in recent weeks, including an offer which came in this morning to possibly call some Pacific Coast League baseball via Spalk (from home here in Scotland), but nothing concrete. I've temporarily stopped work on the tennis video game to focus on my prep both for this week's tennis and for the start of the Champions Hockey League season - I'm already prepping the 10 teams I'll be calling in my first eight games for the latter - but I'll be back with more on that front in due course.
 

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No luck on the tennis front - no Andy Murray for me tonight. My Center Court draw for tonight is Alex de Minaur v Marco Cecchinato at 2 p.m. ET, John Isner v Dusan Lajovic at 7 p.m. ET (midnight for me), and a doubles match of Goffin/Hurkacz v Dodig/Polasek after that (c. 2 a.m. for me). Bleurgh.
 

thehitcat

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Just wanted to say that I really enjoy reading this. It's a fascinating look in on a career that I always thought I knew but really didn't. I appreciate you keeping us behind the scenes. Thank you.
 

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Just wanted to say that I really enjoy reading this. It's a fascinating look in on a career that I always thought I knew but really didn't. I appreciate you keeping us behind the scenes. Thank you.
My pleasure! Well, apart from the story I'm about to tell...

I was staying at a friend's house in North London today and took the Underground to the studio in the afternoon after finishing up my research. I'm wearing shorts and sandals on a comfortably warm day, and as this woman got on the train she rolled her small suitcase right into the big toe on my right foot and ripped the toenail right out of my foot - I've had some issues with this toenail before, but I certainly wasn't expecting that! I managed to recover and make it through my first commentary match OK (which de Minaur won 6-7 6-1 6-2 over Cecchinato), but I'm in quite a bit of pain now; maybe this will help keep me awake through the night? (Or maybe I'll just pass out through a loss of blood?)

That aside, I've managed to get in touch today with another BBC golf producer - my third. The first guy I met with back in December left a few months ago to cover Rugby League in the UK, and the second guy with whom I'd exchanged emails was just keeping the chair warm for the third guy, who is just finished covering the Tour de France but will be the new full-time golf guy. Producer #3 is on vacation for another two weeks but replied to my email anyway within a few hours (very unexpected!) and was suitably apologetic for the tail-chasing I've been doing. So hopefully that'll be the beginning of a beautiful relationship...

Meanwhile, the Spalk guy corrected me regarding the baseball assignment I mentioned the other day - actually, it's not for the Pacific Coast League, but rather the Japanese Pacific League. Which makes the job both more attractive (from the time zone perspective) and more gettable (given that I'll be calling Olympic baseball from Tokyo next year)! Not sure how that would work with my forthcoming travel schedule, mind you, but it could be surprisingly lucrative depending on how many games are involved.
 

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I was working until 4 a.m. last night - thankfully Goffin/Hurkacz got steamrollered by Dodig/Polasek in the late doubles match, because Isner and Lajovic played a long three-setter before them (Isner winning 7-5 in the third). I've worked a couple of Isner matches in the past, and they haven't been terribly enjoyable - just because his serve is so good, and his return game is so rather less good - but last night's quality level was actually pretty decent, and certainly miles beyond Cecchinato v de Minaur earlier in the day.

Anyway, I'm staying in an Airbnb flat with three or four other women, and the stairs and floorboards are quite creaky, so I was awoken around 7:30 this morning. Fun! Today I was going to be on Stadium 3 (and said as much last night on the air), covering two singles matches and Djokovic's doubles match, but thankfully I had done virtually no prep to that effect before I got the email this morning saying that the world feed would be covering both Center Court and the Grandstand, so I've been bumped to Court 4, which features three singles matches: Denis Kudla vs. Lucas Pouille, Matteo Berrettini vs. Juan Ignacio Londero, and Pablo Carreno Busta vs. Gilles Simon. The first and third matches have perhaps the more familiar names, but I'm probably the most excited about Berrettini vs. Londero, two guys who are in really great form and in the middle of the best seasons of their careers by far. Timing-wise, my matches are all consecutive (2nd, 3rd and 4th on court), starting probably around 5:30 p.m. my time and likely finishing just after any restaurants I might have hoped to visit for dinner will have closed. More fun!
 

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I bet a lot of them will deliver to you, CP. I realize it's not quite NYC when it comes to willingness to deliver, but I'd bet you can come up with something. Indian if nothing else.

It seems like Murray will be on center court for all his matches, come hell or high watermelon. Any prospects of getting him, or are you hopelessly outranked?
 

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I bet a lot of them will deliver to you, CP. I realize it's not quite NYC when it comes to willingness to deliver, but I'd bet you can come up with something. Indian if nothing else.

It seems like Murray will be on center court for all his matches, come hell or high watermelon. Any prospects of getting him, or are you hopelessly outranked?
Re: delivery, that was never going to happen, for many reasons: lack of time to find menus and order from them, lack of time to actually receive the food and eat it while it was hot, and so on. It's fine - I went to a burrito place for lunch around 3 p.m. and got a supermarket pasta salad for dinner, which I wolfed down between my second and third matches around 9:45 p.m.

Re: Andy Murray, if you're talking about singles matches, there's absolutely no chance in hell. But if you mean his doubles matches...well, I'm actually calling one tomorrow, as he's been exiled out to Court 4 for some reason (with Felly Lopez against Rojer/Tecau). Which is kinda exciting, I'm not gonna lie - there are definitely British tennis fans who will go out of their way to watch Murray play doubles, and I know this because David Law and Catherine Whitaker were talking about this very subject in yesterday's edition of The Tennis Podcast. He's on second, and I have two interesting-looking singles matches on fourth and fifth in the form of Bautista Agut v Hurkacz (1st round) and De Minaur v Coric/Opelka (2nd round).

As for today, I was feeling a little sorry for myself when I started calling Kudla v Pouille: I was really tired, both players were in wretched form, and the TV production values out on Court 4 were very low. This was my first time calling an outer court match, and after being on Center Court yesterday, it was quite an awful comedown - e.g., fixed camera at the back of the court which couldn't track players standing wide at the back of the court to receive a serve. Pouille won the first set and broke at 5-5 in the second to serve for it, had four match points which he blew, got broken, and Kudla got to 6-4 in the tiebreak for two set points, and I was convinced this hellish, low-quality match would never end and this would be my Waterloo. But Kudla choked the tiebreak away, and things got better after that: Londero v Berrettini was of a much higher standard, with Londero playing a really impressive match to win in straight sets, and Simon v Carreno Busta was even better. I wouldn't have minded it going three sets, but Carreno Busta pulled it out 7-5, 7-6 with some seriously impressive shotmaking. So I like tennis again...whew. (Also, three straight-sets matches meant I was back in my Airbnb by quarter past midnight, so I've got a fighting chance of getting some sleep tonight. I should probably stop typing.)
 

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I woke up today and have discovered that the Coric v Opelka match last night seems to have been suspended in the third set, which means the winner's match against Alex de Minaur has been pushed back by a day, which means that I'm instead calling the doubles match of Struff/Thiem vs. Schwartzman/Zeballos last on court. That guarantees a slightly earlier night for me, given that the doubles can't go to a full third set, and I hadn't done any prep yet so that doesn't matter (although doing a second de Minaur match in a row would have been pretty easy for me), but I'm a bit miffed by the schedulers. Why would they have the last guys playing on one night return the next night anyway, given the possibility of rain and that most of the second-round matches are happening on Wednesday anyway? Anyway, no big deal, but under other circumstances that would be really quite annoying.
 

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I really enjoyed my first taste of Andy Murray commentary this afternoon. Despite being on an outer court with low production values - and a much-reduced stats package, which I didn't mention yesterday - I felt like a journalist almost as much as a commentator, trying to convey the reactions to Murray's singles match yesterday and his outlook for the future as much as actually commentating on the match itself. (I articulated in my commentary that there were clearly two tracks I would be pursuing simultaneously, the match itself and the Murray story.) And it was a fun match: Murray got broken serving at 3-4 in the first set, and Rojer/Tecau served it out; then Murray/Lopez jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second, got pegged back to 3-3, but surged to win it 6-3, and then Murray/Lopez won the match tiebreak 10-3 to knock the 4th seeds out of the tournament. So Murray, like the USA Hockey Team, has now won every match of his I've commentated on. (And it's funny how many UK-based Facebook friends I have were very excited to hear I was calling a Murray match...as though I'd done anything to earn that reward, other than be assigned to an outside court on which Murray happened to be appearing.)

At one point during the second set I was going down the list of doubles matches being played today in my commentary, when I noticed the Thiem/Struff vs. Schwartzman/Zeballos match had been cancelled. For a moment my spirits soared - I'd be able to get home nice and early! - but then it dawned on me that as it was still a first-round match, a substitute team might be summoned. To my annoyance, the latter is what happened: with Thiem having withdrawn from the tournament (doubles and singles) with a cold and a fever, the alternate pairing of Benoit Paire and Adrian Mannarino has gotten into the event, which meant I had to spend much of the break I'm currently on - waiting for the Hurkacz v Bautista Agut match to start - researching two new players. I hate it when that happens.
 

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What a bizarre evening of commentary. The production values on Court 4 for Hurkacz v Bautista Agut, low enough already to begin with, sank even further as the match went along. The director was all over the place: on one point, an iso camera on Bautista Agut remained in view through the first four or five shots. On another, at a key moment in the first-set tiebreak, the whole point was seen through the elevated camera on one corner of the court, looking back toward the sun with a bit of glare. The main scoreboard graphic at the end of each game was consistently one game behind the actual score - e.g., when Bautista Agut won the first set, it still said "6-6". All incredibly frustrating.

With Bautista Agut up 4-2 in the second set and Hurkacz serving, my screen went completely black. After a few seconds I poked my head out the door and called to the production room to say that my feed was dead...but it wasn't just me. I had the Tennis TV app on my phone showing the Djokovic-Querrey match, and after a few more seconds (i.e., the length of the delay between transmission and reception) it went black too. The blackout lasted maybe 2-3 minutes, during which I kept watching the scoreboard closely - and resisting the temptation to dial up SoSH - and when we came back up, it was 4-3, and Bautista Agut was serving at 30-0. But there were no score graphics in the bottom corner of the screen, and it became apparent that there were no camera changes: we only had the fixed camera at the back of the court operational. Or so it seemed, right up until the next Hawkeye challenge...which seems to have woken the director up from what I assume was an alcohol-induced coma, as we did them see the Hawkeye resolution, and then the graphics came back up, and the multi-camera production kicked in again. Ridiculously amateur.

So the match finished - Bautista Agut wrapping things up in straight sets, and I signed off by saying that after a short break I'd be back to call the Mannarino/Pouille vs. Schwartzman/Zeballos match. I popped out of my booth to have a word with the production team...and one of the guys in the control room noticed that Mannarino/Pouille and Schwartzman/Zeballos were already underway on Court 8! What the hell? We looked at the ATP Tour website: its order of play still had my doubles match on Court 4. They looked at their master feed from ATP production HQ: no notice at all that my match had been moved. I asked if they could or would patch me through to Court 8, even if they wanted to: they said they couldn't, not without taking down the feed for a few minutes to switch a few key controls, which would disrupt both the live stream of the match and the recording for future playback. So after smirking a few more minutes, I got my hall pass and was free to go: I match I was never excited about calling in the first place, but for which I'd prepared extensive notes on six different players, was now out of my hands. As I type this post, almost an hour after I left the studio, Mannarino/Pouille vs. Schwartzman/Zeballos stands at 7-6, 4-4...and I'm gearing up to go to bed. Thank heavens for small mercies, even if I can't believe how much work I did today was ultimately wasted.
 

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Hahahahaha - Mannarino/Pouille and Schwartzman/Zeballos split a pair of tiebreaks, and at 6-3 in the concluding match tiebreak (first to 10 points), the heavens have opened, and there's a rain delay. If I were stuck in the studio now, I'd absolutely be tearing my hear out. (Although actually, now that I think about it, worries about the weather were probably behind the decision to move their match to Court 8 in the first place; if the match had been any shorter, they would have beaten the rain.)
 

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So, tomorrow I fly to Vienna (via Zurich) for the start of another Champions Hockey League season. As usual, I'm very busy for the first two weeks of the competition: I have games to call this Thursday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday, and then next Thursday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday as well. Unusually, after our producer picked out which three games we were going to commentate upon each day a month or so ago, he let us choose which games we wanted to call...and I immediately formulated a rota myself for the three of us commentators which minimized the number of teams we had to prepare for (10 teams, in my case), ensured that the same person was calling both games of any home-and-home pairings that were chosen, evened out the balance between early and late game times, and ensured we all had a roughly even number of marquee matchups. There's always a danger when I make suggestions like this that they'll be taken the wrong way, but thankfully both of the other guys were happy with what I'd done. And I'm happy because I get to call both of the teams I called in last year's CHL Final over the next two weeks: two Red Bull Munich games, including my very first game on Thursday (against Swiss newcomers Ambri-Piotta), and one Frölunda Gothenburg game. I've been listening quite a lot to the highlight reel I prepared of last year's Final over the past few weeks, mainly because I really love how my voice sounds here - this is what I want to sound like in pretty much every hockey game I call, from introduction right to the finish:

View: https://vimeo.com/316070408

(I should note, by the way, that it's a lot easier for me to sound this intense and jazzed up when I'm in the arena rather than commentating off-tube. That's my main challenge this season: I want to find ways to sound like this on every game I call, even when I'm in a small booth and calling games from half-empty arenas.)

This year, I've prepared like *crazy* for the CHL. I researched the 10 teams I'm commentating on live over the next two weeks as thoroughly as I can, of course, but I've actually prepared opening day roster sheets for all 32 CHL teams this year, which I've never attempted before. For the other 22 teams I'm not calling just yet, with a few exceptions I've not researched each player individually as such - no stats from last season, CHL histories, or interesting facts - but I have noted all incoming summer player moves, as well as basic biographical information (name, number, age, height, weight, nationality, position) and pronunciations for all of the players on the other 10 teams whose highlights I'll be voicing over this week. My goal will be to track each player's goals/assists/saves and games played after each night's action, so that when I come to voice over any highlights package, I'll have enough information I can call upon at a moment's notice to sound much more knowledgeable about European ice hockey than I actually am. (I did something similar during the KHL playoffs two seasons ago, tracking every player's performance on a nightly basis, but that only involved 16 teams and got easier a lot faster as each playoff round went along.)

I suppose it was easier for me to spend so much time on the CHL over the past few weeks given how quiet the rest of my commentary life has been - I exchanged emails with Agent Tim yesterday, an exchange remarkable for just how little good or interesting news Tim had to share. (In particular, I'd asked about calling the first two days of action at the ATP 1000 event in Shanghai, after which I could have flown straight to Vienna from London, but he'd already assigned those matches to other people and I'm out of luck.) I'm not too fussed, though; I know I'm as ready as I can be for what's coming over the next few weeks, and hopefully I should be able to enjoy myself once I get to Austria. As it happens, I'm not flying home between the first and second week of this year's CHL as I have done every other year; my wife has agreed that I can stick around over the three days in between, and my company in Vienna will pay for my hotel while I'm around - just as cheap as flying me home and back - so I'm going to take the train to Innsbruck on Monday morning for a few days of R&R. Tonight I've also finally managed to schedule a phone call with the new head of BBC's golf coverage; that will take place on Thursday morning, so please spare a thought for me on that front as well!
 

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I'm back in my Vienna studio, where the kitchen has been relocated to a different part of the building but otherwise everything is pretty much exactly as I left it in January. It's nice to be back - and I'm delighted to be reminded of just how big the television screen is in my booth! It's funny, I figured large screens ought to be de rigeur in the line of off-tube commentary work I'm in, and yet from Eurosport to DAZN to Tennis TV, everywhere else I've worked I've had to cope with noticeably smaller screens. And obviously, the larger the image projected to you is, the easier it is to see what's what.

Earlier today I was forwarded my list of highlights voiceover assignments for next week, and a few non-hockey games were accidentally listed on the sheet - one of which was for a Netherlands U20 v Germany U20 soccer match next Sunday, and which had "Eng TBD" down for the commentator assignment. Hmmm...so I contacted Producer Markus today and spoke with him on my arrival in the office and asked if I might be able to fill that role. Actually, it's not the best gig in the world - in part because the kickoff of the football match is exactly two hours before the start of my hockey game that day, which wouldn't leave me much margin for error should there be a bad injury or something else happen in the football. And I think it's been tentatively assigned to someone else anyway, so I probably won't get it. But that might be a fun doubleheader on which to end my two weeks in Austria...

Meanwhile, I did have that chat with the BBC golf guy this morning, and it was encouraging if not immediately productive. He likes my demo reels and could see me potentially getting involved in his team next year - especially in the context of the Ryder Cup - but as you might expect, the BBC is very much on a diversity kick at the moment, and he's just come off of producing their Tour de France radio coverage with an all white/male team of commentators (and possibly even producers), so my timing isn't great from that perspective. But because the European Championship soccer tournament is happening next summer, some of the radio soccer guys who often join the golf team may be on assignment elsewhere and leave an opening. And because I can write as well as commentate, I may offer a dual-threat option which could bump me up the queue of other guys who have already expressed their interest in golf-related duties. Put it this way: he told me point blank that if there wasn't any potential for me to get involved, he wouldn't waste his time or mine. So I'll claim that as a victory for the moment!
 

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Just a quick report to say that my game tonight finished 3-0 to Red Bull Munich - I missed calling the opening goal because I was looking up a fact on one of my research pages and missed a quick snapshot off of a faceoff win, and the third goal was an empty-netter, so I only got to make one proper goal call. (I've heard the tape and think I covered about as well as I could have done on the first goal, but still.) Meanwhile, my two colleagues both got to call 5-4 games, one of which ended on an OT winner and the other of which saw the Belfast Giants shock the Czech club Bili Tygri Liberec. So yeah, my loss. I'll have better games and better nights! (I was fairly pleased with my efficient highlights voiceover work, though, which got me out of the office before 11 p.m. despite a late start.)
 

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One point I meant to mention last night: "Ambri-Piotta" is a pain in the ass to say over and over and over again. I tend to be inconsistent with the "t" sound near the end of a word ending in a vowel anyway - I'm never sure whether to make it a softer "d"-like sound ("Piodda") or to almost over-emphasize the harshness of the "t" - but always having to use five syllables every time you reference the team name just isn't fun. And unlike North American sports, not many European hockey teams have nicknames that you can use as such; I would refer to "the Swiss zone" and occasionally referenced "HCAP" (for Hockey Club Ambri-Piotta), which is four syllables instead of five and rolls off the tongue easier, but still. And I'm calling Ambri-Piotta matches twice more this fortnight as well! I guess I only have myself to blame for assigning them to me...

I'm calling the Cardiff Devils - who do have a nickname (and the same red/green color scheme as their New Jersey namesake) - against Mountfield HK of the Czech league tonight, and one of the British referees tonight is named Dean Smith. I've just realized that Aston Villa's current manager is also called Dean Smith, as of course is the legendary UNC basketball coach. I'm sure it's not the least common name in the world, but what are the odds that two prominent coaches/managers in the sports world would share that name?
 

rbeaud

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CP, just wanted to again offer that your running commentary is an interesting read. I may not check this as often as BBtL, though always enjoy "catching up" with you.