Football broadcasters need to better explain analysis to viewers


TV shows for NFL and college football games try to cover almost every possible angle.

From a visual point of view, cameras are now placed throughout the stadium, even above the pitch, in the goal-line pylon and at the first down. In terms of analysis, the shows employ former referees as rules experts to interpret why and how certain calls are made.

Why don’t viewers offer the same depth of information and attention to detail when it comes to analysis?

Advanced metrics and data are increasingly influencing coaches’ decision-making, leading to sometimes confusing decisions about whether or not to kick fourth down, go for a two-point conversion instead of giving a extra kick and choosing to go for a win over a tie in regulation time.

Yet with the ability to explain what factors go into such decisions during a match – or even earlier, during match planning – TV analysts and their play-by-play broadcast partners often shrug their shoulders. and note anything they don’t understand, which the viewing public is likely to question as well, to “analytics” without providing any sort of explanation.

Football broadcasters should do better than that. And there’s no reason why they can’t.

A notable example of a broadcast team failing fans watching their game occurred during Fox’s telecast from Penn State in Michigan last Saturday. With less than a minute to go, Wolverines led 14-13 with the ball on the Nittany Lions 11-yard line. Facing a third down with two yards to go, the question became Michigan if the offense didn’t get a first down.

Would Coach Jim Harbaugh go for it on fourth down and risk ending possession scoreless and with a halftime deficit? Or would he kick a field goal and put Michigan ahead in the locker room?

Valid arguments could be made for either choice, but play-by-play announcer Gus Johnson asked analyst Joel Klatt: “I don’t know, what does the analytics say?” And at least some observers noted that Johnson seemed to pose the question with some disdain, adding, “That’s how they make all the decisions now.”

“I’ll just say this, I don’t know exactly what the book says,” Klatt replied. When asked what he would do, Klatt replied that he would take the points and kick a field goal.

But why doesn’t Klatt know “exactly what the book says”? Is this question asked when the Fox broadcast team meets Harbaugh or any of the other football coaches they cover over the course of a season? Do coaches think their analytics are proprietary information that they don’t want to share with a broadcast? Is there a concern that this somehow exposes the strategy?

How is this analysis considered adequate? Several sports media watchers took issue with the way the analysis issue was handled on Saturday’s Fox show.

Years ago, commentators would have said they didn’t know what a referee was looking at when calling a particular penalty. So what did the producers do? They hired ex-officials like Mike Pereira and Dean Blandino to explain what the umpires are looking at and how the rules are supposed to be interpreted. Why can’t we do the same to explain analytics now?

As Athleticismsaid Stewart Mandel, the information is available. Why can’t someone in the booth provide Klatt and his fellow analysts with the numbers that would explain a particular decision to the public?

It wouldn’t be the first time a sports broadcast has split percentages with viewers. Apple TV+’s Major League Baseball streaming TV shows put graphics on the screen giving a batter’s odds of succeeding in a certain situation. And fans generally didn’t consider this information to be particularly helpful. But this data could be extremely informative during a football broadcast.

The intention here is not to single out Joel Klatt. He is an excellent color commentator who constantly informs the viewers with observations and explanations of why a piece worked or not, why a player has or does not have success. Fox viewers High noon Saturday broadcast often learn something from his analysis.

Incidentally, Troy Aikman did the same last week on ESPN. Monday night football when the Las Vegas Raiders scored what was presumably a game-tying touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs. Raiders coach Josh McDaniels opted to go for a two-point conversion for the win, rather than giving up an extra point to tie.

This decision was attributed to analysis. But was McDaniels’ decision even an example of the use of analytics? Aikman did much the same this week FMN Broncos-Chargers telecast, talking about Los Angeles head coach Brandon Staley.

At some point, shouldn’t we provide more information than that? Can’t these broadcasters ask coaches questions about analytics-based decisions during their production meetings? How about having an analytics expert, perhaps someone who has collected this data for an NFL or college team, join the conversation explaining what the percentages are?

Unfortunately, interpreting analytics isn’t limited to game broadcasts, as Larry Fitzgerald demonstrated on ESPN. Monday night countdown.

“Analysts can’t come in and say the wind is blowing 30 miles and hour, it’s raining sideways, my left tackle is injured,” Fitzgerald said. “My wide receiver who has a bad hamstring isn’t moving as fast as he can. All of that, the analytics can’t take into account.”

This looks like a misunderstanding of Fitzgerald’s analysis. And he’s only a year into his NFL playing career. Has he heard of such factors cited by his coaches to justify particular decisions? Was the analysis dismissed by anyone who insisted that “gut feeling” or proven strategy should dictate choices rather than numbers?

Plus, how many coaches integrate analysis with the kind of old-fashioned on-court thinking that Fitzgerald touts? Maybe a placekicker or punter is malfunctioning. Maybe a coach feels his team wants to go fourth down.

Data and percentages are tools to help the decision-making process, not to dictate it. (Of course, some coaches might let analysis dictate strategy more than others.) But listening to football broadcasters, the use of numbers is often dismissed as contrary to the way football should be played and coached. . This is not the case and such an impression should not be given.

Analytics analysis doesn’t have to take over a football show, as some fans have complained that it’s happened to baseball when talking about exit velocity and launch angle. It wouldn’t happen anyway. Yet broadcasters include this information because front offices, managers and players integrate it. It’s part of the game.

The same goes for football today and viewers deserve to know how percentages influence decision-making and whether a coach is using data correctly. Sports broadcasters can and should explain this better.


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