11 April 2013

The demo reel

Those of us trying to make a career in broadcasting have quickly learned that it takes a lot more than a deep voice or a knowledge of sports to find work on the airwaves. It takes preparation, connections, practice, and a little bit of luck. But one of the most important calling cards – and part of the process that you can control – is the demo reel. (Here's my current crop)

Making a demo reel is no simple task. It is completely impractical to make a separate reel for each job one applies for, yet each hiring manager is looking for something different. One network may value letting the game breathe, while another may value over-the-top histrionics. Some may prioritize play-by-play work, some may be most focused on your comfort level in front of a camera, and still others most want to hear how you call the big play. A demo reel should find a way to impact any viewer.

This year I’m trying to raise the level of my demos by adding some excitement up front. I may be laid-back, but I like to think I know when to get excited, and I need to show that to producers.

So for my latest soccer demo, I gathered some of my favorite calls from the last four years of soccer broadcasting. As you may imagine, this was half the fun! Looking back on some of the most dramatic and memorable moments from the past few years (and evaluating my call of the play) probably took up the better part of 2-3 days. I went back through my highlight DVDs from the 2009 and 2010 Dynamo seasons and looked at most of my televised broadcasts from 2011-12, wrote down what I thought were the best calls and plays to grab someone’s attention, and then began to narrow the list.

The finalists amounted to about 12 minutes of footage, and that’s without almost anything from the 2011 Dynamo season, since I don’t have easy access to video from that year. Since I was aiming to keep the total demo around 10 minutes long, and I still had to fit in some play-by-play, cuts were a necessity.

As I narrowed things down, I also had to choose between putting all the highlights together or splitting up the radio and television calls. Since so much of my career has been in radio, and those are some of my most passionate calls, I definitely wanted them in there. But games are called very differently between radio and television, so in the end, I decided to split up the radio and television calls, labeling them appropriately.

Once I had the highlights down to about 5 minutes, 30 seconds, I had to identify a good on-camera clip so that television producers know what I look like. Last year was my first year in television, and it definitely took me a little while to get comfortable in front of a camera. I wound up going with part of the demo that helped land my ESPN3 work last year, an opening with Brian Dunseth from a Dallas-Philadelphia game.

I wanted to use a different game as an example of play-by-play, but after checking out a few clips, I decided it was important not to use a game I called remotely from a studio. While it is a skill in its own right, calling a game from studio does restrict your sense of atmosphere and does not allow for the sort of perspective I tend to use in a broadcast. So I picked a five-minute segment from a Dallas-Seattle game that included chances at both ends and a discussion with partner Ian Joy about the importance of a halftime substitution.

In the end, I've got a video less than 15 minutes long that should give you an idea of what I bring to the table as a soccer announcer. Hopefully it does the trick! Here's the final product:

08 April 2013

Ten years later: The Streak

It wasn't part of the streak, but Rice went on
to win the 2003 national title.

April 8 marks the 10-year anniversary of the most impressive sports streak I have ever personally witnessed, Rice University’s 30-game baseball winning streak in 2003. Ten years ago tonight, Rice beat Texas A&M 8-0 at Reckling Park in Houston to mark the Owls’ 30th consecutive win and run the team’s record to 33-1 on the season. They stood just four wins away from tying the Division I record of 34 consecutive wins, set by Texas in 1977, and 10 games shy of the NCAA record of 40 consecutive wins, set by Division III Marietta College (Ohio) in 1999.

Rice's streak came to an abrupt end the next night, with Lamar beating Rice 7-5. Somewhat appropriately, Rice will play Lamar head-to-head on Tuesday night, this time in Beaumont, 10 years to the day after the Cardinals ended Rice’s run. That Lamar win actually sent Rice into a tailspin that saw the Owls go 4-6 in their next 10 games and finish the regular season 15-9.

But the story has a happy ending for Rice alumni like me, as Rice went 10-2 in the NCAA tournament and won its first – and only – national championship, finishing a remarkable 58-12. As a Rice sophomore and radio broadcaster for the baseball team at the time, that entire season provided a series of special memories impossible to forget.

With my scorebooks packed away in storage, looking back at a simple list of results to remember the 30-game win streak is a bit odd. I actually don’t remember that many of the individual games, which is rare for me. Here, however, are a few I definitely recall:

Feb. 23 – Game No. 5 – A dreary Sunday afternoon at the end of a home tournament, Rice and UT-Arlington made it all the way to the 10th inning without scoring before a bloop single from Austin Davis gave Rice the win. Coming on the heels of a 6-0 win over SEC power Ole Miss, it felt like a prime example of a trap game, but Rice somehow found a way to win.

March 11 – Game No. 13 – The big one. Rice 2, Texas 1, a scoreline that never gets old. Enrique Cruz hit a dramatic late-game home run – to the opposite field – while Wade Townsend hit 97 on the radar gun with a strikeout of Omar Quintanilla and David Aardsma helped keep UT at 1 run in the late going. For a Rice person, it doesn’t get much better than that.

March 21 – Game No. 19 – Rice 20, Liberty 1 – It’s a mismatch and a blowout, of course, but I remember it because fourth-string walk-on catcher Jon Gillespie, a favorite of everybody involved with the program, got in the game and pulled a single through the right side. Jon wound up finishing with the highest batting average of any Rice player in 2003: a perfect 1.000.

April 8 – Game No. 30 – Rice 8, Texas A&M 0 – With Rice playing in the WAC at the time, facing Big 12 opposition on Tuesdays was a big deal, and Rice downed Texas, Nebraska, Baylor, and A&M during the streak, including this comprehensive demolition to reach No. 30.

I’ll leave you with the opening from an old newspaper article that includes one of my favorite ledes I've ever written, appearing the week before the streak came to an end:
Crash Davis, the wise catcher in the movie Bull Durham, once said “a player has to respect the streak.”
Rice baseball players respect their school-record 26-game winning streak, but they aren’t afraid to talk about it.
“It’s a blast,” sophomore first baseman Vincent Sinisi said. “We came back this year with a lot of confidence, and that’s all it is – a bunch of confidence. Everybody comes out every night expecting to win the ballgame.”
The Owls have won almost every ballgame for the past month and a half, running their record to 29-1 and claiming the consensus top ranking in the country.

05 April 2013

'Sabo'-metric look at scoring stat

Courtesy Real Salt Lake

There are a lot of statistics in soccer these days, and most of the time, I’m all for it. Finding numbers to illustrate key points or tracking long-running streaks can provide great talking points. But I get really frustrated when statistics are quoted out of context.

One such statistic caught my eye in this week’s MLSsoccer.com piece by Simon Borg, a friend and colleague with whom I love to argue and debate. In writing about Real Salt Lake forward Alvaro Saborío, Simon passed on a couple of statistics cited by Real Salt Lake GM Garth Lagerwey, presumably to indicate that Saborío is a clutch goalscorer and essential to his team’s success. The big statistic?

Real Salt Lake is 31-5-6 in all competitions when Saborío scores.

I have seen this stat used before in game notes, on television broadcasts, and in articles. But I have never found it to be particularly enlightening. After all, soccer is a low-scoring game. Isn’t it pretty obvious that a player scoring a goal is going to increase his team’s chances of winning? Don’t most teams have a high winning percentage when scoring at least one goal? Even if a team’s record when an individual scores is better than the team’s record when anybody scores, is it really because that player scored or is it perhaps because the team happened to play better defense in those games?

I asked Simon for his thoughts on the statistic, and he thought it was useful because it illustrated “the sense of Lagerwey and [head coach Jason] Kreis that [Saborío] is a clutch scorer. … There are plenty of scorers out there; not all of them show up when it counts.”

That’s certainly fair enough. I rate Saborío very highly and definitely consider him a key ingredient of Real Salt Lake’s success. I have enjoyed my conversations with both Lagerwey and Kreis, and I have an excellent relationship with the RSL communications staff. But I remained unconvinced that the statistic itself is all that indicative. I expected that most teams would have a winning record when their leading scorer found the net. I had no proof, however, so I set out to look at a few cases to test my theory.

In MLS last year, 13 players scored at least 10 goals. For each player, I went through his game-by-game log (thank you, Peter Hirdt and Elias Sports Bureau) and totaled his team’s record when he scores. I then looked up each team’s regular-season record when it scored at least one goal.

The win percentages based on individual scoring ranged from .500 (Will Bruin) to .857 (Steven Lenhart), with an average of .751 and a median of .773. Most of the numbers clustered between .750 and .789, and most players’ teams had suffered at least two losses when they scored.

The team numbers were, across the board, lower than the individual numbers, ranging from .500 (New England) to .818 (Real Salt Lake) and averaging .705.

Next, the crux of the issue: the difference between a team’s winning percentage when scoring any goal and its winning percentage when a particular individual scores. The average difference was .046, meaning a team wins 4.6% more of its games when its 10-goal striker scores than when just anybody scores. The highest number belonged to Steven Lenhart (.857 when he scored vs. 719 when any Earthquake scored), while the lowest number belonged to Will Bruin (.500 when he scored vs. .667 when any Dynamo player scored).

Player - 2012 seasonInd%Tm%Diff.
Steven Lenhart, SJ.857 (5-0-2).719 (19-5-8)+.138
Kenny Cooper, NY
.846 (10-1-2).714 (16-4-8)+.132
Saer Sene, NE.611 (4-2-3).500 (9-9-5)+.111
Robbie Keane, LA.750 (8-2-2).655 (16-7-6)+.095
Thierry Henry, NY.800 (8-2-0).714 (16-4-8)+.086
Chris Pontius, DC.833 (7-1-1).750 (17-4-5)+.083
Chris Wondolowski, SJ.789 (13-2-4).719 (19-5-8)+.071
Eddie Johnson, SEA.750 (8-2-2).704 (15-4-8)+.046
Fredy Montero, SEA.750 (6-1-3).704 (15-4-8)+.046
Alan Gordon, SJ.708 (7-2-3).719 (19-5-8)-.010
Kei Kamara, KC.773 (8-2-1).788 (18-3-5)-.016
Alvaro Saborio, RSL.800 (8-2-0).818 (17-3-2)-.018
Will Bruin, HOU.500 (2-2-6).667 (14-5-8)-.167
Nine of the 13 individuals had helped their team to a better win percentage when scoring, but Saborío (RSL was 8-2 when he scored) was actually one of the four who did not, along with Bruin, Alan Gordon, and Kei Kamara. Ironically, RSL was 7-0 in the 2012 regular season when since-traded forward Fabian Espindola scored.

Interestingly, a team’s defense might make it harder for a forward to steal the show. Of the seven players with the highest difference in the above table, all seven played for teams that allowed at least 43 goals. In the bottom six, only one (Gordon) played for a team that allowed at least 43 goals.

I would like to see Elias or Opta take a crack at these numbers and consider a much wider range of players and teams. But the data so far does not give me any reason to change my conclusion: Real Salt Lake does have a better chance of winning if Saborío scores, but not a significantly better chance than if anybody else scores.