When do television companies go too far in providing on-field access during games?


April 20, 2019 16:31:13

With modern technology allowing viewers unprecedented access to once sanctified parts of sport, just how close is too close, and is the increased access warranted, or even something the fans want?

On Easter Thursday’s AFL match, fans watching Channel Seven’s coverage were treated to the thoughts of Luke Hodge mid-match during a ‘sounds of the game’ segment.

Speaking to sideline reporter Abbey Holmes, Hodge gave his thoughts on the direction of the game, while his teammates battled to a 62-point thumping at the hands of Collingwood.

Not everyone was a fan of this unparalleled access to the players, with AFL.com.au writer Damian Barrett saying that he might want to re-think his approach in his column.

If Hodgey thinks it is a good idea to combine a well-paid media contract with a football one and provide commentary during an actual game of football …

Then he might want to re-think it. Talking dribble within-match adds absolutely nothing to the broadcast, nor his now back-to-reality and consecutive-week thrashed team. Focus on your footy club, the media deals can be pursued when you’re retired.

Hodge arced up at the insinuation that he was paid for the privilege of being spoken to, saying that the media drove the interaction in a desire to have evermore access to the players and that the club had asked him to participate.

Channel Seven and Holmes both praised the access afforded by the Brisbane Lions, with Holmes saying on Twitter, “how good was it for the fans to have such a champion of the game give them insight during a match, in the moment?”.

“Bloody brilliant access by [Brisbane Lions] and [Luke Hodge]! I hope other clubs take note.”

However, plenty of supporters were slightly bemused over the interaction, including Offsiders columnist Richard Hinds, who said that the on-field exchanges should be left to “novelty” events.

However this pattern of cameras and microphones being shoved into the face of players at what had previously been considered inopportune moments is already far removed from the more traditional pre- and post-match press conferences.

Players are now regularly accosted as they leave the field for a half-time break, or coaches taken away from team talks to offer their last minute thoughts to the viewers at home, all in the name of improved access.

But how far is too far? Should broadcasters scale back their access to players in the heat of the moment and let them do their jobs.

On-field sanctity

We’ve all heard the adage, what happens on the field stays on the field, but with cameras being thrust into huddles and microphones being left everywhere, that secrecy is becoming more elusive than ever.

Stump microphones have been a part of cricket since World Series, although even then the pitfalls of leaving an open microphone too close to the heat of battle became evident thanks to the alarming regularity of profanities.

That has not completely changed, and even as recently as Australia’s ill-fated South Africa tour players from both sides were warned over their verbal behaviour when in earshot of the microphones.

However, it’s not all bad.

The audio provided by stump microphones provided some memorable moments between India and Australia over the summer.

Some of those exchanges provided a valuable glimpse at how players attempt to get under each others skins, such as in Perth between Virat Kohli and Tim Paine, whilst others were just plain entertaining.

The entertaining verbal jousting between Rishabh Pant and Paine did not result in wicketkeeper gloves being flung to the ground as gauntlets, but instead resulted in a touching exchange to arrange childcare for the Australian skipper.

Camera’s Gaze catches out Andrew

The National Basketball League was caught red-faced last season when Andrew Gaze made an “inappropriate” comment that was heard live on the broadcast when a camera was inserted into a Sydney Kings huddle late in a game against Cairns Taipans in December.

“I said something that was private, that was in the context of our huddle and that was inappropriate for the public to hear,” Gaze said.

“Unfortunately this league has a policy of going in there without telling us.

“I don’t know when. In the emotion of things, you might say things. But I would like to apologise for what was said.”

Gaze is clearly not a fan of the league’s policy of getting fans right to the heart of the action, but understands what needs to be done to sell the game.

“I think its grossly unfair what they do to the coaches in those circumstances,” Gaze said.

“If they’ve got to do it, OK put a sign up, put a red light up and say ‘you’re on’ and then it’s on us.

“But if I don’t know when it’s on or off that’s when I’m embarrassed for myself and it shouldn’t happen, so it’s really, really disappointing.

“People don’t want to see that, they don’t want to hear that, they shouldn’t have to hear that.

“It’s upsetting for me that people have to hear that and it’s a real shame that that’s the way [the NBL] treat us.

“But if that’s the world we live in then at the very least put a sign up and say ‘you’re on’ so it gives us a small chance of controlling ourselves and not having to go through a situation where I deeply apologise for what was said.”

The NBL has taken a leaf out of the American sports broadcasters’ playbook, but has also afforded access that helps to grow the game and league in what is still a developing market.

As Gaze attests, he is not a fan, but also acknowledges, “we do our best to sell this game”.

‘That’s what fans crave these days’

The NFL has long pioneered having microphones on players, first attaching microphones between the pads of linemen back in 2011.

As a genuine made-for-tv product, and the most watched sport in the United States, the NFL has constantly pushed the boundaries to deliver a bigger and better product.

“It makes you feel like you’re right there,” John Entz, Fox Sports’ executive vice-president for production, said in 2014 when microphones were introduced to the big leagues.

“That’s what fans crave these days.”

Legendary quarterback Peyton Manning told the LA Times back in 2014 that he was against the micing up of players, but now the on-field audibles are as synonymous with the game as cheerleaders.

“I think there’s a place for hearing the sounds,” Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, a former member of the league’s broadcast committee, said.

“Just hearing some of the action that’s going on out there.

“I don’t have mixed emotion about it as to anything competitively, or anything taken away there. It’s just whether or not you think it’s going over the line show business-wise.”

Jones’ comments cut to the heart of the issue.

As long as sport is about providing an entertainment product, broadcasters will constantly push the boundaries as to what is acceptable access.









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