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Obviously a radio broadcast of a sporting event requires an commentator or two to tell the listening audience what is going on. But why do TV broadcasts of sports almost always use commentators? What is the point of having someone describing the event when viewers can see for themselves?

Personally I am a frequent viewer of American football on TV, and I almost always find commentators take away from my viewing experience rather than add value to it. In fact I will often mute the volume to escape the annoyance of the commentators - but then I miss the actual sounds of the game, from the players and from the crowd. Overall the presence of the commentators can be quite frustrating.

I remember during the Olympics in Athens, the video of many less popular events (such as cycling) was viewable via online streaming, with no commentators, meaning the only audio was the sounds of the athletes and the spectators - and it was awesome! It felt less like watching on TV and more like really being there in person. So why isn't a similar approach taken for more conventional sports broadcasts? Why are commentators so frequently used in TV sports?

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Because they also give valuable information about what you see (and may not immediately be able to classify exactly). I'd immagine a commentatorless view to be downright boring (especially in American Football where about half the time consists just of breaks where absolutely nothing happens), but that's just me, I guess. Might be different if not watching it alone, though, where there're your fellow watchers to discuss it with. –  Napoleon Wilson Feb 8 at 1:55
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As a footnote, on the BBC interactive service, you can choose between full commentary, radio commentary and no commentary. As someone who's watched more football (soccer!) live than on TV, you're right, no commentary is usually better... –  Pat Dobson Feb 10 at 7:56
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2 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Beside from explaining rules to viewers who are not familiar with that particular sport, I see many advantages:

  • Normally, the commentators are from a bigger broadcasting company, they have the chance to get exclusive information (e.g., when someone was injured they can tell that the doctors was with him/her or he/she arrived at the hospital)
  • They have a lot of stastics (which nearly anyone could know. Even if they sit in front of a computer) they can tell when there is a boring moment of the sport. They will remind you of interviews of the players (e.g. when someone was asked if he/she will retire). Also, you have the feeling that something is going on even if the event is boring (I know a lot of people muting their tv and turning on radio broadcast in order to listen to the radio commentator since he will talk even more).
  • People watching sports alone do not feel that alone. In moment where some country is going to win something important (like the world soccer championship), they could make the moment special and many people will remember the commentator.
  • On many sports, they sit in the stadium seeing everything and not only things shown by the broadcaster, but other important things, too ("Some players are warming up", "the injured player is okay again and is waiting to rejoin the game"). Sometimes things happen that you don't see on TV and the commentator can see it and tell you (like Jimmy Jump who interferes with a lot a sports event and normally you will not see him).
  • Some commentators were active in sports and they can share their experience and the viewers may learn from them.
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I'll add that sometimes you don't recognize the guys (who's having the ball for example), because from the point of the camera for the action, it's too large. It may help to understand directly what he could do (according to its temper, speciality, etc.). Plus they often give contexts when you only watch big games or something like that (if the player did something extraordinarly a few weeks ago, etc, and we may hope to see him doing it again, etc.) –  Larme Feb 8 at 15:31
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Because not all viewers have in depth knowledge about the game, its rules, intricacies, strategies and nuances. Commentators also usually know more about the participating teams and players and their histories. So in that way, commentators add an extra level of information for viewers who may not have that information handy but would find it enjoyable. Also, they help fill the lulls between plays by entertaining the viewers with banter and/or trivia.

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