No One Wants to Take College Algebra Again: An Opinion on the State of Water Polo Broadcasts

By: Adam King

Sports broadcasts are forms of entertainment by nature. The crowd noise, in-depth commentary and the high levels of gameplay are all signature pieces to the overall puzzle of a great viewing experience for many. Now strip the crowd noise and detailed commentary and what do you get? -most Water Polo broadcasts.

The vast majority of Water Polo broadcasts are broken. This is due to a number of factors, ranging from the underwhelming amount of commentary and broadcast support to the general lack of video quality provided. This article is not a direct shot at one network or another, nor is it meant to be a critique on the commentators themselves. However, this is meant to be a shot at the overall effort (or lack thereof) put into the coverage of our sport. It is not lost on me that Water Polo in general is a very niche sport and that the overall costs associated with a 

broadcast eliminate some of those abilities to put forward a high-def. product, however I still feel as though there is much to be desired when watching a Water Polo broadcast. If we hope to extend our sport and invite others to enjoy the game the same way we do, we need to do better. 

The Commentary:

Take a second to think of the last sporting event you watched on TV. Let’s take the last Miami Dolphins game that I watched on CBS. The color commentator was explaining why the Dolphins were lining up for a field goal instead of trying for the touchdown, even though they were down by 30 in the fourth quarter (as must Dolphins games seem to go as of late). The play-by-play announcer called out the long snapper’s name, the kicker’s old College record and the kicker’s success from 35 yards away this season. The crowd noise was intense even though there was probably only around 20,000 people in attendance for a stadium that holds 65,000. The atmosphere of the stadium and the game was palpable. You felt engrossed in the broadcast even though I was just sitting on my couch at 3:15 pm on a Sunday in the clothes I went to sleep in.

The broadcast atmosphere of that shitty Dolphins game being blown out by 30 mid way through the 4th quarter? Bottle that up for me, because I want a feeling at least close to that for a Water Polo broadcast.

As we stand right now, our broadcasts resemble a mixture between a graduate-level college seminar and a JV football game with the volume turned down 11 notches. Everything the commentators narrate is an explanation simply of what is going on, not speculation as to why they are doing it. They simply state what an ejection means, what a particular whistle is for, or what the purpose was of taking a time out. There is no substance. If Water Polo hopes and expects to be a household name, or at least something that households want on their television instead of the Wednesday Bowling Championships, then we need to institute a change.

Most broadcasts are viewed by Water Polo fans…fans that already understand the game and the rules. We don’t need to be spoken to like a freshman college student who’s learning algebra for the first time. Most of us have already done that, and I feel confident in claiming that no one cares to do it again, especially not for entertainment. Production and entertainment value are key to the growth and expansion of any sport, especially Water Polo. 

Invite a color commentator that knows the game well enough to look for the nuances in the action. Answer questions fans of the sport might actually have in the moment, such as why a player is driving, why the defense is running a normal 2-4 drop instead of splitting the top or how a particular ejection might impact the game later on. Give viewers the little nuggets of information that we wouldn’t be able to come across on our own! Commentators should talk about the coach’s perspective coming into the game, what the thoughts were of the starting goalie on the challenge to come or even the history of the two programs in the past, to name a few. I don’t believe its too much to ask to talk with the coach before the game and do some investigative reporting if it’s for the good of the broadcast and the game.These small changes provide a lot of added value to an otherwise stale broadcast. 

Teaching the game has its place in all broadcasts, Water Polo or otherwise. I am sure that we have all had friends, relatives, neighbors, or strangers inquire about Water Polo at some point, asking the rules and regulations (usually whether you can stand or touch the bottom) thousands of times. The vast majority of consumers out there have no clue what our game entails or what the rules are. For those viewers, little explanations of what’s going on helps immensely, but it can’t be at the cost of our overall broadcast. Unfortunately, we aren’t at the point in time right now for our sport where we can have a purely entertaining broadcast from start to finish, completely void of teaching and informing, and that is okay. But! Striking a better balance between the two is crucial to the growth of our sport through this form of media. If this balanced cannot be achieved, we will at best continue to bore and turn off the vast majority of our current audience who really like the sport and want to watch it for entertainment, not education.

Instead of the watered-down version of the sports we currently tend to broadcast, as a community we ought to showcase the level of detail and depth of knowledge to which we actually study and practice our sport on a daily basis. People admire those who genuinely enjoy and seek to master their craft. That type of passion and commitment is contagious; it sparks intrigue and creates community that feels well worth diving into

Even broadcasts at the highest levels of sport have their challenges, such as the Olympic Games and the LEN championships. Although different, both rarely give any entertaining facts relevant to the game. The LEN games are virtually all un-announced; just silence and whistles. For example, I just watched the final 2 minutes of a recent Pro-recco game, and it hands down had to be the most exciting last two minutes to a game I’ve seen in a long time. Both teams were tied with 2 minutes left; they were trading goal after goal with exclusions all over the place, ending with a last second penalty shot to win it all… Yet, besides the whistles and varying crowd noise, the broadcast was completely silent. Even as an invested viewer, I never got into it. How can we expect to show others the same product, and expect them to jump out of their seat with excitement to watch more of it, or to go try out the sport? The same goes for our Olympic broadcasts. They seem to automatically resort back to the “what” rather than the “why”. Olympic Swimming broadcasts are fantastic in my mind. Not everyone knows the nuances of swimming like stroke technique or the proper body positioning needed to utilize the starting blocks. However, the announcers rarely dive into those topics. Instead, they rightly talk about things like the rivalry between Team USA and Team Australia. They talk with the athletes and coaches pre-swim to get an idea of where their head is and what they hope to accomplish in the swim to come. Water Polo innately has much more explanation needed than other sports. Yet, we are costing the sport in viewers and interest by boring the audience to death.

Without the commentary that’s fun and engaging (player bios, school history, feelings about the game, expectations for the season, etc) and the knowledge provided about the “why” and not just the “what”, Water Polo broadcasts will die a slow death. The human attention span is only around 8 seconds. That’s 8 seconds to capture a viewer and keep them entertained long enough to give the broadcast a chance. 8 seconds to show them why an hour of our sport is more engaging than an hour of whatever other sport is on the next Channel. If we don’t find a way to capture that attention and keep them engaged, we lose a potential viewer. We can’t keep losing eyes on our product and our sport because, unfortunately, there aren’t enough to begin with.

I think the state of Water Polo Broadcasts can be fixed if we start paying attention to the consumer behavior of our fans and potential fans that may be interested. We just need to do a couple of things. 

  1. Treat our games like all other sports do: Commentators need to speak with the players and coaches to get some stories to tell; get their thoughts and feelings, interviews, bios, etc. Create content that can be easily shared on a broadcast to give more than just a narrative play by play. 
  2. Explain the “why”, not just the “what”. Explanations and information are crucial to creating an inclusive environment for those who might not be long-time fans/players. However, these explanations cannot be included at the cost of the broadcast’s overall entertainment value.

One thought on “No One Wants to Take College Algebra Again: An Opinion on the State of Water Polo Broadcasts

  1. Great article.Most broadcasts are definitely viewed by current tor former players. They don’t need to be taught the rules but are very interested in the lives and training practices of the coaches and players. That takes more research and a lot more preparation. We will get there just as the other sports have.

    Liked by 1 person

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