For the last two seasons, TNT and NBATV have had select broadcasts tabbed as “Players Only” games, in which the game is narrated by more of a free-flowing conversation between former players as opposed to the more traditional telecast featuring a play-by-play signal caller and one or two color commentators. It would be best for everyone involved if these do not return next season, at least not as exclusive broadcasts.
What these broadcasts have done more than anything else is illustrate the value of play-by-play men and women. The Players Only games were the equivalent of when, in a basketball game, the camera angle hones in on the ball-handler and you can’t gauge whether the shot will go in. As soon as the camera cuts back to the standard angle you appreciate it whereas if they never switched it up you’d just take it for granted.
In fairness to Turner, they air a lot of games and they took a risk to break up the monotony of the NBA regular season, which, as we’ve all seen the past few weeks, can go on and on and on. However, what these games made clear was that play-by-play people are highly trained talents who toil for years to get these opportunities, and driving a smooth broadcast takes a lot of acquired talent. It was not quite, but almost akin to if Kevin Harlan or Brian Anderson were to suit up in an NBA game.
This is not a shot at any of the individual former players involved in these broadcasts — there were inherent limitations on this. Nor is it a shot at Turner — as a site we’ve advocated for various risks in sports broadcasting, though the last time we did so was a plea for more non-athletes on studio shows.
Some decision-makers have seen the Players Only broadcasts as aspirational — Fox Sports Detroit is trying it for 17 Tigers games this season, though the first attempt at it was panned on Twitter. Maybe Players Only games could work as a sidecast either online or on another AT&T/Turner network where you opt into them. I’d even be okay with it if the regular broadcast was the sidecast, or if you were allowed to watch the game with the regional announcers on League Pass. However, Players Only should not be the mandatory viewing experience for games going forward.