Behind the Mic For a Moment: A Day in the Life of a Sports PA Announcer
Guest author Jon Horton is a seasoned sports media professional having worked for CNN Sports, Fox Sports, the University of Washington, SMU and the University of Cincinnati. His first person account of being the game day PA announcer for FC Cincinnati follows.
It’s about three hours to match time for the biggest soccer match in the history of this city.
Tonight, a team that did not exist two years ago takes on a storied opponent from the MLS. In Cincinnati, Ohio over 30,000 people will pack Nippert Stadium as FC Cincinnati hosts the Chicago Fire.
At 8 PM, in front of a nationwide audience on ESPN, this place will come to life as I say my favorite words. “Hello Bailey!”
The Bailey is the name of the supporters’ section at FC Cincinnati, and before each game, I make sure to say hello to them publicly as they are the most important part of what we do.
Preparing for Game Day
My game prep starts a couple of days before when the teams marketing staff sends me over the lineup of the upcoming opponent with a pronunciation guide.
Usually this comes in a PDF and sometimes it is not able to be copied.
This can be a little bit of a pain as I do all my work in Google Sheets. The great thing about working in Google Sheets as opposed to Excel is that my work is available on any computer anywhere. I have a $199 chromebook I can take anywhere with me and I am not worried about it getting thrown around or even lost.
It beats putting wear on a $1400 MacBook Pro, and it’s much lighter.
In Google Sheets, I have a file called USL rosters, which as you may suspect contains all of the rosters of the USL teams, including FC Cincinnati. But here's the trick, everyone is listed numerically but when you look at the names, some of them don’t look anything like the proper spelling.
Djiby is GeeBee.
Kadeem Dakres is Kadeem Dakers.
The names are written as I would say them, not in some phonetics or as they are spelled. Announcing is all about familiarity, and being comfortable with reading quickly. You don't want to be interpreting a phonetic spelling, you want to be reacting with ease.
On the same file are the other teams in the league, done just the same. Sometimes I will use small letters and caps, but my sheets are usually in all caps.
Again - readability and familiarity is the key.
Added to each sheet are three spaces for the subs. I want to write them down before I announce them.
Same with yellow cards, I always take a breath to ensure I get the names right. I messed up the other night and announced a wrong last name. It happens, but you try not to make it a trend or you may be looking for work elsewhere.
Game Day Process
I usually arrive to the game about two and a half hours before game time. There is a binder containing all my scripts organized just the way I wont it. As I used to work in game presentation, I asked the folks at FC Cincinnati to organize the binder in a particular manner.
Again, comfort breeds confidence.
My binder format contains plastic tabs at the start of each block of reads. Our pregame covers Block A through Block I (the introductions). The in-game tabs are small compared to pre-game, halftime and post-game, as they just have attendance and split the pot reads.
Remember, soccer is not a sport where you can just take a timeout and talk over the action.
My showtime is 65 minutes before kickoff and includes all of our pregame reads. At FC Cincinnati, there are many pre-game sponsors. The reads range from two sentences to what feels like a novel. Prime Cincinnati Steak House’s read is a full page with the word Prime used a dozen times.
I laugh after finishing it every time.
For the Chicago Fire game, I tried something different, using headphones for the first time. I know, sounds crazy right?
Here's the deal, Nippert Stadium, our home field, has an awful delay. The sound from the speaker is a full second after I say whatever I am saying. Unless I plug an ear, I might sound like I am a little drunk.
Think about that for a second, you are speaking to a huge crowd, but as you speak you wait one second to hear your words, so it is almost as if you are talking over yourself.
It can be very distracting and mess with your rhythm.
The headphones are doing a great job helping me as it is more natural to hear my own pace rather than what I am hearing back on delay.
For the actual game I'll lose the headphones and deal with the delay, but they are a huge help during the times I am more active, like pre-game and halftime.
Working With the Other Team
In sports you think of the other team as your enemy, but behind the scenes competing teams work together to promote our collective brands and make for a strong presentation of our sport.
The Chicago Fire public relations woman arrived in the announcers booth just after Block A to go through the Chicago roster with me and make sure I understood all the pronunciations. It is in both teams best interest to say the names right!
It is rare to have a travelling PR person at this level, I am thankful she's here as she helps me immensely with the Eastern European names. When I hear her say the names, I even change the way I wrote them from the previous phonetic spelling into an easier to read form.
For example, BRANT BRAHNINKOH was changed Broniko, with no N involved in the second part of his name.
It’s those subtleties that help PA announcers like me gain credibility with the fans. Fans are smart, if I mess up a name, they invariably think, "what a clown".
I don't know about you but I prefer not to be thought of as a clown.
Introductions -- The Best Part of Being a PA Announcer
The Bailey finish their march into the stadium during Block H. I try not to talk over them and use our cushion time to allow their cheers to be heard, although they are sometimes louder than mine.
When we get into Block I, just before introductions, my adrenaline really kicks in.
Ten minutes before kickoff, we introduce the lineups. We start with the officials, then the opponents.
Here at FC Cincinnati, I have been called out in a positive way by the fact that I put absolutely no emotion into them. It is about as boring a read as I can possibly make. It is not something that shows disrespect, but it is something I do to show contrast.
When it is time to go to the Starting 11 for the home team, the energy gets turned up to 11.
Aaaaaaannnnnnnnnd now, here is the Starting 11 for FC Cincinnati!!!!
I read the intros but leave out the last name, as is tradition for most soccer teams.
“At forward from Cinnnnnnn cin nati Ohio, Number Two, Matt….
And the crowd responds with BAHNER loudly and clearly.
When I get to Number 4, I kick in something special. “A defendah from Sidneah Austraylia, Numbah foah, Harrison…. Yes, I do an Australian accent when I announce Harrison Delbridge.
Every one of the starting eleven gets bigger and stronger and the place is just jacked.
We bring the teams onto the pitch. My read says “Please welcome FC Cincinnati and Chicago Fire to the pitch.” On this night, I wanted to help boost the emotion, so I change it to “Please welcome to the pitch, the Chicago Fire and FC Cincinnati!
It works, the casual crowd’s cheer is louder and it is a bigger moment than usual. It was not me who made the moment, but I did try to help direct the fans to a louder response.
A minute and 45 seconds before the kickoff, I give my trademark hello to the crowd.
Last Sunday, I wrote a post on the Bailey supporters group Facebook page:
I wanted to take a moment to help bring you a little backstory.
The reason I say "Hello Bailey" before each game is for two specific reasons.
First of all, it is my way to personally thank you for all you do to make this club great. It is your spirit that drives the atmosphere and your songs resonate through Nippert and create the soundtrack for the matches.
Secondly, it is to honor the man who sat in my chair for the beginning of FC Cincinnati, the late Paul Bailey. He was such a great man, and loved every minute as PA Announcer for the club. It is my honor to follow on his microphone.
The idea came from my days at the University of Washington where Lou Gellerman, the beloved PA voice of the Huskies used to start his announcements with Hello Dawg Fans. Eventually, the fans would answer back "Hello Lou!" I knew that kind of connection is key to promoting a great atmosphere, and that is what I am trying to do as your PA announcer.
So, now you know the back story. It is my hope that the tiny role I play in helping the atmosphere connects with you all... the heart of everything we do.
So - Hello Bailey. It is an honor to be your PA announcer.
The post was received with more than 200 likes/loves and a number of comments that made me feel like I really was having a positive effect on the atmosphere:
James Bonsall Hello, Jon! I love your announcing. I still have in my head at the Crew match: "tonight's attendance, twenty....nooooo....thirty thousand one hundred and sixty." It was so purely amazing and you've had other great personifying moments like that which we don't get at other sporting events.
Suzie McGuire Langen Jon, you are doing a great job! Love the Australian accent😊Paul is smiling down on you when you take that mike!
Angela Bailey I love the way you read the other teams starting line up, and then when you get to our guys it's on another level!
Alex Yersky Jon all the work that you have done has made a monumental effect on UC and FCC. As someone who lives for Cincinnati sports, it is an absolute privilege to call you my friend. Thank you for all you have done.
It’s responses like these that help me understand that a PA announcer can make a difference without “becoming a side show.” In today’s sports, you hear announcers sound like they are yelling, or holding notes beyond belief in response to a two point basket. Some become the show. I just want to be a small, difference making, part.
Game Time...Slow Down
The funny thing about soccer is that once the game gets started, there is not a lot to do. I believe I had one announcement in the entire first half for a yellow card. But I have to tell you that how I handle those announcements probably had more to do with how I got the job than anything.
After the passing of their original announcer Paul Bailey, the team went with someone who worked with them in the broadcasting of their games. I am sure he was a nice enough guy, but he would miss key points of information.
“That’s a Louisville City Goal.” No name or anything. He might not have spotted who scored, but still.
In my case, I want to make sure I have all the information available before I make a call. I want to make sure you get what the call was, the number, the name, the team and what minute the call was made in. It is all traditional soccer stuff, but not known to someone who has not called a lot of soccer.
Luckily, not only had I called, but had been to many matches, most of them in Seattle, where the announcers are at the top of the game.
Our goalie, Mitch Hildebrandt makes a save and I wave out of my press box window like Enzo Amore saying “you can’t teach that.” as the crowd chants in unison “MITCH SAYS NO! MITCH SAYS NO!
We get a call at the 44 minute mark that there will be one minute of added time or stoppage time as it is called. Again, my knowledge comes into play. Instead of just saying “there is one minute of added time,” I use the detailed call of “The fourth official has indicated there will be a minimum of one minute of added time.”
This states a number of things. The fourth official is the one who actually tells the team about the added time. Secondly, this time is arbitrary as the referee is the one person who determines when the time ends. That is why I say “a minimum of ____ minutes.”
We get to halftime, and while there is no score… it’s kind of a big thing. We have held the best scoring team in the MLS to no goals. “That is the whistle ending the first half of play with the score FC Cincinnati Nil and CHICAGO FIRE NIL!
One of our halftime features brings a team of kids to do penalty kicks against the mascot of Dunkin Donuts. “You know what time it is… it’s time for Sprinkles the Donut.”
If you remember the old Teatime Movie segment on the old Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, his pitchman was Art Fern. I put that kind of accent on the introduction of Sprinkles. It always gets a laugh from the crowd.
The other time I get an audible laugh from the crowd is when we talk about the Carrier Cooling Zone tents for our games where temps are in the high 80’s or 90’s. The read begins with “Are you hot and sweaty?” I will always wait with a 2-3-4 to hear many of them go YES!
We always have a great laugh in the booth.
Second Half - The Action Picks Up
The second half begins with a substitution, so just prior to kickoff, I announce the Fire sub. “A Chicago Fire Substitution. Into the game is number Number _____, (Name) replacing Number _____, (Name), in the 46th minute.
Those announcements are the main in game calls I will do other than calls of goals or additional yellow cards.
The FC Cincinnati - Chicago Fire game was an epic match, about 83 minutes in Andrew Wiedeman, who had just come in as a sub, gets a perfect pass and puts it in the back of the net. The stadium goes nuts, and I am confirming the goal scorer.
Wiedeman takes off his jersey and sprints towards his teammates.
I look down and see the Fire goalie setting up a free kick. While the scoreboard had been changed to 1-0, I have said nothing. I see the referee pull out a card and show it to Andrew. It was called offside. There was no goal.
Instead of inciting a riot, I simply said, A yellow card has been issued to FC Cincinnati’s Number 23 Andrew Wiedeman in the 84th minute.
While I am upset about the call, as it seemed as though he was on side, it was not my place to let that show through. In volleyball, I will have fun with calls with a quizative tone to my voice on a bad call, but not here.
Overtime Action is Fantastic
The game ends tied after regulation. “And we are not done yet!” and then I paused, and read the overtime rules.
As we have a sponsor for the game, there is a read that says “and now to overtime, presented by Kingsgate Transportation". Again, by slightly changing the wording, I can help direct the crowd to a moment.
“Are you ready for OVERTIME? (Pause) presented by Kingsgate Transportation."
One overtime period done. The second done. “Ladies and Gentlemen, the teams remain tied following the overtime period, and now we will proceed to (long pause) penalty kicks!”
The key to information and entertaining the crowd is sometimes as simple as saying items in the right order.
“FC Cincinnati will shoot first. In goal for the Chicago Fire is Number 28 Matt Lampson and shooting for FC Cin-cin-nati is Number 5! Aodhan Quinn!”
The crowd is pumped. Aodhan misses the penalty, so I want to get the crowd back into it. Again, it’s the order that makes the difference.
“The first shooter for the Chicago Fire is Number 26 Nemanja Nicolic and in goal for F - C - Cincinnati - Number 1 - Mitch Hildebrandt!
Mitch comes up with a huge save and the crowd goes nuts.
I then announce the shooters one by one until finally, “The fourth shooter for the Chicago Fire is Number 19, Juninho.” He takes his place and shoots… and MITCH SAYS NO! Well, that is what the videoboard says. I don’t but I so want to.
FC Cincinnati had shocked the world with a win in penalty kicks. The 32 thousand plus are in a frenzy. And what do I say?
Not a thing.
It is not my place to get into the celebration, so I “lay out” as we say in television land.
After a minute, I get into my postgame reads without ever saying FC Cincinnati wins. The crowd knows.
“Thank you for voting for the Vory’s Man of the Match.” It is at this point I am supposed to say “and tonight’s man of the match is ___________”
Instead, I went with “Thank you for voting for the Vory’s Man of the Match and YOU SAID YES! (long pause) Number 1, Mitch Hildebrandt!
It added to the connectivity of Mitch says No and the fans. Creating those connections is something I try to do with my announcing.
There were a couple of more announcements like next game and our split the pot winner, but when I was done, the crowd had settled down a slight bit so instead of saying “good night,” I repeated a line I had used at the end of the game against the Columbus Crew.
“How you feeling, Cincinnati?!?!”
Being a part of the amazing atmosphere at the most talked about sporting event in Cincinnati in years was nearly surreal. Here I am, an announcer hired mid-season, and I feel like I am on top of the world with a team that had just won a tournament game, and not even a championship.
If this game was an audition for the team to become an expansion franchise in the MLS, it hit every note and was met with critical acclaim.
This morning, it felt like I had been through a beautiful dream. I am a lucky guy.
Sign In or Register to access all articles and insider tips for help in your job search.