When asked what phrase he recalled saying most as a broadcaster of NFL games, legendary announcer Pat Summerall once replied, "Touchdown, Dorsett." He explained that he said this phrase so often while calling games for the New York Football Giants -- who, at that time, often lost to a Cowboy team led by this Hall of Fame running back.
Summerall went on to do his finest work later in his career when he was paired with John Madden for nationally televised games. I was reminded of this pairing when my best friend (and Giants fan) Huey sent me a Youtube clip of a famous tackle Giant linebacker Gary Reasons made on a snowy December day against the Elway-led Broncos at Mile High Stadium. "The hit" was a leaping blow delivered on fourth and goal stopping the Broncos running back from scoring. The video clip includes the live audio capturing Summerall's voice teeing up the moment, and Madden's voice dissecting it. The latter concluded his praise of this timely hit made by the Giants middle linebacker by saying, "That is football."
I got chills listening, and I started to wonder what happened to the drama we used to feel watching football -- or any live sporting event, for that matter. I watched the Youtube clip a few more times and the answer became crystal-clear: our attention back then was corralled and saddled atop the intensity of the moments creating the drama, and today our attention is maniacally redirected away.
Summerall and Madden never broke away from the drama on the field to inform us that "for live updates, scores and action, we can log onto cbssports.com." Neither announcer ever told us how we could become their fan on Facebook or follow them on Twitter (can you even imagine John Madden trying to explain what a tweet was?). There was no scrolling bar constantly on the screen updating us on stats of players from other games for our fantasy football teams. Back then, the announcers in the booth were the sideline reporters. Back then we were deprived of all of the incremental noise and options viewers are bombarded with today. Instead, we were only served football and the story unfolding on the field by two of the greatest storytellers of all time.
Today's announcers are in the same league as their predecessors in terms of knowledge and insight. The difference is in how much time and space within the broadcast is dedicated to "stuff" unrelated to the suspense of the game. As a result, we are not getting close enough to them to fall in love the way we used to. We listen to Jim Nantz, but we don't hang on his every word. No one loves Joe Buck the way they loved Jack. Howie, Terry, James, and Jimmy give us pre-game noise. Brent gave us "you are looking live."
Coinciding with this frantic display of "click that" "follow this" or "see this" during the games, our attention is further dissected by the toys in our own hands -- making it easier for our minds to run away from the moments we tuned in to watch.
Ratings, circulation, visitors are all numbers that tell us how many people are showing up to watch, read and listen. And these numbers in aggregate keep getting bigger while the emotional commitment of this attention "in the moment" is declining. Is it possible that, in an effort to extend consumer attention by offering more options and platforms, that very attention is actually being lost?