AFL Commentary: Let the Game Speak for Itself

The footy is back on and don’t we love it? The return of AFL to our TV sets, albeit in quieter stadiums, has been welcomed by most of us around the nation. The lack of fans at the footy has left a void into which the game’s commentators have volubly attempted to fill. This viewer is tired of being loudly lectured at by ex-players paid to become instant experts on strategy and everything else under the sun. I watch the game to enjoy the skills and contest on display. The players, generally, give their all in fierce performances on behalf of their teams. Sports commentators on Australian TV, and in the AFL in particular, seek to verbally fill every second with the sound of their own loud voices. I am sick of the incessant commentary and opinion giving, which is detracting from the spectacle of the game itself. AFL Commentary: Let the game speak for itself in the wonderful athletic performance of the players.

Too Many Loud Voices Commentating on AFL Games

Commentators of by-gone eras understood the importance of pauses and the sounds of silence in a commanding commentary of a top match. Even though they were on radio and their listeners could not see the game, except through their call of the match, they did not overdo things. Today, we face a bank of AFL game commentators made up of in-studio callers and boundary riders. This mix of media professionals and ex-players and coaches are paid to illuminate the complexities of AFL matches and teams. Channel Seven and Fox Sports own the TV rights to the presentation of AFL matches in Australia. Their teams of commentary people are voicing the pictures beamed into homes and phones around the country. I am sure that expert producers are advising these commentators on how they narrate the video of these AFL matches to the adoring viewers out there in suburbia and regional Australia.

TV Commentators Trying to Fill the COVID Void

Of late, the COVID-19 emptied stadiums have hosted scratch match like AFL games, as players transition to silence filled grounds accompanying their contests. More recently, the AFL copied the NRL in admixing pre-recorded sounds of crowds from games played in previous years. This canned crowd-noise has been artfully produced and has helped the TV viewer’s enjoyment of the game, in my opinion. The TV commentators on Seven and Fox, however, have ramped up their on-air performances in a bid, I reckon, to combat the absence of crowd-noise and excitement. The viewer is left with 90 minutes of non-stop chatter and boorish commentary by loud middle-aged men, with the occasional interjecting opinion of a token female. AFL commentary: Let the game speak for itself without all this hot air.

Leave OTT Commentary to the NRL

The NRL has always been famous on Nine for its OTT commentary by very loud blokes. League as a game is pretty simple, with teams of players running from one end of a ground to another throwing a ball. It has its exciting moments, of course, as pressure builds on defence and offensive runs break out to cross the line, ball in hand to touch it down. Big tackles and creative passes are additional entertaining components of the game. I have always thought that the commentators of the NRL have felt the need to ramp it up for the viewers at home. AFL by contrast is a far more complex game to play, with more moves, more players, and larger grounds. I consider that this indigenous Australian game is so full of athletic prowess that it speaks for itself in terms of excitement. AFL does not need the OTT call to make a great viewing spectacle. NRL probably doesn’t need it either. Too many insecure TV producers instructing their on-camera people to ramp it up loudly is the cause of the bane of our great game in my opinion. Copying Americanisms in the presentation of sporting events only detracts from our naturally terrific game.

I have taken to turning the sound off whilst watching games. Others I know have been listening to radio commentary of AFL games in conjunction with the vision on Seven or Fox with the sound down. The coronavirus pandemic and its consequent social distancing policies has provided an unexpected window into the essence of the game. Suddenly, AFL matches have been stripped of the hype surrounding them. Pure football is on display, free of the mob’s reaction to it.  I don’t blame individual commentators, as they are doing their job and probably being influenced by producers and network policies. Bruce McAvaney is almost an institution, but he does prattle on incessantly. I miss Dennis Cometti for his adroit witticisms and sparing commentary during games. There are too many so-called experts offering opinions about players, teams and games. David King is one who lectures boorishly during games and he has many compadres. I don’t want to hear all this unsubstantiated crap about why teams are underperforming. I just want to watch the game and I suspect there are many others who feel similarly to me. These seemingly endless voiced pontifications are detracting from the experience of watching AFL on TV. I love the game, but my love is being sorely tested right now.

The ridiculous attempts to justify opinions, with one or two selected moments from a game illustrating negative on-field behaviours, are downright silly. What do they say about “damned lies and statistics” being used to indemnify whatever opinion is sought? Sports commentary is and should be a hallowed occupation and role. The men and women employed in this profession are stewards of the game. They are instruments there to add to our love of the game. We, the viewing public, elevate these voices to a position beyond the chorus or as spokespersons for our chorus. Right now, there is way too much of a good thing going on. Too much expert opinion weighing the spectacle of the game down. AFL commentary has become school ma’amish and hectoring. Ex-player ‘so-called’ experts are volubly nagging coaches, players and teams for their apparent failures. The game deserves better. The players deserve better. Shut up and let the game speak for itself!

©Robert Hamilton