Homerism In Local Sports Broadcasting Markets To Audience, But Do Not Let It Go Too Far

This opinion project contained a lot of behind the scenes work to track down Red Sox play-by-play announcer Joe Castiglione. Once able to do that, I had to work his word into the words of my other sources.

All sports fan have broadcasters they cannot stand. One of the reasons is the broadcasters’ homerism -their bias towards the hometown team. Or perhaps the lack of it.

Unsure of my stance, I knew I had to talk to people. My conclusion: Homerism can add to the quality of a local broadcast, but it’s completely unacceptable in a national setting. Can is the key word in that sentence.

“People tell me they can tell by the sound of my voice if the Red Sox are winning or losing. I take that as a compliment,” said Joe Castiglione, the radio voice of the Red Sox. “If I was a network guy it would not be. It would be a criticism.”

Castiglione said having a little bit of slant is not necessarily a bad thing in local coverage. “You have to be an honest reporter though,” he said.

Slanting the local coverage markets directly to the audience, according to Bob Halloran, sports anchor for WCVB-TV (Channel 5).

“Whoever is covering the Red Sox, Bruins, Celtics game, 99 percent of the audience in a situation like that are fans of the team,” said Halloran, who formerly worked for ESPN. “So, if you happen to be a fan of the team I think that is acceptable. The audience likes it, the teams like it, the ownership likes it and if it goes over the top even the fans will reject it if you are not honest.”

A local college broadcast announcer agreed with Halloran.

“Let’s say you are on NESN [Home of the Red Sox television network] and calling a Red Sox game, obviously, your viewers are Red Sox fans. I think it is fine to give a bit of a slant towards the Red Sox,” said Joseph Barbito, the voice of the Northeastern men’s hockey team for WRBB 104.9.

Homerism can help broadcasters connect with the audience. It is basically a demand from local audiences. Halloran said it can cross a line.

“It is OK for local announcers to let their bias show to some degree, but not over the top,” said Halloran.  “You are not calling the game accurately if you are not telling people what you see. I think it is your first job.”

Boston sports fan have plenty of examples of letting homerism go too far. According to Kelsey Givens of Bleacher Report, Boston is home the number fourth, ninth, 11th and 18th ­most homer announcers in sports. Fourth on the list is Celtics TV color commentator Tommy Heinsohn. A former player and coach, Heinsohn “calls it like he sees it, meaning he criticizes the opponents and gives a colorful, rosy view on the Boston team,” wrote Givens.

GIVE ME A BREAK, give me a break, what a terrible call,” said Heinsohn in the clip provided by Givens. Basically, the Celtics never commit a foul according to Heinsohn.

Castiglione was ninth on the list for his voice changes when the Red Sox are winning or losing. Givens gave an example of his call from the Red Sox World Series win in 2007. The tone in his voice is obvious in excitement.

Castiglione does see himself that way.

“I don’t care if they say that. I do think I am objective and report what I see. People know I want the Red Sox to win. I don’t openly root for them but people know I want them to win,” said Castiglione.

Eleventh on Givens’ list was the Bruins’ TV voice, Jack Edwards. Halloran was critical of Edwards.­

“It bothers me if the Bruins score a goal and Jack Edwards loses his mind about how great the goal was and how terrific the players are and his excitement level is at a 12 out of 10,” said Halloran “The opposing team scores and you sense the sadness or worry and anxiety in his voice. I do not think that is good play by play.”

Edwards on an overtime winning goal for the Bruins rival Montreal Canadiens said that goal scorer Max Pacioretty “was a cocky kid and someone is going to get his head taken off.” This is claim is not true. It is not honesty and goes well beyond homerism. This kills the moment. Most Bruins fans probably felt sad. This is bad, not honest and over-the-top bias.

Heinsohn and Edwards go beyond homerism. They became unobjective. They are not speaking about what they see. They are not being honest.

Castiglione is also a homer, but not to the extent as Heinsohn and Edwards.

People watching the game may be fans, but as anyone who listens to Boston sports radio knows, fans love to be critics.  Ripping into a poor performance can serve into homerism just as much as getting a little bit more excited for home team play can.

Locally, homerism can be acceptable. On a national broadcast, it is a no-no.

Max Spitulnik of Crooked Scoreboard disagrees. In his column about NBC’s coverage of the Olympics, he supported the broadcast. He wants all national broadcasts to be like that.  “I am sick and tired of this nationwide veiled attempt at neutrality. So right here, right now, I am putting a stake in the ground and saying that all nationally televised sporting events should be home broadcasts,” wrote Spitulnik.

He argues that everyone already has their own bias, so having a national, neutral broadcast is impossible. With home broadcasts, it is ok because fans know what they are getting. So why not play both home broadcasts nationally and let the viewer decide.

I understand Spitulnik’s point. But he is assuming that everyone watching is a fan of a team in the game. Shouldn’t national broadcasts be trying to capture the attention of the neutral viewer with no cat in the race?

Halloran, a former ESPN employee thinks national broadcasts should be extremely neutral. “If I am reporting a Red Sox-Yankees game at ESPN, I am straight down the middle. I am not showing my bias,” said Halloran. He admitted to being a Red Sox fan while working at ESPN.

In the right spot, homerism can add entertainment for fans. “If you are watching your favorite team you are going to want a broadcaster that is in there trying to make your experience of watching your team more enjoyable,” said Barbito.

At the end of the day broadcasters still must tell us the truth and be honest. In bad homerism, that is lost.

That is when broadcasters lose credibility.

Local broadcasters can use homerism, but never forget to tell the truth.

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