Without TV sports play-by-play announcers, watching your favorite teams wouldn’t be as fun.
A play-by-play broadcaster is like a trusted guide who takes you on an adventure, through its highs and lows, while always informing and entertaining you along the way.
To score one of these fun gigs is tough, but it can be done.
Just ask Oklahoma City Thunder play-by-play man, Brian Davis.
Recently, he visited The Dream Job Guy to let you know what it takes to make it to the big leagues.
The Dream Job Guy: When did you first realize play-by-play announcing was your calling?
Brian Davis: I think, for me, it was more convergence than calling. I grew up a sports fan and was always drawn to announcers who could paint great descriptions of the action but were also wonderful storytellers. Chuck Thompson (Orioles and Colts) stands out from my boyhood. Later, Jack Buck (Cardinals and CBS Radio) became the guy ”I want to be when I grow up.”
I was lucky enough to meet both of them early in my career and realized they were basically the same people off the air as they were behind the mic — kind, decent men who didn’t take themselves too seriously.
TDJG: When you were starting out, did you have doubts about whether you could succeed?
BD: Oh, my, did I have doubts! It’s such a competitive field and you have to be as lucky as you are good. The only firm strategy I ever really employed was to target soccer as the sport where I wanted to break in. At that time (early to mid-1990s), the universe of soccer announcers was pretty small. I had a pretty broad sports background and thought I could help present the game in a way that might appeal to a wider base of fans at a time soccer’s powers that be were trying to grow the game in the US. Beyond that, I kept it simple — committed myself to improving at my craft with every show and trusting that, if I just kept at it, I would eventually get my break. It happened in 1998 with the Chicago Fire.
TDJG: Nowadays, you’re calling Thunder games. How did you earn that job?
BD: I was the Sonics broadcast host for FSN Northwest during the team’s last four seasons in Seattle.
By this time, I’d had a lot of games under my belt — mostly pro and college football and college hoops. When Hurricane Katrina drove the Hornets from New Orleans, I got acquainted with Clay Bennett, who was instrumental in arranging the Hornets’ relocation to Oklahoma City and then a couple of years later bought the Sonics. I was also the Sonics’ fill-in play-by-play guy, so Mr. Bennett became familiar with my work. Another key part of the equation was some of the club’s senior executives made the move to OKC. When they put our broadcast team together, it all added up to an invitation to move into that spot full-time. It’s turned out to be a great fit and really goes back to being in the right place at the right time, conducting yourself professionally, working hard every day to be the best you can be and maintaining good relationships with the folks you encounter along the way.
TDJG: With any career, there are low points. How did you overcome them on your way to success? Any examples?
BD: My contract with FSN Northwest in Seattle had expired and I was hearing “No” a lot. It may be the only time I’ve ever felt the full pressure of being out of work with a wife and two kids (one in college) and a mortgage and other bills to pay. I thought I had a full season of college football lined up, but the guy who’d offered me the job was overruled by his boss, who liked someone else better. So, I get that phone call, walk down the hall, look at my wife and manage to say, “Someday, babe, we’re gonna get a break” before I burst into tears. That was in early August 2008. About a month later–and I’m not going to lie, those were four or five long weeks – the Thunder called. Five days after that, we were moving to Oklahoma City. It comes down to trust – in yourself and in the process.
TDJG: What audition/interview success tips can you give future TV sports play-by-play announcers to help them land a job?
BD: I tell people who are just starting out they may already know the person who’s going to give them their big break. It could be a college friend or someone from a place where they’ve interned. This is such a transient business. The people around us are constantly moving forward with their own careers. So, that woman in ticket sales you drank beers with when you were both working for the minor league baseball team in Idaho might, 15 years down the line, wind up as a VP of Marketing and Broadcasting in the NHL and remember you well when their P x P job opens up.
Staying in touch with people — having a network — is so important. I don’t mean in a suck-up way. People see through that. I’m talking about staying in occasional touch with people you’ve worked for or with — shooting someone a note of genuine congratulations when you see they’ve landed a new job or whatever.
The other advice I always give is to study the craft. Pay attention to the announcers you like and understand why you like them. Pay attention to the announcers you don’t like and be able to name why you don’t. Then develop your own style, which should combine skills
you like with your own talents and personality. Definitely be true to yourself rather than try to copy the presentation of someone who has been successful. I’ve come to understand the style I’ve developed isn’t for everyone, but it has served me well.
TDJG: You’re blessed to watch 2013-14 NBA MVP, Kevin Durant all the time. In addition to that, what is fun about your job?
BD: Most of all, I enjoy the relationships with the people I’m around — my broadcast colleagues, our players and coaches, folks in the front office. We spend so much time around each other during the season and there’s a real sense of fellowship — sometimes even family. After you’ve been around a while, this extends to people from other organizations and it’s just not something you find in many other professions. Every game’s like taking a final exam. You cram for the test and pour yourself into the broadcast then you move onto the next subject. That suits me well — don’t think I would have done well in the 9-to-5 world, working for hours or days at a time crunching numbers or whatever.
TDJG: What U.S./Canadian broadcasting schools, workshops, classes and clubs do you recommend to the next generation to improve their skills and networking opportunities?
BD: There are so many ways to approach the business. I went to Northwestern and was able to do some valuable networking in the Chicago market. I’ve become a big fan of the broadcasting programs at Washington State and Oklahoma State. Students get a variety of hands-on opportunities that aren’t available to them in larger markets. Same is true at the junior college level. At Butler CC in Kansas (between OKC and Wichita), students call every game in football and both women’s and men’s basketball and there is no substitute for that kind of experience.
I always encourage people to reach out to announcers and others in the business — to ask for a little of their time, not to hit them up for work but for their wisdom about the business, maybe their perspective on where opportunities might be as the business evolves. When you approach people in that way, it’s amazing how generous people are with their time. And then, if you’ve left a good impression, you might get a call down the road about a job or an internship!
TDJG: What advice would you say to those future sports play-by-play announcers who are working dead end jobs, struggling to pay their college tuition, have family who are not supportive, but are still pushing towards their sports broadcasting dreams?
BD: I’m not going to lie: This is a tough racket. Early on, I worked endless hours sometimes seven days a week — sacrificed friendships and family time in my quest to advance. I’m not just saying this: I’m lucky I’m still married and my kids love me. I also wish I had more close friends. I’ve seen solid broadcasters opt out because their spouses became impatient with that sort of sacrifice.
You do what your circumstances allow/require. As someone who’s been fortunate enough to stay in it and move along the line, each step has been incredibly rewarding. I’ve learned a lot from every chapter — about the business, about the world and about life.
A big thank you to Brian for visiting!
I’ve spoken with him a few times and he’s always been a class act.
Be sure to watch him and the Thunder this fall on Fox Sports Oklahoma.
If you have any comments and/or questions feel free to write below or send me an e-mail.
As always, thanks for visiting and have a great one!