And The Fifty Goes To: AAL Sportscasting Networks

It’s awards time now that we’ve hit the AAL’s final week of regular season action. So, while the forums are filling with discussions of MVPs and all-pro teams, Fifty Yarder is looking at the pipeline that brings the AAL’s product into our living rooms each Saturday night, which arguably influences our entertainment experience more than do players and coaches. Today, we’ll review sportscasting networks. In a couple of separate posts next week, we’ll focus on broadcast teams and in-season features.

The AAL’s broadcasting efforts fit well with its reputation for being half-good and half-assed. Of the twelve full-time franchises, seven live-streamed some or all home games while five others offered nothing to fans, not that they had to. After all, this isn’t the NAL. To date, there have been 31 broadcasts, and one more is coming this Saturday when the Georgia Doom host the Atlanta Havoc. That’s 100 hours of programming delivered to almost 57,000 viewers. Not surprisingly, the participating networks were spread across the viewing quality spectrum, so Fifty Yarder rated the performance of each in six categories to award our first ‘Fifty’ honoring this best-in-class. Check out the full 4-football scorecard at http://www.fiftyyarder.com/fifty-award or just read the Cliff Notes version that follows.

#8 Cape Fear Heroes Network, Cape Fear (209 viewers)

By virtue of its de minimus effort to stream one game, Cape Fear is at the door of the AAL’s upper echelon. More accurately, they are the threshold over which all others will pass. The lack of any announcers or even an intern’s voiceover, the presence of just one fixed camera in the second tier of an end zone corner, and that handcam operator creeping out spectators by shooting home-movie quality video all left me longing for the days before Al Gore invented the internet.

#7 Fox Sports 1340 AM, Richmond (7,521 viewers)

You’re thinking what I thought: this is a simulcast produced by an experienced crew whose credentials would insure against a wasted Saturday night. Not quite. These games feel like you’re eavesdropping on a transistor radio stuck in some guy’s rear pocket as he monitors a live video feed on what seems like an entirely different game.  On the good side, this crew was in place for all seven Roughriders games, making them the busiest in the league.

#6 Dragons Network, Upstate (9,785 viewers)

Think of that old friend you like to be with, but when you get to his house its always unkempt and he insists you watch his kids perform some trick that invariably leads to a drink being spilled on you, and as you leave you remember why the two of you don’t spend more time together. That’s Dragons Network football. I looked forward to every game, but the low-def cameras left me in freeze-frame while the cameraman panned frantically to keep pace with opponents slashing through the Dragons’ defense at alarming speeds. They do display score, quarter, time, and the down-and-distance in effect the play before last, which serves to remind me that, despite what my senses suggest, time really is passing. Nonetheless, this crew deserves a big shout for doing something no one else did all year, and that was to broadcast a road game.

#5 SkyZhone Sports HD, High Country (6,073 viewers)

This is one of those Please Seat Yourself productions in which we’re allowed to wander in unattended, find a place, and wait for someone to serve us while being treated to a variety of sound checks and disturbing noises. But you don’t dare mute your television because the broadcasting team is among the best in the business and you don’t want to miss a word. Unfortunately, they can’t overcome the limitations of one stationery midfield camera, insufficient onscreen graphics, and the lack of replay capabilities.

#4 Southland Sports TV, Atlanta (7,545 viewers)

You know you’re in Georgia during these Havoc broadcasts, but it feels more like Augusta than Buford. The utter silence between broadcaster comments reminds one of watching the fourth day of the Master’s as Patrick Reed lines up his final putt on the 18th. I frequently checked my volume thinking it went to mute, and the whole effect was unnerving for football. What puts Southland Sports in the Top Four is the comfort and trust the broadcasters have in one another, and the heaviest use of on-screen graphics among the eight networks. They are also the only ones who put face to voice by using a camera in the booth.

#3 Havoc Network, Atlanta (4,529 viewers)

The Havoc’s Chris Duffy is the only owner to make a mid-season switch of networks, preferring a more economical path than a big digital media outlet. In the process, he got an albeit slightly better production. No doubt he took a step down in the broadcast team, but for the first time all season I felt the energy inside the Buford City Schools Arena finally reach my own living room.

#2 Saturday Night Florida, Florida (5,151 viewers)

It’s hard not to go with this top-notch production, the only one to feature sponsored pregame, halftime, and post-game segments that not only critique the Tarpons’ performance but take a trip around the rest of the league. Their end zone shots make me feel like I’m right in the huddle getting the play from Chris Wallace. The problem is, they left the door open with a lot of technical problems during their first broadcast. Sure, it’s only one show, but that’s a quarter of their broadcasting season and our favorites batted 1.000.

#1 DSBN Sports, Georgia (13,905 viewers and counting)

There’s a powerful energy to a DSBN Sports broadcast. The high-def graphics and rock riffs that open each show set the entertainment bar high and the Georgian grace of its broadcast crew elevates it from there. DSBN cameras seem to know in advance where the play is going, and their sideline reporter adorned in black attaches to the scrimmage line like its mysterious shadow, filing a stream of field-level reports that give viewers a sense of omniscience. The only thing lacking is some on-screen graphics such as down-and-distance and, oh yeah, I’d love some replay next year. As Saturday nights are my small portal into the world beyond mom’s basement window, I need to make them count. It’s no surprise that I’ve entrusted my time to DSBN, nor that they should get this year’s Fifty for best Sportscasting Network.


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