TV Sports Graphics “Unforced Errors”

“A good decision is based on knowledge and not numbers.”

Plato

 

As 2016 turned into 2017 I secretly hoped the folks that head up the graphics departments at various television networks would have finally come to their senses. Oh well. I have said, here and on street corners, production offices and telephones at every opportunity, that the “unforced error” graphic label during tennis coverage is the silliest and least accurate description during tennis coverage. “Unforced” according to whom? Is the guy making the count on his/her fingers and toes actually facing a serve from John Isner or a return off the racket of Serena Williams? Unforced my foot. As I will say until the day I can no longer say it, the only unforced error in tennis is a double fault.

But there it was, all over my TV for the past two weeks as the best players in the world of tennis played the Australian Open in Melbourne. I woke up early this morning and caught the end of the wonderful final between Federer and Nadal. Coverage that was pretty darn good until the graphics guy ruined my enjoyment, and my morning, by shoving an “unforced error” lower third down my gullet. The fix to this is so simple… Just take the word “unforced” off the graphic. Can’t it just be an error? Or get rid of the silly graphic altogether. I, for one, won’t miss it a bit.

 

But as annoying at the “unforced error” nomenclature is I may have found a new “worst sports TV graphic ever” on which to obsess. It came courtesy of CBS and their golf production team during Saturday’s coverage of the Farmers Insurance Open. There I was, on my couch, having flipped over from the Duke vs Wake Forest hoops game. There, as well, was Brandt Snedeker about to strike a birdie putt on the 10th green. And there it was, a graphic slapped into the upper right hand corner of the screen that showed me the putt was some 35′ from the hole. That, thanks to technology including lasers, was undisputable. What was pure fiction was the words and numbers that accompanied the unmistakable fact… “make pct. 8%”. WHAT?! Or as the millennials would say, WTF? In an effort to tell us more they actually end up telling us nothing. Or even worse, telling us something that can’t be true.

Disregard the fact that the graphic was an outright lie, it didn’t even offer the viewer the ability to know if that was Mr. Snedeker’s “make pct.” or if it was referring to the entire PGA TOUR (for what it’s worth both are provided to the network by the TOUR’s Shotlink system). The fact is that whether it was Brandt’s or a compilation of all his brethren it’s just NOT true. It makes the straight out of the gate assumption that every 35′ putt on the PGA TOUR is exactly the same. The real, true, fact is that every 35′ putt on the PGA TOUR is unique. The actual make percentage before Snedeker made is stroke is ZERO % because he had never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, (should I keep going? I can) ever, EVER struck that putt before and, by the way, he’ll never, ever strike that putt again. He hit his just after 3 PM, seconds later that same putt is different. The grass has grown, the air is different and chances are pretty darn good the moisture in the green is no longer the same. All of that affects the putt.

I’m nitpicking, you say. You’re damn right I am because statistics are supposed to help tell a story, illustrate and add to the narrative. Not make up an entirely different tale. You can use a “make pct.” graphic for a free throw shooter during a basketball game. Every free throw line is exactly the same distance from the hoop, every rim the exact same difference from the floor. Sure the crowd, the situation and the player make a difference but the baseline is standard, the same. So I would favor two free throw percentages for each player, one for how he does at home, the other on the road. The is the complete opposite in golf. There is NO more useless and misleading graphic in ALL of sports television than this one. The “make pct.” before the putt, on EVERY putt, for EVERY player is ZERO. If it goes in the “make pct.” is 1,000 % and if it doesn’t, it’s still zero.

 

I offer this plea to all golf graphics people everywhere. Stop the madness! Quit perpetrating this “fake news”. There are thousands of graphics shoved down out throats every telecast so just leave this one out.

 

 

About Keith Hirshland

My name is Keith Hirshland and I am a four decades television veteran who has spent time both in front of and behind the camera. During nearly forty years in broadcasting my path has crossed in front of, behind and alongside some of the best in the business... And some of the worst. Many of those people I count as friends while others wouldn't make the effort to spit on me if I was on fire. This television life started early watching my Mom and Dad found, fund and run a local affiliate TV station in Reno, Nevada. As a teenager approaching adulthood I worked for them, first as an on-air sports reporter/anchor and later as a director and producer. Jobs in the industry took me across the country and then to many places around the world. Sports is my passion and putting it on TV has been my business. Production credits include auto racing, baseball, basketball, bowling, college football, field hockey, soccer, volleyball and water polo but the majority of my time "in the chair" since 1990 has been invested in the game of golf with both ESPN and The Golf. Channel ( I was one of the first forty people hired by TGC in 1994 ). I am a fan and I watch TV sports as a fan but I also have hundreds of thousands of hours watching from inside a production truck. I think that makes me qualified to comment, my hope is you agree. I have written two books, Cover Me Boys, I'm Going In (Tales of the Tube from a Broadcast Brat), a memoir that is a tribute to my parents, the hard working, creative people who started ESPN2 and The Golf Channel and a look back at my life in television. My second book is a novel, Big Flies, and is a mystery that tells the story of a father and a son with four of the world's most notorious unsolved robberies as a backdrop. I look forward to sharing new thoughts about golf, golf television, sports in general and the broadcast industry with you. The views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They are not connected to nor endorsed by any other person, association, company or organization.
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