It’s Officially Time To Cautiously Get Excited About The First Live National Broadcast of The New York City Marathon In Twenty Years

ESPN’s Hannah Storm and John Anderson Impress on Teleconference

by Robert Johnson
October 29, 2013

ESPN hosted a teleconference earlier this afternoon to talk about the upcoming first national live broadcast of the ING New York City Marathon in 20 years which takes place on Sunday on ESPN 2 (as well as on the WatchESPN – details below on the right). The telecast also will be the first ever HD broadcast of the race on tv as well.

On the call was ESPN anchors SportsCenter anchors Hannah Storm and John Anderson, who will be hosting the marathon, as well as reporter Jeremy Schaap and producer Steve Mayer.

Date Time (ET) Show Network(s)
Sun, Nov 3 7-9 a.m. Pre-Race Coverage ESPN3, ABC7 and WatchABC
9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. ING NYC Marathon ESPN2, WatchESPN, ESPN Deportes+, ABC7 and WatchABC
12:30-2 p.m. ING NYC Marathon and Post-Race Coverage ESPN3, ABC7 and WatchABC
4-6 p.m. ING NYC Marathon Highlights Show ABC

If the point of the call was to build excitement for the telecast, then count me as someone who was won over.

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For years, die-hard track and field fans have cringed as the track and field/road running that has been produced on tv has more often than not left a lot to be desired and bordered on being just awful.

Even up through the mid 2000s when Boston Marathon was live on ESPN2, it too left a lot to be desired. I remember claiming back in 2000 or 2001 that I could cover the race better from my computer in Flagstaff than certain reporters could live from Boston. The messageboard really was more informative than the actual race broadcast.

So what can we expect for Sunday?

After hanging up the phone from the teleconference, I’ve got to admit I’m VERY excited about Sunday’s telecast. What did we learn?

Here are three takeaways:

1) John Anderson really knows his stuff, is a huge track and field fan, and views the marathon as an elite, sporting event. That’s going to be HUGE for the marathon.

I guess this revelation shouldn’t comes as a total surprise as Anderson has a track and field background as was a 6’10” high jumper and track captain at Missouri. But just because he likes track, doesn’t mean he knows anything about distance running.

I wasn’t going to ask either Anderson or Storm any questions about the specifics of the race as I didn’t want to embarrass them. I figured they’d need a few days to learn about the field as the race isn’t until Sunday after all. If you’d asked me about the marathon a week ago, I’d say, “Let me get back to you. I need to do some research.”

With Anderson’s opening remarks, I immediately became optimistic. Others had talked about Hurricane Sandy and human side of the race but Anderson really got my attention when he said “I’m looking forward to what is itself just a fantastic race.”

That’s almost all I needed. If you are smart and a good announcer who realizes that what you are watching is a supreme sporting event, not just a charity run, then you are half-way there. Sure you can still screw up the other half (like Larry Rawson did so many times), but if you work for ESPN on a full-time basis that’s not likely to happen.

I probably could have hung up right there and saved myself 35 minutes of time, but it only got better.

Anderson, himself, realizes that passion is key for a successful broadcast.

When asked about how he can make the event interesting for American fans when there likely will be no Americans competing for the win, Anderson said:

“I think it helps to begin with and I don’t know this for sure but I’m sort of hoping (it’s the case on Sunday) that it’s like when you are watching NBC’s coverage of golf when you have someone like a Johnny Miller or guys that have played and have the passion for it, that’s it’s different than when you have guys who just find it as one more assignment on their calendar.

I’ve covered the US Open and I love it and I like golf and I play it recreationally, but that is not something (I’m truly passionate about). I watch it on Sunday but on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, I’m not like going in and perusing my Golf Weekly whereas I’ve gotten Track and Field News now for thirty some odd years. It’s something I really enjoy. It’s something I’ve followed. It’s something I really like and hopefully if nothing else, that (passion) comes through and I can show the viewer that there is excitement there. So if someone is passionate about it, hopefully that comes through on the other side of the the tv box and compels people to go, ‘At least this guy is invested it, maybe I can be as well.'”

Well done.

Watching greatness like this should be compelling tv if done live and done right

With sports broadcasts, I don’t need huge knowledge to be entertained. I need huge passion and then just not incompetence after that, and with Anderson we’re clearly going to get that and a whole lot more.

When asked about the men’s and women’s race, he expertly analyzed it, saying he thought Geoffrey Mutai was the man to beat as he’s got the best credentials and may benefit from Stephen Kiprotich and Tsegaye Kebede being obsessed with the each other and the $500,000 World Marathon Majors prize.

Hannah Storm even got in on the act. When she said, Stanley Biwott was her “X factor” in the men’s race, I was officially won over. I don’t care if they had interns handing them the info. She gets it and they were WAY better at sounding informed than many of the so-called experts I’ve been watching on tv for 20 years. I’ve always said, just let me stand behind you, and tell you what to say, just say the right thing.

ESPN clearly is professional and they will be well prepared on Sunday.

As for how Americans can be into the race if there are no leading American runners, Anderson admitted it’s an issue which he views similar to what the LPGA faces with the majority of it’s stars being from Korea. However, he said true greatness shines through nationality.

“I think you can appreciate Federer, Nadal and Djokovic regardless of their nationality and I think the same thing can be done with the race,” said Anderson

“It’s our job to make this a great sporting competition,” added Hannah Storm. “Sports fans will watch a live event no matter what it is. The Olympic example is a great one. You have great events you only once see once every four years, where there is so much at stake and with a lot of unfamiliar names, but if we do our job of bringing home a good sports competition, and hopefully get a solid race behind it, then hopefully people will watch.”

One more thing about Anderson. The guy is funny and has a great sense of humor about our beloved sport. While many of you didn’t like his joke about field being the only thing more boring than track years ago, we did, and he showed some of that humor today.

When I asked him, which did he consider a bigger accomplishment to have run 4:44:52 at the 2010 New York City marathon or high jumped 6’10 in college, Anderson said the marathon in a very humorous way:

“The reason I like the marathon is because Haile dropped out (in 2010) so I can always say I beat him in a race and I can’t say that about anyone in the high jump. Hollis Conway was great, but he beat me like a drum, so at least in the marathon I can say I beat someone of note.”

And for the record Anderson said Haile, like a tennis fan says Roger, no need for a last name.

2) The producer promised me ESPN would be using lots of split-screen technology.

For years, we’ve had to put up with not only inconsistent announcing, but to make things worse is we’ve also had to put up with subpar production.

If the announcing is bad, we can at least mute that and watch the race and track the runner online and get our commentary from the messageboard. But when the wheelchair race ends and they decide to spend 10 minutes with the winner few people are interested in instead of showing the break in the women’s race, and then when the women’s race ends and they decide to do another 10 minute interview with someone often giving one sentence answers in English, and we miss the men’s break, I’ve come close to throwing my tv through the window.

During the call, the producer Steve Mayer talked about all of the advanced technology they are going to use on the show. One cool thing they are going to do is use the chip times to show you all of the top finishers as a scrolling bar at the bottom of the broadcast. They also are going to have I think he said 36 cameras, three helicopters and six motorcycles.

After hearing this, I asked him if it was possible for them to use some simple technology called the split screen. I asked him if they were aware that there really were many separate sporting events going on at once and it’s infuriating to viewers of one event to miss the action because an interview is being shown after another event is over. When one NFL game ends, you don’t miss the next game for interviews. You get the interviews after it’s all over or during a break in the action.

The good news was he said they were already going to be very bullish on the split screen:

“You are going to see a lot of the split-screen technology. In fact, I think you’ll see it so much you’ll forget that we can actually go full-screen.

We talked about it a lot how that split screen technology will come into play quite often whether it’s during the race when both (the men and women) are out there or at the end so we can see what’s going on at the finish line as you don’t want to ignore the fact the woman is gong to take her victory lap and there will be potential interviews. It also will very much depend on where the men’s race is and how competitive it is. I think you are going to see the split-screen technology quite often.”

I tried to add, “How about split screen at the finish so we can see who gets second, third, fourth?”

Unfortunately I didn’t get that in as your microphone is cut off after your question but we can always hope.

3) More tidbits about Anderson, Schaap and Storm

a) In terms of running background, Anderson ran New York in 2010 in 4:44:52. Schaap said he did the NYC Half-Marathon four years ago. We found the results – 2:39:56 from 2009. Hannah Storm says she’s run Peachtree (and also was a high jumper) but didn’t mention a year. Do you know what she ran or high she jumped? Email us or post it in the messageboard.

b) Anderson says he prefers the high jump to the pain of running a marathon. “I’m proud to have participated in both,” said Anderson. “There both great. I guess in the end I would much rather just run 12 steps and land in a very soft pit than run for four and a half hours.”

c) Anderson really is a big track nerd.

He was dropping the names of Derek Drouin and Brianne Theisen to a Canadian journalist.

When asked if he thought a sub-two hour marathon was on the horizon, he said he’d just had a “vigorous” discussion with the producer of the 6 pm Sports Center about which would happen first – Bolt’s 9.58 gets broken or sub-2 in the marathon?

Anderson is firmly in the camp of Bolt’s WR being broken first.

“I think the sub- 2 hours is a long way off. I think the last 3:23 will take at least the rest of my life and perhaps a generation from that.”

d) Meb  Keflezighi fans, Anderson, like, doesn’t see Meb winning this year. He said something along the lines of “bless his heart, he’s 38.”

e) Let’s hope this desire from Anderson comes to fruition:

“People may come to the television to see how the race is handled because of last year and the events of the last twelve months in the sport of marathoning (Hurricane Sandy/Boston bombing), but once they get there and watch the running, I think it will be compelling itself to hold folks for those two hours and five minutes, two hours and ten minutes whatever it is until someone crosses the line.”

Wejo Speaks (co-founder Weldon Johnson): The race being on ESPN2 LIVE (with full ESPN production and announcers) legitimizes the ING New York City Marathon as a sporting event. As a kid, I watched the New York City Marathon Live on ABC in Texas (someone correct me if I’m wrong and it wasn’t live). It inspired me. It was a big deal. Serious sporting events are shown live before a national television audience, on stations everyone gets. New York is a serious sporting event again. Thank goodness. This is a big day for the sport.

More: *2013 New York City Marathon To Be Broadcast Live on National TV For First Time in 20 Years
*LRC 2013 New York City Men’s Preview: Can Course Record Holder Geoffrey Mutai Hold Off Olympic Champ Stephen Kiprotich And London Champ Tsegaye Kebede?
*LRC 2013 New York City Marathon Women’s Preview: Who Wins $600,000 In Epic Clash Between Edna Kiplagat And Priscah Jeptoo?

Full Disclosure: The NYRR is advertising the live coverage of the 2013 ING NYC Marathon on this week. This article is not part of any advertising package. 

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