The Blaze webcast is something that the majority of fans have no live experience of, but the majority of us have seen the highlights package the team also produce at some point.
However, for away fans who cannot travel but still want to watch their team play, it’s proved to be an invaluable service since it was set up five years ago. Improvements to the infrastructure in the Skydome during last summer have helped it go from strength to strength.
With Pete Ballinger in charge of the technical side, and Ed Kimberly and Dave Adey usually providing the commentary, it’s clear to see that they are at least part of the reason why the webcast has been a continuing success.
Pete explained the recent changes. “Finally we have a solid, fast internet connection which has allowed us to replace all our analogue equipment with the digital equivalent. The computer can now do a live edit of the game, including graphics and the scoreboard – which people have been asking for for a long time – but also we feed out from up here, so if there are any issues which need investigating we are able to do that much quicker than we used to.
The numbers watching the webcast have increased by about 30% year on year. People now expect a club to have a webcast. Sheffield and Cardiff have upped their game recently with theirs. We were one of the first back in the day, so now we’ve got to catch up with them again!”
Clearly, Ed agrees, “We have a great team. Pete’s really passionate about making this the best webcast he can. There’s a clear vision where we want this webcast to go. The play by play job is pretty easy, you call what you see. Part of being good at it is having the vision to see what’s going on – being able to predict what is going to happen. You almost need the words in your mouth to call that first. Knowing the game helps enormously!
During the off season I’m constantly keeping up with player movement – where they are from, who they played with before, who coached them, where they’ve won championships. For instance, Greg Jacina in Nottingham used to be coached by Weber when he played in Augusta. Before a game I have a refresher – I write a sheet of notes on who are their most dangerous players, top scorers, how many goals, assists and points they have. If I can find the plus/minus I put that in there too.”
A large part of the webcast for the away fans is the interaction that they can have with the team through Twitter. Dave explained ”The Scottish teams have a good following, Fife and Braehead in particular, and they are great to interact with, even though they try to catch me out at times with naughty names – when you are trying to shout out quickly you don’t always read them first! They are knowledgeable fans as well. I love doing the webcast, but if I go quiet that’s because it’s a rubbish game, and when I get too excited Pete tells me off as he has to edit it if I get too loud. We try and call it the way we see it, and be mildly entertaining and if it’s a drab game we try and add some humour.”
Ed added, “I think that Twitter is really good for interacting with the fans. You learn so much about other teams. It’s a unique environment, players interact more and learn about the fan base. It’s essential – from a webcast point of view, most of our fans are away fans. If you don’t interact with them and give them a shout out you aren’t doing your job properly.”
Pete continued, “It’s like any broadcast – some people love the commentators, and others will say they don’t like you. You can’t please all the people all the time! Recently we’ve had a couple of guest hosts – John Donovan from the Cardiff webcast team and Patrick Smyth from the Belfast podcast ‘A view from the Bridge’ “
Ed chipped in, “There’s always the chance to be commentating with different people. I had Patrick Smyth with me the other night, and he was really good. It keeps it fresh, having different people at times. You’ve got to keep it relevant and keep it entertaining. It’s important to have good chemistry with your partner – knowing what they are going to say and where they are going to take a conversation.”
Dave seemed happy with sharing the commentating with someone different. “The night with John went really well – he called the game when Cardiff had the puck, and I did when Coventry had the puck. It complemented each other nicely. You have to have a thick skin to do this job, sometimes people think I’m a little controversial, but I call things how I see them! It’s great fun, and now we’ve got all the new gadgets it’s even better!”