Jack Edwards is the well-known signature voice of the Boston Bruins on NESN as the Network’s play-by-play announcer—at least up till the second round of the Playoffs. Then Edwards must cede his duties to the NHL’s broadcast partner NBC.
Edwards was a guest on the latest episode of the Bruins Beat Podcast on CLNS Media. While he acknowledges that NBC has “raised the bar” for NHL telecasts and that lead announcer Doc Emrick is a world class broadcaster, Edwards believes the Network’s coverage is lacking for local fans.
“NBC, by playing to the yellow line right smack in the middle of the road, leaves out a lot of context that is really important and almost vital to a regional broadcast,” Edwards said.
He points out that fans who already watch the games of one market are used to a specific regional broadcast, with a certain style and lexicon from those producers and announcers. And for people who are trying to better learn the sport, Edwards says that it is much more difficult to do so when the teams keep changing.
“It is way easier to see the game and to understand the game through the prism of one team,” said Edwards, a one time announcer for ESPN. “You cannot possibly assimilate all the information and be able to transmit it with fluency to the audience for all 31 teams. It’s just a series of snapshots—it’s not a movie. You don’t have context.”
Edwards, who has been working in sports announcing since 1979, said that the way media is being presented and consumed has changed greatly over the last 20 years. To him, it is much more about finding a specific market and dominating it for one certain demographic, yet he notes that NBC does not individualize its coverage.
“The way NBC covers games from a philosophical standpoint is not to alienate anybody in those 31 markets,” Edwards said. NESN, he compares, is not worried about losing its audience, because it knows Bruins fans will always watch the games and gear the broadcasts towards them—“we keep aiming at the center of the center,” Edwards said.
He implemented a scientific analogy to help explain his point.
“It’s sort of like the black hole theory in astronomy, right? A black hole has so much gravitational pull that light itself cannot escape it.
“Well, the networks go for the edges of the galaxy and try to pull in as many different parts as they can, so they tell obscure stories while the puck’s in the neutral zone, advancing 25 miles an hour, and all the sudden it turns into a two-on-one and Emrick has only three words to say before the shot hits the pipe and goes in the goal.”
“With us it’s whistle to whistle. And that is where philosophically we differ.”
Edwards, who works in tandem on NESN with color analyst and former Bruin Andy Brickley, with “Brick” speaking between whistles, says that they don’t care to focus on highlights and replays from multiple angles and speeds — much unlike NBC. “I think NESN pulls its replays back farther away from the actual moment of the highlight than any other U.S. regional network. It’s not about the finish of the play,” Edwards said.
“With Brick, you understand more of how the play happened and it’s that ‘how’ that is so important to NESN.”
Edwards even said he brought this up to the NHL’s commissioner, Gary Bettman, three years ago at a broadcasters’ meeting, and all he got in return was “crickets.”
When Marinofsky asked why he might think NBC still uses this strategy with no change to follow the media patterns of today, Edwards acknowledged that sales and revenue usually have the final say.
“Ultimately the decisions makers at a United States television network are talking about millions of dollars of shifted revenue won or lost.”