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Do Play-by-Play Announcements and Commentary Control Viewers' Emotions and Perceptions?  

A research team studied the effect of play-by-play announcements at university baseball games to learn how the commentary affects viewers' perceptions.



(© Getty Images via Journal of Digital Life) *Image is for reference only.

A recent study indicates that the presence or absence of live play-by-play announcements and commentary may influence viewer perceptions. Especially, for example, viewers' ability to identify sports teams and universities. The effect applies to viewers watching college sports on TV as well as other media. 

A research team conducted the study. Three members were from the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Kanoya, including assistant professor Masaya Muneda, Professor Takahiro Kitamura, and Professor Shinichi Kawamae. Kawamae is also the university's sports administrator. Joining them was Keisuke Matsuki from Minaminihon Broadcasting Co, Ltd. 

The research team published a paper on their study in English in the Journal of Digital Life. It is a multidisciplinary, peer-reviewed, open-access, online journal based in Japan.

Hideko Maehata won Japan's first gold medal for women at the 1936 Berlin Olympics (Image is for reference only.)

Enthusiasm for Live Play-by-Play announcements and Commentary

"Maehata go, go, go, keep going!" " She won, won, won, won!"

NHK(Japan Broadcasting Corporation)broadcaster Mitsumi Kasai enthusiastically reported the race of Hideko Maehata. She was the first Japanese woman to win a gold medal in the women's 200-meter breaststroke at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

According to the NHK website, during the last 50 meters, he shouted "Go for it!" 23 times and "She won!" 12 times. This live commentary excited the people who heard the race on the radio. At the time of the Berlin Games, radio coverage was the primary form of broadcasting. And television coverage, which was broadcast on a trial basis, was limited to a part of the coverage. 

It was not until the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 that television broadcasts began by satellite. Now, the Internet has recently made it possible to watch the Games on a smartphone from anywhere. 

With the development of information and communications technology (ICT), our viewing environment has changed dramatically. However, the role of the play-by-play broadcaster in reporting heated games has not changed.

Studying the Role of Commentary Viewers

Media viewing, in which people watch a game on TV or smartphones, has advantages. For example, getting detailed information from commentators and watching close-ups of the players' facial expressions. 

However, based on previous research, Muneda and his research team pointed out that media viewers are merely watching what is intentionally broadcast by the sender. It is also possible that the commentator's subjective viewpoint influences their understanding of the game. 


Another point from previous research showed that commentary plays an important role in public sentiment. That is especially true in media-viewed sports.

Therefore, Muneda and his research team conducted a study of media viewing. They focused on collegiate sports, which had been less studied than professional sports. 

In This Sudy

The study involved 115 students from "University A." Fifty-eight of them watched a video recording of the University A baseball team's game on September 26, 2021, with commentary. Meanwhile, 57 watched the same game without commentary.

In this game, the baseball team lost a comeback in the last inning. But the participants had never seen this game before the study, either online or offline. In addition, the person who provided the play-by-play announcements and commentary for the match was a professional broadcaster and a graduate of University A.

Before and after viewing the video, an Internet survey was conducted. It asked questions both about the University A baseball team and University A (the institution). The research team analyzed the survey results based on the concept of "identification (ID)." This indicates an individual's perception of belonging to an organization or group. 

Then they summarized the effects of viewing games on media. That included the effect of play-by-play announcements and commentary on the "ID with the sports team," in this case a baseball team. And they did the same for ID or identification with the institution of the university.

Video Viewing Also Increases Team ID

Four factors were found to significantly increase identification with a sports team. These applied to both the group "with" and the group "without" commentary. 

The researchers viewed: "psychological connectedness," which expresses attachment to the sports team, as one factor. Others were a "sense of dependency," which indicates the degree to which the sports team's activities affect one's life; "behavioral involvement," which encourages team-related behavior. "Cognitive awareness," which refers to one's knowledge and understanding of the team, was the last factor considered.

Two-Factor Analysis of Variance for College Sports Team ID

The research team suggested that watching a game on video may increase ID with a sports team. And it comes without the cost of travel and admission fees to watch the game in person. 

They also assumed that most of the participants in the study belonged to club activities. Therefore, watching the games of other clubs may have contributed to the psychological effect of "identification" with the university’s baseball team.

Regarding "public evaluation," they found that having commentary enhances the perceptions, general evaluation, and reputation of college sports teams. ID with the sports team increased in the "with commentary" group. Meanwhile, it decreased in the "without commentary" group. 


Dr Munda indicated that the commentary may control viewers' emotions and perceptions. This suggests that "depending on the content of the game, public evaluation of a team may decrease. But if viewers are given positive information about the team through the play-by-play announcements and commentary, a decrease in the public's evaluation may be prevented.

Play-by-Play Announcements and Commentary Prevent Declines in ID With the University

Analysis of identification with the university showed that the "cognitive awareness" values decreased after viewing for both the "with commentary" and "without commentary" groups. The "with commentary" group showed only a slight decrease, however. Meanwhile, the "without commentary" group decreased significantly. This indicates that the commentary may have contributed to mitigating viewers’ negative reactions.

Two-Factor Analysis of Variance for University ID

The research team demonstrated that the decrease in cognitive awareness may have resulted from the participants gaining information about the university through play-by-play announcements and commentary.  Then they realized that they did not know as much as they had thought about the institution. 

The research team concluded that the self-reflection may have contributed to the decrease in cognitive awareness.

They also pointed out that losing the game might be another factor in the decrease in cognitive awareness. People may resort to a strategy of "CORFing." In it, they protect their own evaluations by emphasizing that they do not connect with individuals or groups that have low evaluations. 

Making Comparisons

In previous overseas research, it was found that fans do not weaken their connection with a team even if the team they root for loses. However, in this study, the viewers' university team lost a game by a reversal in the last inning. That suggests that cognitive awareness was reduced due to the effects of CORFing.

In addition, the public evaluation increased in the group with commentary but decreased in the group without. The play-by-play announcements and commentary for this game were one-sided. They were biased toward University A. And it seems that the group with commentary perceived that University A has a "good image in society" because the connection between themselves and the university was strengthened. 

This psychological effect is expected to be useful for the university's public relations activities.

The research team mentioned that the results of the study could lead to an increase in positive word-of-mouth information about collegiate sports. Those results demonstrated that viewing by media and play-by-play announcements and commentary influenced perceptions and emotions. 

In 2019, the Japan Association for University Athletics and Sports (UNIVAS) was established. It oversees collegiate sports. Together with the increase in media viewership of collegiate sports thanks to a combination of ICT technological innovations and other factors, the research team hopes to contribute to the expansion of the collegiate sports business.


This article was first published on iza! by the Journal of Digital Life. A related article is available in Japanese.

Author: Taketoshi Noma


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