Derek Rae is everywhere these days, with his voice calling games for Fox Sports, NBC Sports, Amazon Prime and even the new EA Sports FIFA 19 video game, and he joins the Planet Fútbol Podcast to discuss his long journey in the field.
The U.S.-based Scottish soccer broadcaster Derek Rae is everywhere these days, with his voice calling games for Fox Sports, NBC Sports, Amazon Prime and even the new EA Sports FIFA 19 video game. On the latest episode of the Planet Fútbol podcast, Rae spoke to SI.com's Planet Fútbol Podcast about his journey as a broadcaster and how he approaches his craft. Rae also shared some fun stories from his career in the business.
You can listen to full discussion in the podcast console here and you can subscribe to and download the Planet Fútbol Podcast on iTunes. Recent guests include former U.S. men's national team standout Tony Sanneh, U.S. and Columbus Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen, RB Leipzig assistant and former New York Red Bulls manager Jesse Marsch and Roma sporting director Monchi.
Here are some of the highlights of the conversation:
On what he has learned about doing a good play-by-play broadcast:
“Well, I think the No. 1 thing is, and I always try to tell myself this going into a game, don't overtalk. Now this is for television, not radio. Obviously, if you were giving advice to a radio broadcaster you would say you have to talk because without you there is no event. But on television, I've always said this to young broadcasters: You will never get criticized for saying too little, but if you start talking all the time and trying to match every image with a word, I think you're going to tire out the viewer. Because it is a visual medium, and I always think a good commentary involves matching the pictures, providing a soundtrack, but never overpowering the game itself. People are tuning in to watch the game, not the commentator. But the commentator can ruin it for a viewer at the same time. So it's finding that balance, and I think it comes with years of doing it.
"When I first started doing it, I'm sure I had no idea how to even come close to finding that balance. That's why I think television is a much harder medium than radio. People think it's easier because you say less, but it's about the quality of what you say, it's about the timing of what you say, when you say it, and how you work with your co-commentator, which I think is becoming increasingly important.”
On being a voice on the new EA Sports FIFA 19 video game:
“What people need to know about EA Sports, those of you who are gamers who are listening to this, when you're commentating for FIFA 19, as I have been on the Champions League part of the game, you're not actually seeing the game. So you're visualizing everything. You're coming up with words based on scenarios. So the production team will give us ... an example might be a corner kick, and the big central defender has come up from the back, and he's headed it just over the top. So then the task is to commentate on that as we would in a game maybe 10 or 11 times over. So think about that, and think about the mechanics of trying to do that. There are only so many ways you can convey that kind of scene! (laughs)
"So it does actually involve quite a bit of vocal dexterity, if you like, and mental agility. You're in a studio for several hours a day doing it, and you come out of it quite tired—in a good way though. I found the whole thing challenging in a good way. It took us about 25 days altogether. A big part of it is just player names. And it's different inflections of players, so you're giving the basic 'Ronaldo' (deadpan) … or 'Ronaldo' (falling voice) … or a more excitable 'Ronaldo!' I won't do the highest level of belting out a Ronaldo goal, but imagine doing that for thousands and thousands of players. It's all these things together. I'm just really excited that the game has actually just come out.”
On having U.S. television producers in the 1990s directing him to “Americanize” his voice for soccer broadcasts:
“It was made very clear to me by a number of producers that they didn't see the development of soccer going hand-in-hand with the British sound. And I don't know why that was, I don't know if it was a backlash after what happened with the old NASL, I don't know if there was a feeling that there were too many British people—English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh people—in the USA who sort of thought they knew it all. If you think back, there really weren't a lot of British-sounding commentators in the early days of MLS. It was the American sound that was in vogue at the time. So I did have to earn a living (laughs) back then, so it became apparent to me that if I was going to do that I would have to modify my style a little bit. So I did.
"If you listen to some of the work from back then, it wouldn't sound quite the same. So there was a period when I went down that sort of American route and used American terminology and the phraseology was a little bit different. But after doing it for a short time, I don't know what happened, I think I was also broadcasting at the time for ESPN International. Obviously, that's going to viewers all around the world. And it didn't seem right to be talking about international football and using this hybrid language. So what happened was they got the rights to Scottish football around 1998-1999. Which obviously was my bread and butter. It was when we started to do that that I thought we can't do this any other way, or at least I can’t, than the organic way. So then I just said, 'You know what, I'm going to do what I do—or do what I did, to be more accurate. And if people don't like it then that's fine.' In retrospect, I'm sure there were a few producers who did not appreciate it, but in retrospect is the best thing I ever did probably broadcasting-wise.”