Does your race employ a race announcer? Chances are probably not. You may think that your race is not big enough to have one or that the money spent on a race announcer could be better spent elsewhere - or not spent at all, if you run a for-profit race or raising money for a charity or cause close to your heart.
Well, today we’re going to try and give you some reasons to reconsider with the help of my guests, professional announcers Fitz Koehler and Steve Fleck. We’re going to be looking at the many things race announcers do on race day, how they contribute to the race experience, and how they can make your race an event to remember.
In this episode:
- The difference a voice can make: how race announcers elevate the race experience
- Should even smaller races have a race announcer?
- From start to finish: what a race announcer does throughout race day
- Expert tips on race announcing: gathering participants' background info/stories, pacing yourself, engaging spectators
- Name pronunciations, mis-gendering and avoiding finish line faux pas!
- The importance of hiring announcers who understand races
- Hiring a race announcer: where to find one, what you get and what it costs
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Steve, Fitz, welcome to the podcast, guys!
Great to be here, Panos. Thank you for the opportunity of chatting. Great to see you, Fitz! We were just together just a month ago, I think, in fabulous Florida.
That's right. Running USA. It seems that everybody enjoyed my home state. I was happy to welcome and host you all there. You know that was my event, right?
I know. You were a fabulous host. Thank you.
You're welcome. Happy to be here, Panos. Athens - what a cool place to live!
Yes, it is. It is fairly well. You guys live in pretty cool places as well. Actually, tell our listeners exactly where you are joining from today.
Yeah. I'm joining from Aurora, Ontario - people don't know where that is - which is a little bit north of Toronto. We're in the Eastern Daylight Time Zone, so it's, like, spring right now. Last week, we had crazy weather. We had -15 degree Celsius, +15 degree, Celsius, a little snow, a little sun - that's a classic southern Ontario Spring weather. I think Fitz's weather in Florida is a little bit better.
That's right. I'm in Gainesville, Florida - home of the Florida Gators. It is warm and wonderful as per usual. I'm in tank tops and flip-flops. The sun is shining most days, as requested - I put in an order for it year-round and that's usually what we get.
That's great. I think people would have gathered already - from the eloquence and ease that you guys speak - that you guys are professional race announcers. Today, we would love - myself and our listeners - you to help us out a little bit to understand what you guys do. I think lots of people don't quite know what race announcers do because most races still don't employ race announcers - many people know very little about that. We're going to be getting into how you guys help make events awesome and also some technical bits around how you guys work with race directors on the ground on race day and all of that stuff. But before we get into all that, why don't you start us off by telling a little bit about yourself, what you've done so far in the industry, and some of the work you've done with races?
Sure. I've been race announcing since 2014. My marquee events include the Los Angeles Marathon, Big Sur, Buffalo Marathons, Philadelphia, Gasparilla, the DC Super Hero Run series, and dozens in between. I absolutely love this industry. I am a sports performance expert, so that's where I got my start - teaching clinics to help runners run further faster and pain-free. I was plucked out of that existence to, "Hey, you're a lot of fun and you engage well with the audience. Can you come to announce a race?" I did and it worked well. Within an hour of yelling "Go!", that race director said, "Hey, can you come back next year?" And I said, "Absolutely!" There were a few other race directors at that event who said, "Hey, can you come to my event next or this year?" So, things have spiraled out of control in a wonderful way. I own a large before-school walking/running program called The Morning Mile, which is the only program that invites every child and family, so I'm very proud of that. Yeah, I make happy noises and I love it. I absolutely love it - it's not only a great career. When I was feeling pretty sick with breast cancer a couple of years ago, it was the thing that allowed me to be something other than just sick, so I'm very grateful to the running community.
Absolutely. The way you dealt with that whole thing is a whole inspiration in its own right. The Morning Mile with the kids - I've been following that - is also a great project that you have going on there. Steve, how about you?
My background is a bit like Fitz's. We both started our journey doing this around the same time. I had been doing it as a hobby on the side, prior to 2014. 2014 was when I sent out my first serious contract proposal to a triathlon race series here in Ontario - the MultiSport Canada Triathlon Series. I reached out to the race director, the owner of the series, and he said, "Send a proposal." I crunched some numbers, put a few things together, and sent that proposal. He said, "Yes." So, that was really my start of doing it at a more serious level. I was working in the online event registration business in the endurance sports community at that time, so that was helpful. I had good contacts or a database of a lot of race directors in Canada and in the US at that time. That company was abruptly sold and my job ended at that point in time - I was abruptly let go with a bunch of other people. So then, I was out on my own and I thought, "I'll just turn the announcing into, sort of, a full-time gig." So, I did. I had a bit of help. I had a business mentor of mine who helped me out on the side with a bit of money upfront, which was super helpful when you're going out, sort of, on your own. Moving from having been employed my whole life to running your own business is a bit daunting, so I had a bit of help to get it going. It actually started to really roll from there - I started in triathlon and branched out into running and cycling. I also did a bit more sophisticated stuff as I've been working along and through this high-level commentary in track and field, track cycling, running, as well as working with streaming providers such as RunnerSpace, Flow Sports, and FloBikes. In fact, this week, I'll be doing some commentary for FloBikes for one of the women's professional cycling races in Europe for the next two weeks on Wednesday - I'm working for them. But yeah, this is all I do now - it's a nonstop hustle and it's a tremendous amount of fun. I love what I do, whether it's live stream commentary or being, sort of, live on the PA at an event. The work is really finding the work and, sort of, keeping engaged. It takes more hustle behind the scenes than people realize. I just absolutely love doing this - being on a microphone at an event or calling a live race for one of my live streaming. I'm super passionate about it and I enjoy it immensely.
Yeah. We'll get into some of the behind-the-scenes efforts in a minute. Yeah, lots of people don't quite appreciate how much goes into it. In terms of how the past couple of years have been for you guys with the pandemic and everything - when I spoke to vendors through this podcast, they've been telling me that it's been rough for people selling T-shirts, medals, insurance, and running races - how has it been for you guys on the race announcing front?
I can say it's a unique position to be where we are because, for example, the last mass gathering in the United States was the Los Angeles Marathon. It was weird that we were feeling grateful to 'squeak by' in the Land Of The Free. Who would have thought that, in the land of the free, they would shut down healthy activities and sporting events, etc? Many races had to shut down there. I lost one and then I lost two. Within about 10 days, I lost 45 events. It was like being hit with a machine gun. It was very disappointing not only because of the income loss, but also because it's the thing that makes me so happy, besides my kids. My heart is so filled up by the running community. It was really gut-wrenching and very frustrating to be apart for so long.
My experience was similar to Fitz's. In the first week of March 2020, I worked at the Chilly Half Marathon - it's one of the first, sort of, larger events that takes place in southern Ontario each spring - which has about 4,000 runners. Then, the next week was when the WTO announced a global pandemic and everything just started to shut down. Just as Fitz had said, in the next couple of weeks, it started to look really bad. Then, in the next couple of weeks, I literally lost the whole 2/3 of the year worth of work and income. The frustrating part was we didn't know how long this was going to go on and what we were going to do. As a completely self-employed entrepreneur - to use, sort of, the sexy word - you're kind of on your own. There was literally no government help and no programs to tap into at that time. I just saw all of my income just get vaporized and, kind of, looked into the abyss and wondered, "Now what?" I was very bullish and optimistic that this would come back because humans like to get together. These large races and events that we're lucky to go to have huge party people that love to get together. I think it's human nature for us to want to get together, so I knew it would come back, but we just didn't know when. I don't mean to get into, sort of, the politics of all this, but Canada was much more cautious and conservative than the United States was. We literally didn't start to open things back up until last fall. Looking ahead to 2022, we're, kind of, on the road back to normal at this point. But yeah, it was pretty daunting. I had a few stretches - that I'm happy to, sort of, get into if you're interested - that started to yield a bit of different sources of income throughout the shutdowns and lockdowns. Yeah, it was pretty scary. It wasn't just endurance sports events, it was all live events. I mean, any kind of live event where humans could gather was shut down - it could be a street parade, art festival, music festival, concerts, etc. All of them were shut down.
Well, here's the thing. I actually am a highly credentialed fitness expert with a Master's in Exercise and Sport Sciences. If anyone actually cared about the health of their citizens, what would they have said? They would have said, "Go outside! Go exercise! Hey everyone, instead of staying home, all citizens are required to go do a 5K every other day!" We're in this industry that actually promotes health and changes lives. Then, they said, "Nah, stay home. Order takeout." Just from the actual health experts' standpoint, that's infuriating. So again, we don't want to get into the disappointing stuff. But yeah, our industry is that good. We deserved better and our participants deserved better. In the future, I sure hope that our leadership has someone knock on their door, maybe pop them in the mouth, and say, "Hey, you dummy. The running community is doing the right thing. Those people are healthy. When you took that opportunity away, a lot of health suffered. So get on it right this time."
Just extending what Fitz has said there - I'm not a scientist but I've listened carefully to what the expert researchers and scientists have said - about this, outdoors is always way safer. The transmission rates outdoors are extremely low, and I can put some hard numbers to that. Chris Robb at Mass Participation World - who I think you knew out of Singapore - has been gathering all of these numbers. We've had racing events going on for about a year and a half now. We've had over 9.5 million registered participants in running, cycling, and triathlon races and events around the world in 36 countries, 5 continents, but we've only had 5 cases of COVID transmitted at events. So, that just, sort of, proves to you that outdoors is safe. So, I was going, like, "Why are you shutting down stuff that's, like, completely safe?" But we're kind of past all that now and we're back on the road to normal.
Yes. I mean, let's hope all of that is behind us. Out of interest, did you happen to pivot to doing virtual races? Is that even a thing - announcing for virtual races during the pandemic?
I had a few races reach out and ask me to, basically, go virtually online, and I did a bit of that. I also did a bunch of keynote speeches. So, my corporate business really took off. Of course, I had to force that. I reached out and I was like, "Hey, just so you know, I'm available. I'm a heck lot of fun, even on the computer." So, work went that way. It's interesting. I'm in Florida, which has really taken this freedom thing to the top. We're so grateful to be in the Sunshine State for many reasons. 99% of the races I announced - my core group - are outside of Florida. Big Sur Marathon, one of the most epic beautiful luxurious races on planet earth in the most liberal city in the entire country, I believe, shut down for two solid years immediately, so I was aggressively reaching out to Florida race directors and saying, "Hey, just so you know, I'm here and I've got some free dates. What do you think?" And I was actually able to pick up a few races because I reached out. Usually, the offers just come in, so I didn't have to make any, sort of, aggressive moves, but I did and it worked out.
Indeed. I don't like to call it a pivot. Mine was more of a stretch and a bit like Fitz's. Some of my work did go virtual. I had started to do some work in conferences where - I'm not the keynote speaker - I would introduce the keynote speaker, moderate the panel, run the Q&A with the audience, and keep everyone engaged. It's a bit like just working at a live event - you're all about that engagement - and keeping everyone focused on the task at hand. Those all went virtual, so that was good for me - that was the stretch. I got a good camera, got a good microphone, and got some lights, so all of that work went virtual. Then, the other stretch was the live stream commentary work that I mentioned previously for Flow Sports and RunnersSpace - they pivoted to a remote commentary model for all of their talent. I got the hardware and the equipment, and I was ready to go with that. I didn't mind the weird thing of, like-- on Wednesday, I'm going to be calling a professional women's bike race that's going to be in Belgium, I'm going to be calling from this large monitor that's sitting in front of me right now, my producer is going to be in Austin, Texas, I'll have a headset and microphone up and everything, he'll be chirping in my ear with production notes and whatnot, and it'll be streamed on FloBikes in the United States, Canada, and Australia. So, I was ready to pick up that kind of work - that was my stretch. My challenge now, coming into 2022, is I've got booked for all these live commentaries and live events - outdoor running, cycling, and triathlon events are now coming back on - and I'm, kind of, at the stage of, "Well, which one do I do?" I don't mean to brag or anything - it's a good problem to have - but on some weekends, I've got triple options in terms of work this year.
That's a great problem to have! Steve, I have to say that I love how your Canadian is showing. Every time you say "Out and about", it's perfect. Just keep saying "outdoors" and "about". I can't mimic it properly, but it's fantastic. Thank you.
Well, it's great that we have all of that stuff behind us and that everyone's getting a lot busier, particularly you two, going forward. So, in researching this podcast, I happened to stumble across a piece that Mike Plant from MPA Graphics had authored a few years back actually.
Rest in peace.
Yes. Which was on the importance of race announcers - actually, Mike felt quite strongly about that. The title or the subtitle of that post was, "The Difference a Voice Can Make." Mike, again, had plenty of great stuff to say about how race announcers elevate the race experience, etc, but I'll leave it up to you to tell our listeners, "As a race director, why would I want to hire a race announcer?"
To put it quite simply, I would say to every race director, "You work tirelessly, 365 days a year, to make your weekend event great. On race day, everybody thinks the person on the microphone is the race director. Would you prefer Pee-wee Herman or Mick Jagger? That's the difference." If you get some guy who's on the board member, who's the only one not afraid to get on the microphone but is just going to read a script in a monotone fashion, about 99.8% of your athletes are just going to ignore that guy because he's so frickin boring - they showed up to have fun - and that's the reflection of your whole weekend. If you have someone who greets the crowd warmly, gets them informed in a really fun way, entertains the heck out of them, makes them feel special, welcomed, wanted, congratulated, they will go home thinking that your event was the best they've ever been to. So yeah, Pee Wee Herman or Mick Jagger? Make a smart decision.
That's awesome! Fitz, I love that! Let me just extend on what Fitz said there. First of all, Mike Plant - rest in peace - was a good friend of mine. He was a true pioneer on the microphone. He was the first person, I think, who really took this seriously many, many years ago - I'm talking back in the 1980s when Mike, sort of, first started to talk on the microphone at the Ironman races and a few races around Southern California. He was the first one to really professionalize it. Mike Riley picked up the baton from Mike Plant and ran with it. A couple of things that Fitz said, which are 100% true-- when you have the microphone at any event, the general public would think that you're the CEO, so they're always coming to you. They think you're running the whole show, but you're really just that person on the microphone who is the announcer of the day. As the announcer, you're a massive part of the experience, and experience is everything for these races and events. A lot of race directors think that the cones, the arrows, the porta-potties, the permits, the police, and all that stuff are vitally important, but once you got to the actual day, it's about the experience. We are there on the microphone to make that experience as high as possible, as impactful as possible, so that everyone walks away feeling really, really good about what they've done - I know you're really big on this, Fitz - and would come back next year as a sponsor or as a participant. Here's the other thing - something I like to do is I like to engage politicians - I would get people and say, "Hey, write to the local councilwoman, councilman, mayor, whatever, and thank them for these road closures because, without the permits, this race or event couldn't happen." I got a thank you letter a couple of years ago from a race director. He said, "Steve, I've never heard anyone do that before, but thank you. You secured our permits for next year." So, it's just little things like that that good announcers can do to elevate the events significantly.
Yeah. The other thing is-- let's say we're going to a Beyonce concert where - you got the beautiful arena, the seats, and Beyonce with her big beautiful voice - she just sits on a chair somewhere at the back of the stage and sings her song. "Meh, who cares. We can listen to that on the radio." Or you get an actual entertainer, someone who's got a big personality, and a live audience specialist reaching out. We are the equivalent of Beyonce dancing her fanny off while singing in a great costume. There are certainly levels of expertise, talent, and interest. Not every race announcer wants to do the things I do, but I think they add to the experience. It's all about the experience not only of what these people are doing between point A and point B but how we made them feel. They'll come back because you made them feel special, excited, and accomplished, and they deserve that.
Panos, here's the story I like to share, and I just shared this at a race directors conference that I emceed yesterday. A number of years ago, I was working at the finish line of a Half Ironman distance triathlon - it wasn't a branded Ironman event, it was another event - and we were waiting for the last finisher to come in. Everyone had gone home. We had already done awards and they were starting to tear down, like, the race site and everything, but we kept the finish gantry up, kept the music going, and waited for this woman to come in. We knew her name. Sportstats was doing the timing, so we knew her name just by process of elimination. I can't remember what it was. Let's name her Mary for the purposes of the story here. Mary's five friends were waiting on the other side of the fence for her. I had a mobile mic, so I went out and ran in the final, like, 150 meters with Mary to the finish line. I got her friends to come out - the five or six of them - and we all ran together across the finish line. Mary got across the finish line. There were tears running down her face. She looked me right in the eye and she went, "This is the best day of my life!" I shared that with race directors to amplify what Fitz and I are talking about how impactful and important is the experience of race day - the announcer can amplify that or pass it on to other people. I think a lot of race directors, race organizers, and organizations in the space don't truly understand the emotion and the connection that the participants have with things like this. Think about that. That woman said that that was the absolute best day of her life. I don't know what her story is, but that was the best day of her life at your race!
Yeah. You must get lots of those. I was thinking through what you guys were saying there. I think it's a little bit difficult for anyone to put across exactly how it feels to have a good race announcer to people who haven't experienced race announcing. I was just talking to Fitz about last year, during the pandemic, when we did, like, a virtual run and we used a platform that allowed Fitz to be announcing on that. I think a very small part of what you would get on actual race day made a huge amount of difference - the connection you have and how special you feel. As Steve was saying that story about the eponymous Mary there, all of that stuff really takes an event from just about the cones, the permits, the turnings, and making it an actual amazing event.
100%. I think Fitz knows this. I'm on my business development. I'm constantly pitching, sort of, to race directors. They may have an announcer who is usually just someone that they've hired from the side or the local radio personality because everyone knows who they are, but it's really about making that, sort of, connection to the audience and elevating the experience of everyone who is there. I think that is really, sort of, the key role of what we do on race day. We all have our own style. I mean, listeners can tell right now that there's probably a bit of a difference between Fitz and myself in terms of our style - even if Fitz and I are working together. I've worked with some great announcers. I've learned from working with them. I mean, Fitz, you've got this great, sort of, outsized personality, so I wouldn't compete against that. I would play the straight person and let you run that outside personality - it's a great balance. I've known that from working with some really, really good announcers and role-playing it so that everyone gets the best experience on race day.
Yeah, it's good that you say that. I work quite regularly with Rudy Novotny - he has one of the greatest voices in announcing, and charisma and personality. He's got all the elements. He's my favorite race announcer and he is so much fun. When we work independently - without each other - we're great. But when we work together, I think we're even better. But yeah, this fun guy becomes the super straight man because of me - it's just this different role. Then, I've announced with my daughter who - believe it or not - is Fitz 2.0. She is so poised and capable on the microphone. When I announced with her, I become the straight man - all of a sudden, she's so silly and I'm structured. So yeah, you got to know who you're working with and be flexible.
But to your point, Panos, I think, until they experience - whether it's individually - the qualities of a really great announcer or the tag-team effort with two really good ones who know how to roleplay, they don't know what they're missing out on. Then, after you do it - you've gone to the race event for the first time - they would come up to you afterward, going, "Oh, my God. That was amazing! How did you do all that?"
Yeah. Here's the interesting thing. I would say some of the largest events in my country, especially, don't have a professional race announcer - they just have some guys or some volunteers. These are the big iconic races that are interesting. I think this is the place where most races have the opportunity to improve but are not prioritizing. They're like, "We're a big deal. Everybody knows us. We sell out." Okay, well, do you want to take things through the roof? I can do that for you. But yeah, we're almost, like, a secret. Right, Steve?
Well, I have a question for Fitz, if you don't mind. On that note - I've worked at some of the larger events that you have too - often, with those larger events, don't you find that there are a bit more constraints on what we can do? Things are a bit more buttoned-down. They're a bit more scripted. You would often work with an event presentation producer who hands you, like, scripted notes that you have to read out for the sponsors, and I get that. So, you have to work with your client. I mean, the other thing is respecting your client's wishes and needs as well. Right?
I would say the largest event I announced is Los Angeles Marathon, which traditionally has about 27,000 athletes in a normal year. We would get bullets like we do for every race - "This is our sponsor X, Y, Z" and, maybe, say a few words about them - but I'm still completely unscripted. The only thing that makes us a little more rigid is live broadcasts on KTLA and NBC. So, we have to work with them on when we sing the anthem. There's a TV producer in our ear going, "30... 10... No, no. Wait, wait. Don't go." So, we would be, like, "Okay, we'll wait." So, those are the constraints. But yeah, that's another position where you better have a pro handling 27,000 people on live television or else it's going to fall flat. But yeah, that's a great race. One of the interesting things is, at the finish line, all of the leaders would come in with the champions on the way because the helicopter's getting closer. I love that stuff. I love my little races. The smallest I do now is probably a few thousand, but having the helicopters and the producers is a kick.
That's an interesting point that I want you to touch on a little bit later. But are we saying that having a race announcer fits a little bit better with some types of events?
I think they all should have one. I mean, anytime you gather a group of people and you're the host-- if I had 15 people over at my house for a party, I would play the hostess, I would say, "Welcome! I'm so happy you're here! This is where the buffet is. This is where the dancing is going to be. I'm going to check on you. I'm going to make sure we're gonna have a good time." If it is time for karaoke, even with my horrible voice, I would get up and I would sing something fantastic and dance horribly just because it's my job as the host to entertain. So, whether you're inviting 2,000 or 50,000 people, you better be an awesome host. Don't just let these people wander aimlessly. You want someone to make them feel right at home.
I agree with Fitz. There's no event that wouldn't be, I think, better with a really good announcer on the microphone. Just extending what I was talking about earlier, I think you have to understand what our clients want - there's a certain, sort of, delivery that we're needed to deliver on. I always spend a good amount of time to try and understand what is topmost in their mind, particularly with the new or smaller clients because, with all due respect, they're not as sophisticated - if they're running just a couple of thousand person local 5K or 10K charity run, they may not understand what they actually want or need. So that's where we can help them a little bit and work hand-in-hand. Those are the ones I spend a considerable amount of time to try and understand what their needs are and what their sponsors' needs are. I mean, when you walk into big events, a lot of stuff has been taken care of for you. If all of that stuff is taken care of for you by a professional event production team, there's actually less work with the larger events, sometimes, than there is with the smaller ones.
Okay, so today it's all about the race experience, and race announcer certainly make a huge contribution to that at your start and finish line. But what about the long miles in between? When it'd be great to be able to make your participants' race even more enjoyable as they go around your race course?
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Okay, that's it from me for now. Now let's get back to the episode. Let's paint a picture for folks who are not particularly familiar with you and the voice on race day. What exactly do you do throughout race day? I guess your role starts quite sometime before the race start itself and carries through to the end and beyond. What does that typically involve?
I always show up at least an hour in advance of the start time. When I get there, usually something's amiss - my stage is not in the proper position or the sound is still trying to get power, etc. It's nice to be there early to make sure I have the things I need and they're all in order. At that point, I would start playing music. I have a professionally-mixed playlist that has about 15 hours of incredible race music blended in for all ages and generations to keep things upbeat and fun because, as a fitness professional, music has always been my right-hand man. If I play the right music, people would want to move even before I tell them to. At that point, I would start greeting people, welcoming them, telling them where the porta-potties are, going through the bullets, recognizing the sponsors, engaging the people, talking to them about "Who's here from out of town? Who's running their very first? Who's trying to PR today? Who's super happy to be running with their family or without their family" and just making it a good time.
So you would go down into the corrals, mingle with people, and sort of, like, do an interview-style thing?
Yes, I do roam around. I always request a very powerful microphone that allows me to roam. However - I think it's a real pro tip - never let the regular public on the microphone because they have no ability to project their voice and nobody can hear them. It really just becomes a "fall flat on your face" experience. So, if I talk to someone, I would get their answers and then relay that to the crowd. Otherwise, it would almost be like Charlie Brown with a, "Wah, wah, wah." Nobody can hear that guy in the corner who's stretching out.
Good pro tip, Fitz. Yeah, I've experienced that as well. People in the crowd don't know how to project their voices properly. My race day is pretty much similar to what Fitz said there. Before the race, if there's a social media involvement and help that I can lend to, sort of, build up the hype about the race through my social channels-- I mean, I have a moderate, sort of, following on social media - I'm not some massive influencer. Any little bit of help can help, particularly, smaller races and events. They might find it a revelation that they're getting this assistance from the race director. Then, again, I'd like to get there an hour or hour and a half before. There are always, sort of, technical glitches with the sound system and you would want to troubleshoot that, get things sorted out, find out the range on the microphones, and this and that. It's really a combination of what we would like to call housekeeping issues, like, "Where are the porta-potties? Where's registration? When do you need to line up? Where are the wave starts?" and all this sort of more locked down stuff. Then, just animate, be yourself, and get people engaged and pumped up for, as Mary said, "The best day in her life."
During, say, a 4, 5, 6 hour marathon, what do you guys do for, like, six hours?
We would all head over to the finish line, depending on the race. With a 5K, sometimes, I would run to the finish line because it would take 14 minutes for the champion to go 3.1 miles, and I gotta get there before then. It might only be 200 yards away from me, but it feels like a sprint. Well, not only do I welcome athletes as they come through - technology allows us to welcome most athletes by name - I really prioritize the hundreds or thousands of spectators who are stuck with me for hours. Really, think about Suzy having her best day - her six-hour day. Well, it could be her husband's worst day if he's there for six hours at a finish line and the race announcer stinks. So, my job is to keep everybody engaged and entertained, talk to people, explain things if they're new to the game, play games with the spectators, keep them involved, and just make sure everybody has fun.
Every race is a little bit different - no two races are the same. Some of the large Gran Fondo's that I've worked are 100-mile or 100K events where you'll send them off - they'll literally disappear - and you won't see anyone for three or four hours, which is some legitimate downtime. Then, after that, go and get breakfast or hang out with the event crew. There's no point in wearing out your voice when you don't really need to. You need to be very careful of pacing your voice. I learned this tip that you can't be at a nine or a ten at 9 o'clock in the morning because your voice will be done by 3 or 4 o'clock in the afternoon. When those Mary's of the world are coming to the finish line, that's when you want to be at your best. So, if you're at a nine or a ten on the 'drama and volume index' from 8 or 9 o'clock in the morning, then you're gonna have trouble, sort of, getting through the day. So, every race is a little bit different. Sometimes, as Fitz said, in a 5K, you might not even have any downtime because you're literally going from the start line to the finish line. Then, you're literally there all day, often, until that very last finisher comes in - even in a marathon or half marathon. Good grief, I started off doing Ironman races that didn't end until midnight of race day - that's insanity.
So here's another thing. Again, pro tip - you don't need to drone on and on through the microphone. The races have a special sound of their own. Let it breathe. You don't have to keep talking nonstop. It's interesting. I worked with two gentlemen at a big race, one time. I'm actually very particular about who I work with right now. If I'm super big fun and someone's super low key, we would collide and I've learned that the hard way. These two guys, as decent human beings as they are, gave no dead space. They just droned and droned nonstop for hours about all these statistics and stuff that is no fun. Nobody wanted to hear it. I mean, it was just painful. So, sometimes, you just gotta shut up. I shut up sometimes. I'm like, "Okay, I'm not gonna say anything for 45 seconds and let people just enjoy the sound of this race." It's got its own special sound.
It's a tough balancing act. I mean, this may not be a perfect example - seeing as we're talking about sports-- sometimes, when I sit down and watch the election night, I would think, "What are those guys going to be doing for the next, like, eight hours until the first polls come out or something?" You see them. They go back and bring some guests and stuff like that. So, I guess you need to mix it up a little bit. I've run, like, the Athens Marathon a few times that finishes on this really amazing classical marble amphitheater. Whenever I go in, I would see all those people at the stands waiting for their family and friends and stuff, and I'd think, "Oh, my God. It must be total pain sitting there at the finish line waiting for someone for, like, three hours."
Or it could be really exciting and fun. It could be the greatest time that spectators ever had, if they bring an announcer that's enjoyable.
What kind of games do you play with them, just out of interest? So let's, like, just roleplay a little bit. We're at that finish line where there are, like, thousands of people waiting for the loved one to come through. What do you do?
Well, sometimes, I practice cheers with them. So, I'll be like, "Okay, we're gonna practice! Everybody give me a 'Hurray!' 1-2-3!" Then, everybody gives a 'Hurray'. Then, I change it to a 'Yahoo!' and they just do a 'repeat after me' type thing, but it's a fun way to get them involved.
Mine is often geography - ask them where they're from. In bigger events, you get a lot of international flavors. "Where's their loved one from or where are they waiting for them?" I tend to do more of this towards the back end of the field, because you have a bit more spare time. And to Fitz's point, you can let it breathe a little bit - you don't have to be talking constantly and calling finishers in relentlessly throughout every second of your day. You might wander down, walk along the fence, and - Fitz is 100% right, I rarely let people, sort of, talk on the microphone - do the one-way, sort of, phone conversation with them and amplify that to the crowd. I like geography because that gets people talking about where they're from, what they're doing, and who they're waiting for. Then, I'll remember that it's Janet that we're waiting for. Then, when Janet comes in, I might see them over there across the fence and say, "Hey, here's Janet. She's coming in. Get ready!" So, you just, sort of, work with what you have - there is no real script at that point. You're just, kind of, surfing on what's happening in front of you. If someone comes in with a funny, sort of, clown outfit, you would run with that for a little bit - it can also be certain little tidbits that you pick up through the information on the timing info that you're getting which, sometimes, you'd get a lot and, sometimes, you get very little. Another thing I do first thing in the morning is I'd meet with the timing crew and find out how much information they can give me on each finisher. I do like to have that geographic information because I think that's important.
And specific age - I don't like it when they give me a range. I need to know that they're 87, and not 85-90, because that age really can be a special component of their finish. If they're finishing when they're 12, that's super interesting. If they're the champion in their 45, that's really interesting. So, I would like to know specific age and gender because, on occasion, it's hard to tell. I think it's really handy nowadays to have gender. I don't want to call 'he or she' or whatever. Lord knows those mistakes have been made in the past and you just do your best to compensate for them live.
That specifically must be getting a little bit more complicated these days, I guess.
I have an anecdote, if you guys are interested. So I was announcing a race and - I'm not going to name the location because I really care about this person so I don't want to out them - it's a sizey half marathon race and a 10K. Our pace team was from Hanson's running store. Another thing we often acknowledge are our pacers. They come out and work hard to help our athletes through a specific time. So I'm known or we're known to say, "Here's another one of Hanson's pacers." At some point, I was on my stage when this person came right up to the stage barking at me. Now, quite often, I have security, which is great because I've got a little isolation so that nobody can do this. This person came over and said, "Excuse me!" I turned my head and this person said, "I don't appreciate you misgendering me at the finish line!" I looked at the person and I wasn't sure what I was looking at. Also, I couldn't hear that and I was like, "Excuse me. What did you say?" "I don't appreciate you misgendering me at the finish line!" I said, "What did I say?" She goes, "You said, 'Good job, handsome runner!'" Now, it was a male who had transitioned to a female. I was like, "Oh, okay. Is there a chance that I said, 'Good job, Hanson's runner'?" So, she thought I said 'handsome' and was wildly offended, but I had said Hanson's. Then, she went, "Oh my god, I'm so sorry. I'm so hypersensitive to this. You didn't deserve that. I'm so sorry." I said, "That's okay. Well, what's your name?" And she told me her name. So, I gave her my business card because I thought that this person probably just needs a little extra kindness and support. So, I gave her my business card and she walked away. It was surprising that that had happened. Within about 60 seconds, I called her by name. I said, "Hey, can you come back to the finish sign?" Then, I told her, like, "Listen, if you need anything, I'll be your friend." She actually reached out with a few, like, fitness questions and so forth. But yeah, that was surprising. Really, what I thought was, "If anyone were at the finish line with me, they might not think I was beautiful or stylish, but they probably would think that I was really nice because, besides providing structure, my job is to make sure everybody feels wonderful." There's not a mean bone in my little body on race day. The fact that she came over and targeted me real angry made me think, "Well, that needs a little bit of adjustment." But she and I are now really good friends and we've interacted until today. But yeah, it's nice to have gender on the thing. If you don't know, just leave it out.
We're getting into a bit of a controversial and, potentially, awkward part of the conversation here. We are entering into, sort of, a new territory here and we want to respect everyone. I interviewed a top-level triathlete who now identifies as non-binary. I just professed, sort of, my awkwardness and was being honest. I mean, as announcers, you're, kind of, talking and - because you're focusing on other things and information coming in - sometimes, not being fully aware of what you're saying because you're, kind of, on autopilot and you'll use 'he or she' in the flow of the conversation. I don't know if someone's non-binary from looking at them physically - I hope I'm not going to offend anyone by saying this, but I can't really tell. I can only go on the information that I have. This triathlete was actually really respectful of that. She said, "Steve, I would never call an announcer out for that because it's still early with this. We're just, sort of, entering into a new territory with this, and I wouldn't call you out if you didn't use 'they' with me when you're referring to me on the microphone. So, that was comforting to know. After having had that conversation with her in the interview that I did for a client, now, I'm conscious and aware of it, going forward. It's something that I've put in my, sort of, conscious memory to be aware and cautious of. The bigger problem we have is something more basic and mundane - name pronunciation. To extend on what Fitz was talking about with the Hanson's thing - that was just miss hearing - now we're getting into name pronunciation. Try as we may, we always do our best job but we're not worldwide international linguistic, sort of, experts - we just try to have a go at it. Some of the more diverse ethnic groups or wonderful immigrants coming from various countries around the world might have names that can be quite hard to pronounce. Sometimes, we'll get it phonetically right, but we'll have the emphasis on the wrong syllable, and that can change everything in terms of the sound of the name, but we're honestly trying to understand it. Sometimes, someone will come by and I'll say their name out. If I've made eye contact with them, I said, "Look, I'm sorry. I know I completely butchered your name." If we're getting towards the end of the race and it's kind of slower, I would say, "Come over and please tell me how I'm supposed to say that because I want to learn."
One of the greatest moments on any race day is when someone with a complicated name looks at me after I said it and they go, "Yeah, you got it right!" I would think, "Score! Like, 20 points for me!" Then, I really, really feel so confident and cocky with Indian names - I've just been nailing them left and right and there's no reason for it. But I love getting the names with eight different consonants in a row. The Scandinavian names and Russian names are what I'm really excited about. So, some of them are really, really hard and it's all very regional. So in California, per se, we'll get lots of Latinos, Russians, and Asians. Buffalo and New York would have lots of Polish names, which are pretty easy in general. Yeah, it's fun, it's funny. I try hard and, like you, sometimes, I'd just say, "Oops, I'm sorry. You broke my mouth. I apologize."
Yeah. Actually, with both of those examples that came with the additional complexities of announcing genders and names these days, it doesn't take a lot for someone to imagine how difficult this job can get even on very simple things like that, right?
I think the caveat is how tricky it can be when done well. If you're just going to be the guy who sits under the tent and says, "Hey, bib number 1456, good job! Bib 2345, good job!" There are a lot of 'announcers' doing that - not hard at all. If you're one that's committed to each runner, their personal triumph, the spectators, their organization, and all of these other things-- yeah, we keep a lot of balls in the air. I also pride myself as being, kind of, the head of security. I'm very, very rigid on runner safety. We do not want spectators coming through our finish line. Finish lines are secure areas. If you grab your baby over the barricade, then you run with the baby, and then you fall with the baby, guess who's paying for the baby's injuries? The race. If you and your kid trip another runner, guess who's paying for the injuries? The race. There are a lot of things that can go wrong. Also, our athletes have worked so hard to train and prepare themselves to go the distance. When their finish line photo comes in with you and your grandpa with his sandals and his backpack looking all sloppy, and you're trying to have your athletic moment, I think it's painfully disrespectful and not acceptable. So, I keep my eyes out for those things when it comes down to the finish line. 'Shoot at will' of any sort - I would physically stop them if we don't have security. I've manhandled many people and I do not feel bad about that. I will do anything to protect our runners from hazards.
Ironman opened up and went down a bit of a crazy road a number of years ago and this was back in, I think, the early 2000s. Some announcers who were working for Ironman - who shall remain nameless - were actually encouraging families to come in down the final chute together. It got to the point where it was insane. I happened to be at an event and I was working as a runner for Mike Riley at that time, and it was ridiculous! You couldn't tell who was finishing and who wasn't. I mean, the finish chute was so full with, like, other family members, dogs, and people in wheelchairs. I mean, it was fun, but it was, kind of, getting out of control. Then, Ironman had to come in and play heavy and got really, like, beat up badly on social media for doing that. Fitz said it really well there. I mean, there's no liability insurance for those extra people in the chute. If someone gets hurt, it's the race that's going to pay the biggest price - maybe not an Ironman but a smaller race. I mean, that lawsuit can put them out of business in an instant, so it is a serious thing. Bandits are the same. I know it seems rather benign. "Well, why can't I run along the course? The roads are open!" "Yeah, but if you twist your ankle stepping up and off the curb and sue the race or the event, the legal costs alone could put the race or the event out of business, so it is a serious thing." No race director is going to condone banditing or doing those things that Fitz had mentioned.
Yeah. I think, if it's a marathon, for example, it's impossible to protect every inch of the course. At Mile 17, you might get some strangers walking across the street or whatever, but the finish line chute, specifically, should be secured and protected. I encourage all of our race professionals to make sure that there are either paid security or volunteers - big intimidating volunteers - down at the end of the finish line chute. So if somebody tries to get through, you just say, "No, you have to exit here. You cannot come through the finish line chute." Then, I - the little noisy blonde announcer -don't have to publicly say, "No, put your child back over the barricade. He or she is not welcome here." That might be a couple of people on the race day that don't like me, and I'm okay with that because it's an important thing to protect. In fact, Frankie Ruiz in Miami Marathon-- man, that guy is a rockstar! I do not announce for Miami, but I would specifically love to because at about 150 yards from the finish line, Frankie and a few big dudes were grabbing bandits left and right, and they did it on Facebook Live every year.
I've seen the videos. It's pretty cool.
It's incredible to see all these people who just think that it's okay to steal. They're stealing resources or medical resources. I mean, they are actually quite harmful to the organization and Frankie doesn't tolerate it. So, high five to that guy. And I encourage everybody to be like Frankie and protect your finish line chute.
He does a great job. Yeah, it's pretty cool. Seeing how Frankie, sort of, confronts bandits at the finish line is pretty awesome.
Yeah, he's awesome. For big and small races - it all counts. If you'd like to be a big race one day, you have to take some of these measures early on to protect your business and your athletes and to make sure everyone has a wonderful experience.
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Okay, now, let's get back to the episode.
You mentioned earlier the issue of getting to know how to pronounce names. I think, at some point, this came up in our race directors group on Facebook, and some people said that they actually took notes on, basically, how to call a name phonetically - is that something you'd do?
I mean, with 10,000 runners, you couldn't possibly write. I'll use LA Marathon again as an example. There's a very high percentage chance that our champions are going to be African and their names are quite tricky. For our elite runner, I would always ask. If it's televised, they would need to have their name pronounced properly, so I would always ask for the phonetic spelling of our elites at LA. I just announced the Publix Savannah Women's Half Marathon yesterday or the day before - I did not ask for anyone's phonetic spelling. So, it really just depends on where you are and what the situation is.
I'd do it for the more, sort of, professional livestream commentary work that I do. So, for example, on Wednesday, there will be this race from Belgium - it's a midweek, sort of, Tier 2 race for women and men. It's not a world tour event, but many of the top world tour teams will be cycling. I will spend considerable time trying to figure out the pronunciations for the various Belgian towns that they'll be passing through, the riders' names, the team names, etc. Google is great for that. I mean, they actually have pronunciation tools embedded in Google or other apps online that are very, very helpful because, at that level, it's a little bit different - the listeners can be quite cruel, actually, and you, kind of, have to turn them off and just ignore the hate. But I do spend the time to try and get, sort of, the trickier ones right and do my best. As I said, I'm not a linguistic world expert. I'm not Belgian. I'm not Flemish. I'm not French. I'm not Dutch. I'm a white man from Canada. So, I do my best and I try my best. I know a little bit of French, so I can work a little bit better with the French names than I do with anything else. But at that level, I actually do quite a bit of work to try and make it as as right as I can. But as Fitz had said, in a massive race with 10,000 people, there's no way you can go through 10,000 names the night before the race to try and figure it out. Right, Fitz?
Correct. And then, the other thing that I really enjoy - because I travel all over to different places to announce races - is the town name. So, Michigan, for example, has a bunch of towns named after Native Americans and there's one called Ypsilanti. So, the first time I got there and saw that word came up, it came out as something like "Slippy Slappy" and the crowd lost it. We just had such a fun time based on my 'lack of ability' because they kept yelling "Ypsilanti!" when I was like, "Itsy-fancy? What?!" So, all day, I purposely announced Ypsilanti as wrong as humanly possible and it became one of the highlights of that race weekend. So, this is the difference between live audience professionals and the TV guy. I think there are a few errors with a race director hiring the wrong announcer. I think they should be an athlete. I think they should be an endurance athlete. I had hit the wall. I have chafed. I had blisters. I had run through pain. If you've never participated in a running or an endurance industry, it's really hard to connect, it's hard to understand, and it's really hard to give the actual respect due to every person from the beginning to the end. Those at the back of the pack are working harder than the lead athlete is, and the champions will acknowledge that. So, I think you should be a participant in the sport. Then, the other thing is, quite often, they'll be like, "Well, we got this disc jockey from the radio station. He's got a big voice and he'll talk like this." Then, there's the weatherman, but they're not live audience professionals. What happens when your race is delayed for X, Y, or Z reasons? I was announcing Coast Guard Marathon probably a month ago. We had a 30-minute delay for the 5K. 30 minutes! I literally had people jumping up and raring to go. I was about 20 seconds from yelling, "Runners! Set, go!" Then, the ops person was, like, "Wait, wait, wait! Not yet! Wait 30 seconds." So, I had to stall for 30 seconds, 60 seconds. They said someone broke through the barriers on the course and is driving on the course. It took them 30 minutes to clear the course, so I ended up hosting a talk show. There was a captain of the Coast Guard next to me and we talked about everything that people did not want to know, but the athletes thought that it was part of the show. It wasn't till the end when someone in the back said, "I think she's stalling!" Well, hell yeah, I was stalling! Why else would I be talking about all of this nonsense? But people had a really fun time. Steve and I can handle that unexpected delay because we are live audience professionals - we're not afraid of the audience and we know how to engage them. If you bring in the weatherman or the guy who sits in a radio booth, you may have radio silence for 30 minutes. So, I think it should be an athlete - it doesn't have to be a good one - or someone who gets it, and a live audience professional. Those are the must-haves.
Yeah, nothing feels truer, actually, than this comment about having to have a runner. Very few people who don't run, as you say, would understand and pick on all of those little things. If we see someone, like, half limping through the finish line, we would have something to say about that. So, you would understand this, kind of, dynamics in a way that the weatherman or whomever just wouldn't get it?
No. I was working with a non-running announcer a while back and he didn't know that our champions were declared off a gun-time. So, he started to make the statement, "Well, we may not know who really won until their final results." I was, like, "No, it's gun-time" and I had to cheerfully and respectfully inform him publicly to let everybody know. But yeah, there are some actual rules to our sports besides just point A to point B - I think compassion, empathy, and respect go a long way if you have gone the distance and you've been there.
That's where I'm grateful for my background as a triathlete - I started off as a runner, then a triathlete. Then, I'm back to running. Now, I just cycle, sort of, above recreational level. So, I was really grateful when I got into this because I have a deep understanding of most of the endurance sports. So, I can speak of what it's like to be a runner, a triathlete, a swimmer, or a cyclist striving for their best absolute performance or just being out there to have a good time. So, I think it's really important. What Fitz said is 100% right. "If you've walked the walk, or ran the run, or biked the bike, you have a much better understanding of what's going through the mind of the participant and the athlete out there on the course.
Yeah, absolutely. Going back to the story you were saying earlier, Steve, about Mary and all of that emotion of, like, the last person to finish the course, do you guys find yourself taking notes on some of those really exceptional stories that a race may have? Let's say there's a cancer patient who goes to the line or someone running their 50th marathon or something - do you have little notes next to the names on your list?
Not ones that were given - there are almost never notes on the computer itself - but the second I ride to a race weekend, I start going to the expo and meeting our athletes. When you find the bold ones or the guy with no legs, you'd say, "What's your story?" Or you would just meet random people and they would tell you that this is the 800th marathon that they're running. So, I definitely keep notes of those things. Then, on race morning, someone's always, like, "Hey, announcer! Hey, Fitz! Come here! It's her birthday. My person is coming through. It's her birthday" or "She just beats cancer" or whatever it is. So yeah, you would gather this information if you're mobile. If you're not just sitting on a chair, hiding in a tent, you can get out there and get to know many of the people that are participating. Steve?
Some of those stories, you'll get from the race. Typically, the larger and more sophisticated the race is, the better that PR and stuff that they will have - they'll send along with you some stories. But as Fitz had said, a lot of it is happenstance - you're just figuring it out on the fly as you're meeting people at the expo or having someone coming up to you, literally, as their person is running down the chute. "Hey, it's Lucy's birthday today. Can you give her a birthday shout-out?" Of course, I can! So, you just, kind of, run with the flow. Again, getting back to what I was talking about way back at the beginning, it's about the experience - just taking in all of that information to heighten the experience at both the micro and the macro level for the whole of the event.
And there's great power behind the microphone. It's interesting because someone might be shy to approach strangers or "That's just not who I am", but with the microphone, I have the power. If I run over with a microphone and say, like, "Hey, tell me about XYZ", they'll spill their guts to you. I'm a legitimate authority in their eyes because of my microphone. They'll tell me everything they know and things I don't even want to know. So, getting to know people isn't hard if you're willing to make the effort.
Okay. Let's try and wrap up on a very important aspect of all this, which is how to hire a race announcer? What to expect from them? What should they expect to pay? Where would I find a race announcer to begin with? I think we already touched on the fact that hiring a local radio personality and weather person is probably not a great idea. Where do I turn to find a race announcer?
There is me and then there's a regular person. I'm just gonna say, "If you're a small race, maybe go to a local stand-up comedy club to see if you have some people who speak well and have some athletics in their background. Anyone on the microphone that you think is charismatic and comfortable - that's a good place." Perhaps you want to talk to runners. Maybe, there's that guy at the running shoe store who's really charismatic. He runs. He knows people. If it's a small race, perhaps that might be the way to go. If you're a race hoping to be a bigger race or you're already a substantial race and you need to start searching for professionals - I'm an independent contractor - races can just go to fitzness.com, click on my 'race announcer' button, and start doing their research there. Expect to get what you pay for. You will find a local guy for a couple of hundred dollars for your event and that may satisfy your needs. I'm a far more significant investment, but what I can tell you is I am never a cost - I am always a profit center. People travel across the country to run my races. They will get on a plane, book a hotel, register and be there because I'm there specifically. So, if you're paying thousands of dollars for me to be there, you're almost guaranteed that my costs are covered by the amount of people who show up because I'm announcing your race. Then, if people have such a wonderful time because I have provided all those things that I do, they're more likely to continue coming, and that's the repeat business - right? I love repeat business! Buffalo Marathon, for example - I've been announcing forever. They just signed me to another multi-year contract - that's repeat business. If a professional race announcer shows up and makes all your runners happy, you get the repeat business because they want to come back for that experience. I don't know if I answer that question very thoughtfully, but you can find someone locally who got a great personality, who knows running, and give them a shot, especially for smaller races. Then, if you want more big-time experience, you go for a more big-time professional announcer.
I'm not quite the attraction you are.
I bet you are!
I don't know if people are traveling across the country to come and hear me. On a serious note, there is no, sort of, central clearinghouse for this. This is such a very unique and esoteric, sort of, service offering and I would say - help me out here, Fitz - there might be 10 or 15 of us in North America that are doing this, I think, at a higher level. Literally, like, that's it. In all of North America, there are maybe 10 or 15 of us that are doing this at a higher level. So, it's a very esoteric, very unique service offering. So that being said - Fitz touched, I think, on the advantages of hiring a real pro - it's not an expense, it is actually something that adds significant value to your race. I don't hear it like how Fitz presented it, I hear it this way - when someone shows up and hears my name on the microphone, they'll come up to me and go, "Steve, now that I know you're here on the mic, I know this is a great race!" Done! Fitz and I are egomaniacs, but we do have larger-than-life personalities, but that's not an ego stroke. For us, it's doing what it's doing - it's adding value to the race or the event. The fact that we are there adds value to that event. People are traveling across the country to do a race with Fitz. People are showing up at a race when I'm on the microphone, saying, "Wow, this is a really good event! They've hired Steve Fleck to be on the microphone with them!" So, it's adding to the quality, it's adding to the value of the race. Getting to the nitty-gritty - we don't have to get into the details of it - like, literally, every deal I have with every race is custom negotiated. There is no number because I want to make it a win-win. Maybe, we can start off a little small and build something up, so every deal is custom negotiated with each of my clients.
The thing you just mentioned, Steve, is that - and I promote it - I always say, "Listen, my presence at these races is indicative of how good they are." Again, it's not, "Whoa, I'm great." What I'm saying is, "If I'm there, they have invested in a great course and security, they have beautiful medals, their start and finish line structures are fantastic." I hate to say 'I'm the cherry on top' because I should be considered part of the foundation, but if they're investing in me, you know damn well that beautiful swag and all of the other elements would be covered. I'm never showing up in the races half-assed. A person like me, I should say, is symbolic of the quality invested in everything else.
Just going beyond that, we take the whole experience thing really seriously, which is why we started talking about the outset - that's where we add huge value, that's where we amplify, that's where we give connection to participants, sponsors, other stakeholders, and politicians that I had mentioned earlier - I think those races take this seriously and are willing to invest in that.
Yeah. If you're a race director who's listening and thinking, "Oh, I'd really love to have a professional but I don't know if I can afford it." Reach out and ask the question. You may find out that we are more affordable or more worth it than you thought. You may find out that there are other perks that come with hiring a professional announcer with a solid following and all of the other things. I mean, the marketing value itself is tremendous. But yeah, just reach out and ask. Maybe, you used to have those little medals that you just put a sticker on that said "First place" or whatever, and then you upgraded to maybe a bigger medal, and then eventually your medal has some glitter on it, and then the medal has a moving object. Steve and I are the big fancy medals with all the glitter and the moving parts. And yeah, we're the exciting version of this profession.
Not to give away business secrets, but I often turn it around - I mean, I'm reasonably well known on the brand side of things because I used to work in that business - and say to a race or event, "Go and talk to this brand and ask them if they would want me to come in and announce at the race, and they might actually kick in my fee to have me there because their brand message gets that much more amplified at the race or event, and the brand gets more connection." This has now shifted over to an activation piece, not just announcing, telling people where the porta-potties are, and giving name shout-out at the finish line. This is now part of that brand's activation on-site, which is huge.
Yeah, that's a great point. I didn't even think of that. I've been hired by a few companies to announce for some pretty solid events. It's nice for the event not to have to pay for an announcer. The brand is a great point, Steve.
Yeah. Another thing that was in that piece by Mike Plant was the value that a race announcer can bring simply on the sponsor activation side of things - which we didn't speak particularly much today, but is an important aspect, I guess, of what you guys do throughout those hours, through the voice that people can relate to, to bring in that sponsor in a, kind of, nice and non-salesy way to the rest of the event.
100%. I mean, sponsorship sales in this sector is really, really hard. I was the emcee for the race directors conference for Athletics Ontario - a small event here in Ontario. Well, we had about 50 race directors there on Saturday. There was a whole section on sponsorship sales, and it is really, really tough because these races and events - even though they don't think about it - are competing with large professional sports. So, they're competing with the NBA, NHL, NFL, Major League Baseball - I mean, everyone's all competing for meager sponsorship dollars out there. So, anything you can bring that can help amplify or activate or bring value to the sponsor, as the announcer, we know how to do that - we know how to voice their messaging, we know how to get it out there, we know how to make it fun, and we know how to make it emotional. I mean, you don't have to be a marketing expert to know that, when people are more emotionally connected to an event and a brand, they're more likely to buy from that brand or invest in that product line. So, there's so much - we're really getting into the weeds here - value that a really good announcer can bring to an event.
Yeah, absolutely. Let me shoot a couple of quickfire questions here. When I hire a race announcer, do I expect them to bring, like, audio equipment? I know you guys are, sort of, operating at a different league but, normally, would they bring the audio equipment? Will they bring playlists? What else apart from their voice would they be expected to contribute?
They provide the sound. I provide the big mouth and I also come with music - not every race announcer does, but I come with extraordinary music.
Same for me. I don't have my own sound system. In 100% of the races or events that I showed up to, they would have a sound system. If that comes up in discussions, I would just suggest that you're going to have to go rent equipment, and I'll give them a suggestion of what they'll need for that. Then, music is optional. Just like Fitz, I got a playlist in Apple Music that I'd bring - for, sort of, different moods, different vibes, different fields - and I'd play that. If they have something they want to play or they've got a sound person who has a special interest in music, I might let them do it. If it's not going well, I might, sort of, lean in and say, "Hey, I've got a playlist here that might be a little bit better." Those are the basics. So, Fitz and I are pretty mobile. We show up with a tablet, our backpack, and a few other things, and we're ready to go.
In terms of the thing we were discussing earlier about one announcer versus pair of announcers-- I mean, generally, I think, for some races, even one announcer may be a bit of a consideration, I guess, in terms of cost. What are your personal thoughts on one versus two?
Well, I can say that some races require it because of their different start and finish time at different locations, but I would always rather work alone unless I'm working with someone fabulous who meets my energy level. I think there got to be chemistry. I represent a brand. My brand is high energy and big fun. So, if you put me with a dud, I might bring things up really high, and then the dud might let things down, which is painful for me and no fun for the runners. Don't pair me with your old retiring board member who's gonna fall asleep on the job. If you've got two who are sharing chemistry, they see eye-to-eye, then that could be a lot of fun too with banter, etc. Steve, what do you think?
90% of my live announcing work tends to be done solo. There are maybe two or three events in a year where I'm paired up with someone else. And I agree with Fitz, having good rapport with that other announcer is really key, and melding your styles together to give the great and best value for the race or the event is important. With the live stream commentary work, it's a bit more buttoned-down, it's a bit more professional. In live streaming, I've played both roles. I've played the play-by-play person, and I've played the expert commentator who knows everything, supposedly, about the pole vault, like, in track and field, and I got to analyze, like, a pole vault jump in slow motion. So, that's a bit more sophisticated. There are expectations about what those rules are whereas the live stuff at an endurance sports racing event is a bit more open-ended.
Okay, super! Guys, I think that's everything I had. I learned so much today about what you guys do and the great value you guys provide during a race as an athlete. Now I understand a lot more about all the effort that goes into it - the names, the cock ups, and all of that stuff. How can people reach out to you if they wish to, sort of, either have a discussion about bringing you on to one of their events or have something else?
I'm really easy to find as 'Fitzness' everywhere. I'm @Fitzness on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook - very easy to find. Fitzness.com is my home base, though. I'm always happy to have a conversation and, maybe, bring a little more happy noise to your event.
Happy noise - I love that phrase of yours, Fitz. I'm probably the easiest to find, from a business perspective, on LinkedIn. So, people can find me there if they're hunting around on LinkedIn. I post frequently about the endurance sports racing events business side of things - lots of great content that I post up regularly about stuff I'm doing, stuff other people are doing, tips, and things that race directors and other people in the business would find helpful. Twitter on social media is probably the place where I'm most active. I got in early on Twitter, so I got my own name. So, @SteveFleck is the place where you can find me.
Excellent. Okay, guys, thank you very much for your time today. It's been a pleasure having two professionals with your own mics and stuff. It was really professional today.
Thank you, Panos! Thanks, Fitz! It's great to see you!
Thanks, Panos! Thanks, Steve!
Thank you very much to everyone listening in. And we'll see you all on our next podcast.
I hope you enjoyed this episode on race announcers with my guests Steve Fleck and Fitz Koehler.
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Until our next episode, take care and keep putting on amazing races.