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When it comes to play by play sports commentary in Australia, our televisions have been graced with iconic names like Dennis Cometti, Bruce McAvaney and Brian Taylor.
But what about the next crop of commentators? Where do they come from, and how do they get a start?
Channel Seven’s Jason Bennett gives a first-hand insight into how he forged his own path in a world of limited opportunity, and shares why now is a great time to pursue a career in sports broadcasting.
Bennett’s journey to becoming one of Australia’s leading sport commentators started at a young age.
‘It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was three or four years old,’ he recalls.
'I used to open the footy record, put it on the arm of the couch and get a balloon or a nerf ball and kick it around and have goals at each end of the lounge room. I’d spin my head around to the record and whichever name I saw first would get the ball next. I’d commentate to myself for hours.'
As a Year 12 student at Wesley College, Bennett and a few mates launched the school’s very own commentary crew from above the team benches in what they called the ‘Dog Boxes’. He made friends within the AV department and set up a broadcast group.
‘We stood up there with cameras and filmed the first 18 games, then took the tapes back in so I could call them on delay. We used to share the tapes around with all the kids and the players.’
‘I absolutely loved it.’
However, as with many jobs in sport, one of the most difficult aspects is getting a foot in the door.
‘The tricky part was, how do you get there?’ he recalls.
Following Year 12, Bennett studied Commerce and majored in accounting, which wasn’t a true passion.
‘I knew I wanted to be a commentator, but there wasn’t a university course or a pathway that would help me get there. I needed something to support me in the meantime, so I picked a broad, general course that I knew I could apply to any career path I wanted to take on.’
After graduating, Bennett continued to chase his commentary dream by focusing on sport-related jobs, inching closer by working in marketing at a golf company, then at the Footy Record.
Bennett’s persistence and networking eventually led to his name ending up with the right person.
‘I was fortunate enough at the end of 1998, Lee Simon at Triple M rang me and asked if I would be interested in becoming their new stats guy.’
Bennett worked for Triple M for three years alongside some of the best broadcasters in the AFL industry, before breaking into television: he was the first person to appear on Fox Footy and ended up spending the next five years with the network.
But when Fox Footy lost the rights to broadcast AFL after five years, Bennett, who thought he’d found his dream job for the next 40 years, was devastated
Due to factors outside his control, ‘suddenly we were all out of a job,’ he recalls.
Then an opportunity came up to work with ESPN in the United States.
‘I got to see how sports commentary is done around the world. It was a great opportunity to be around some of the best commentators.’
Following his stint overseas, he joined Channel Seven where he still works today.
If you’re interested in a career in commentary, Bennett says there are more opportunities than ever. With live streaming a new and popular addition to the landscape, aspiring commentators can call sport at a local level to kick-start their careers.
‘These days everyone can be a broadcaster. Every VFL game is now live streamed as well as lots of local sports, so that creates a lot more opportunities for you to get in at that ground level,’ he says.
'The best way to develop a skill is to do it, and now that opportunity is there to go and call local sport and get some hands-on experience.'
By calling local sport you can begin to build your network, which can provide you with opportunities to and ultimately get your start.
People matter: why networking is crucial
‘Opportunities come from developing your network so you can get yourself out there to be heard. To succeed in this industry, you will need the right people along the way to believe enough in you to provide that next opportunity when they could give it to someone else.’
While it’s about getting yourself out there, it’s crucial to nurture the connections you make and to stay in touch with your network.
‘It’s about connecting with directors politely but persistently, because rarely (if ever) will your timing align with an opportunity arising. You won’t send one email or make one phone call and land a gig on the spot. It just doesn’t work that way.’
More development opportunities than ever
As the sports broadcasting industry continues to grow, opportunities to develop the skills required to succeed are expanding.
Students at Deakin University can now graduate with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Sports Journalism.
Recently, Bennett was involved in the development of a new interactive sports commentating simulator: Play by Play.
‘Play by Play came from the idea of commentators getting hands-on experience, which is something that is no longer offered by the networks,’ he explains.
Bennett believes this is a great step towards promoting commentary as a career to the younger generation and training the next wave of talent.
‘If you’re a commentator there’s no right or wrong; everyone does it differently, and with Play by Play you get that opportunity to receive advice and feedback from experts.’
‘There’s never really been any feedback loops in the industry, so Play by Play may just be that tool we need. You should never stop learning and you can always get better.’
That philosophy has been crucial to Bennett over his 20-year career.
‘It’s been an amazing journey, and I’m always learning.’
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