Examining My Issue with Sports Narratives

One of my biggest pet peeves when consuming sports (watching/reading/listening) is the tendency to insert seemingly meaningless statistics to create some sort of narrative.

The Record Narrative

The most annoying offender of the sports narrative for me is The Record.  You know what I mean – “This team is 2 and 25 when playing on a Wednesday night in a non-leap year.”  I exaggerate, but I feel it’s necessary to establish that these are the kind of records that annoy me.

I find it particularly meaningless to learn that my favourite sports team has a losing record in a particular building.  When announcers pull up these statistics, they are pulling statistics for the team ALL-TIME.   Since the players on any given team tend to fluctuate a lot year-to-year, knowing the all-time organization record makes no difference.

A record I just heard today (I’m typing this a week early) on the Senators pre-game show was that all-time, no Senators team has won a playoff series after losing 2 games in a row in the series.  Remember this statistic – they are 0-15.  It’ll be relevant later.  But this is the kind of statistic I find irrelevant; the 2017 Senators team – other than a few key players – have virtually nothing connecting them to those past playoff teams.  So why bother bringing it up?

Individual Performance – Hockey vs Baseball

One area I will be OK with lifetime statistics is baseball.  Specifically, individual records from players.  In baseball, it is actually statistically relevant that a specific player has success (or lack thereof) in a stadium.  This is because baseball stadiums tend to have individual characteristics of their own that can influence game outcomes (if you don’t believe me, I’d start with looking up home run totals in American League East ballparks compared to the rest of the league).

But this comes up from time to time in hockey.  Statistically I feel like it’s not relevant.  A goalie’s life-time record in a particular arena doesn’t seem like it matters.  Hockey arenas, while different in terms of their outside looks and seating layout, all have the same dimensions on the ice.  Unlike in baseball, where outfield fences and field configurations are different from park to park.

You could argue that sometimes the building environment (i.e. the fans) have influence on a player’s mental composure, but I don’t think that effect is as big as people make it out to be.

The Counter-Argument

Remember that 0-15 record I mentioned earlier?  Along with that statistic, I heard a good counter-argument for providing this kind of information.  The radio host mentioned that he mentions these things for context.  The argument is that if the team were to lose 2 in a row, and still win the series, then it becomes a significant milestone in the organization’s history.

It isn’t being brought up to be statistically relevant – the host acknowledges that a previous team record where very few – if any – players were actually present for the established record.

I only partially buy into this argument.  What is the importance of this context?  Is it to temper expectations from fans listening to sports radio?  Is it really important to say that it’s a big deal that this team is defying past history?  I’m not sure.  But I can appreciate acknowledging that a current team is doing something that previous iterations were unable to do before.

The Utterly Pointless Narratives

Overall, I could probably get behind all of the above.  But one thing is for sure – I have no time for the time-filling statistics like the exaggeration I mentioned to start the article.  Thankfully, most of the good commentators I pay attention to don’t either (albeit in an ironic and non-serious context it’s perfectly acceptable).

What are your biggest pet peeves when it comes to sports commentating?