The single most critical production value in sports coverage is the need to know where the ball is at all times.
This is true for all sports with, perhaps, the exception of individual sports, such as boxing and wrestling, where there is no ball to maneuver.
Needs of the Audience
Sports coverage is presentational television. The directing style is normally invisible. The need of the audience to know the status of the contest is primary. The job of the director is to tell the story to the audience.
The audience must have clearly in mind the general situation regarding the game. They must know which team/individual has control or has the momentum in the contest. This orientation is different from establishing, which deals with spatial location. Orientation has to do with the emotional status of the con test. It also has to do with the current score. The audience must know which team/individual has scored the most points (or fewest points as in golf). Your first question when arriving late to watch a football game with friends is usually "What's the score?" It is part of orientation.
Orientation also includes time/distance/frame factors. How much time is remaining in the game/quarter/period? How much more distance must the runner cover? What bowling frame (or boxing round) are we in? So, after you have asked what the score is, your next question may be "What quarter are they in, and how much time is left?" It is easy for the director to forget about the orientation needs of the audience. From a position in the remote truck, the director knows the orientation factors, but the audience at home does not. It is a general rule that the audience must be re-oriented after each play in football (where yardage, down, and time are important) and after each hole in golf (who is leading, what hole we are on).
These are just examples. It is not just the last two minutes of a football or basketball game in which the audience wants to know the time remaining; they want to know periodically throughout the game.
Direction of Play
The direction the ball and move to score must be established and maintained. The audience does not need to know if the stadium or playing floor runs north-south or
east-west (although almost all outdoor football stadiums run north-south, with camera coverage coming from the west stands because of the afternoon sun). The audience is not concerned about the location of the stadium or arena in the city. They are concerned about the location of the ball and the direction of play within the boundaries, however.
Location of the Ball
The audience must know the location of the ball, especially in games such as football and hockey. The movement of the ball (puck) toward the goal is important. In football the location of the ball with reference to yard markers must be established. The game changes drastically as the ball nears the defensive goal. The audience must reestablish location of the ball between plays, especially after plays that gain high yardage. For variety, a director may want to try some shots of the crowd as it follows a play, but unless the audience has been reestablished before the next play begins, they will be frustrated during the action.
Ball in the Frame
During action sequences, the audience must see the ball in the frame. This is basic to follow-the-bouncing-ball coverage, as has been noted. There is nothing more frustrating to the audience than not knowing where the ball is during action.
Camera Action and Shot Size
As the speed of the action increases, there is a tendency to increase the size of the shot in order to include all of the action. However, as action speed increases, the director really should attempt to tighten shot size to capture the emotion of the faster pace. In basketball, for example, the intensity of the acion increases as the ball is worked closer and closer to the basket. Camera shot size should get closer and closer. This does two things: It increases the warmth of the coverage and the emotional involvement of the audience, and it gives the audience a better perspective on the action. This is especially critical in hockey, where the puck is so small and moves so fast that it is difficult for the audience to see and follow it. As the play moves across the blue line and closer to the goal, the camera coverage should move closer to the play.
Camera Changes During Action
A basic rule in sports coverage is to never change from camera to camera when critical action is taking place in the playing area. In basketball this means the director should not change from camera to camera when a shot is in the air (either a field goal or a free throw). In football this means the camera covering a quarterback who is fading back to throw must cover the flight of the ball until it is caught or incomplete. To change camera angles at these critical times requires that the audience re-establish their relationship to the game from another angle. This only takes a second to do, but becomes critical in the split second involved in the pass or the shot. The same critical point occurs in baseball when a pitcher delivers to a batter.