Sports

Offsiders host Kelli Underwood’s journey from sports fan to broadcasting pioneer

Kelli Underwood has led the way for female sports journalists and broadcasters, becoming the first woman to call AFL on radio and television.

As well as continuing to commentate for ABC Grandstand, she's now taking over hosting the weekly sport discussion program, Offsiders.

Here she recalls being locked out of some club rooms as a young journalist and shares insights into what makes a good sport commentator.

Kelli Underwood in make-up discussing the Summer Offsiders program rundown with executive producer Kate Tozer.

Kelli Underwood sitting at make-up desk chatting to Kate Tozer standing.

Kelli Underwood in make-up discussing the Summer Offsiders program rundown with executive producer Kate Tozer.

ABC News: Michael Barnett

What inspired you to pursue a career in sport journalism/broadcasting?

Kelli Underwood: "There wasn't one particular event.

I grew up in a sports-mad family in Adelaide and our get-togethers always revolved around a sporting event on television, whether it was watching the Crows, the West Indies terrify Australia in a day-nighter or Pat Cash in a grand slam.

I was always interested in who was hosting/commentating on the broadcast.

I can clearly remembering watching Debbie Flintoff-King win gold at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. I would have been 11 years old and I loved Bruce McAvaney's call of the race and thought, 'I'd love to do that one day!'"

Production crew setting up lights and cameras on balcony overlooking sporting precinct with sun in shot.

Production crew setting up for a Summer Offsiders edition broadcast from Melbourne's Olympic Park precinct.

Production crew setting up lights and cameras on balcony overlooking sporting precinct with sun in shot.

Production crew setting up for a Summer Offsiders edition broadcast from Melbourne's Olympic Park precinct.

ABC News: Michael Barnett

What have been the career highlights for you so far?

Kelli Underwood: "I've definitely had a few pinch-myself moments!

Obviously becoming the first woman to commentate AFL on television was a big deal and an overwhelming experience.

I called the grand final re-match in 2008 at the MCG, between Geelong and Hawthorn.

Jimmy Bartel kicked a point after the siren to win the game and I nervously called that moment.

Standing next to me in the commentary box was one of my childhood heroes, Malcolm Blight.

He was hugging me and jumping up and down.

It was surreal!

I also loved calling the history-making AFLW grand final for ABC radio last year, especially because the Adelaide Crows won!

Kelli Underwood wearing headset standing in ABC commentary box with MCG crowd in background.

Kelli Underwood was the first woman to call AFL on television and radio.

Kelli Underwood wearing headset standing in ABC commentary box with MCG crowd in background.

Kelli Underwood was the first woman to call AFL on television and radio.

After AFL, tennis is my favourite sport.

I was thrilled to call the 2017 Australian Open women's final between the Williams sisters, when Serena won her 23rd grand slam.

I called it for the world feed on television.

I've also commentated a few tennis matches for BBC radio.

I was lucky enough to host a tennis function a few years ago that featured a panel including Martina Navratilova, Chrissie Evert, Kim Clijsters and Evonne Goolagong-Cawley.

That's probably the best day I've had at the office!

Kate Tozer and Kelli Underwood sitting in front of lap tops with newspapers on table.

Executive producer Kate Tozer and Kelli Underwood in a pre-program production meeting.

Kate Tozer and Kelli Underwood sitting in front of lap tops with newspapers on table.

Executive producer Kate Tozer and Kelli Underwood in a pre-program production meeting.

ABC News: Michael Barnett

I've always loved Offsiders, first as a viewer and then as a panellist.

I want to continue to build on the intelligent and well-regarded program Barrie Cassidy and Gerard Whatley have created over the past 12 years.

I love the challenge of working with executive producer Kate Tozer to bring together the best analytical minds and the most well-connected members of the sports media to dissect the issues and themes of the week.

Our audience is spread across a diverse, segregated market but by looking at the big picture issues, we offer something for all sport-lovers.

It's also a big year for our national athletes and teams starting with the Winter Olympics, the Commonwealth Games in April and the FIFA World Cup in June and July, which we'll be following closely."

Camera operator adjusting camera and floor manager wearing head set.

Production crew Patrick Rocca and Andy Ware run through final checks ahead of a Summer Offsiders outside broadcast.

Camera operator adjusting camera and floor manager wearing head set.

Production crew Patrick Rocca and Andy Ware run through final checks ahead of a Summer Offsiders outside broadcast.

ABC News: Michael Barnett

How have things changed for women journalists and broadcasters since you started?

Kelli Underwood: "Well things have definitely changed since I started out 20 years ago.

In the early days I was turned away from the Collingwood rooms, while two male journalists were waved through.

There are numerous examples of being treated differently because of my gender, but I never let it bother me too much.

I've just focused on doing the best possible job and let my work speak for itself.

The success of women's sport over the last few years means so many more women are getting involved in broadcasting.

It's made a huge difference.

AFLW in particular has been a game changer.

Suddenly TV and radio executives have realised that women can speak with authority about footy and they're snapping up talented players and broadcasters to work on both the AFLW and the AFL.

Given half of football fans are women, it's about time the broadcast teams are starting to reflect the audience.

The number of women involved in broadcasting AFL has more than doubled in the last 12 months and the growth of digital media means there are now many more career pathways available."

Kelli Underwood holding binoculars in commentary box alongside Lauren Arnell with both wearing headsets

Kelli Underwood commentating on AFLW with Carlton player and commentator Lauren Arnell.

Kelli Underwood holding binoculars in commentary box alongside Lauren Arnell with both wearing headsets

Kelli Underwood commentating on AFLW with Carlton player and commentator Lauren Arnell.

What's the key to good commentary?

Kelli Underwood: "It's all in the preparation.

I'm a meticulous preparer.

I attend training sessions and learn about the players.

I have a cheat sheet with me in the commentary box that includes all relevant stats.

And I watch replays of the teams playing.

A successful commentator will have great identification of players, a good turn of phrase and the ability to be in complete control.

They need to put the listener in the front row of the stadium through words, colour and personality.

I've been fortunate enough to commentate alongside some brilliant commentators including the late Clinton Grybas, Tim Lane and Gerard Whateley.

I've learnt a little bit from all three but I've deliberately avoided modelling my call on anyone else.

It's important to be yourself and develop your own style."

Offsiders airs on ABC TV each Sunday at 10am and on iview.

Original Article

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