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Raptors Play-by Play Analyst Eric Smith: “Don’t Sweat the BIG Stuff”

Raptors Play-by Play Analyst Eric Smith: “Don’t Sweat the BIG Stuff”

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4/12/2019

For Toronto Raptors fans, Eric Smith is a familiar, neutralizing and harmonious voice. For decades, he has covered “Canada’s team” for Rogers Media Incorporated. From 2005-2014, Smith served as the colour commentator on radio and then was propelled into the role of play-by-play.

Eric Smith posing with the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship trophy after the Toronto Raptors won in 2019. Kyle Lowry is in the photo as well.
Eric Smith posing with the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship trophy after the Toronto Raptors won in 2019. Kyle Lowry is on the left and Eric Smith is on the right. This picture was taken from Eric Smith’s Instagram account.

Eric’s broadcasting ability extends beyond basketball. He has hosted shows centred around the Blue Jays and annually calls the sidelines for the Women’s portion of the Rogers Cup in tennis. Also, he was the play-by-play voice for Men’s Boxing at the 2012 London Summer Games.

Eric is noticeably active on social media. He responds to fan messages, Tweets and mentions. In fact, much more so than most media personnel. His honest and forthright personality is seen via his responses to fans reaching out. He regularly likes posts and thanks fans for their love. Furthermore, he even directly addresses negative comments.

Next week, Eric will be busy covering the Raptors’ playoffs for Sportsnet. He spoke with us on Friday from Charlotte, North Carolina, where he was covering the Raptors’ third to last regular-season game. We asked questions about his initial interest in sport, availability of data, thoughts on social media and more.

Eric Smith | Toronto Raptors | Radio Play-By-Play | Rogers Sportsnet

Please note: This interview was conducted with Eric Smith via phone. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the essence of Eric Smith’s interview.

Tell us how you came to be involved in sport?

I was always really into sports and I knew I wasn’t going to be an athlete. I thought if I can’t play sports, then I’d love to talk about them!

First off, I went to Humber College for a diploma in journalism where I made the Dean’s List and graduated with honours. Because of the program, I had to do an internship in my third year and one of my professors recommended that I apply to the Fan 590.

It was relatively new at the time and TSN was the prominent sports network in Toronto. I was accepted as an intern at the CFRB 1010 (later acquired by the Fan 590). It was there that I did a lot of the same grunt work that most students interning do. I would run around, do a lot of behind the scenes work and worked tireless, endless hours.

During the Raptors’ first season, I was still in school. In their second year, I was interning and doing extra work …anywhere….anytime I could. I was doing this work behind the likes of Elliotte Friedman and George Stroumboulopoulos for 2 seasons. While I was doing this, I was producing Gord Stellick’s afternoon show.

I was bugging the bosses to do more on-air appearances. I would ask the bosses some of these questions:

  • Can I go down?
  • Do you think I’d be able to job shadow?
  • Can I go to games?
  • Would you let me work a double shift?
  • Can I do something more to help?

My persistence paid off. Finally, they agreed to let me do more. I would go in the locker rooms and just stick my hand in the scrum. I would do whatever I had to do to get my nose wet with everything in the industry.

Once the Fan 590 acquired the rights to CFRB 1010, there was a shuffle of media personalities. Elliotte Friedman went to Headline Sports (later named The Score and now SN360) and Stroumboulopoulos was gone too.  

When this happened, Barry Davis became the full-time Raptors beat reporter and I was his backup (his “B guy”). Barry did pre, half, and post for Chuck Swirsky and Jack Armstrong coverage. I would back him up and make appearances. Meanwhile, I was still producing Gord Stellick’s afternoon show.

One year later, Barry Davis and I flipped roles. I was the host and reporter.  He was the B guy. And that’s when he opted to leave and explore other options in his career. When this happened, I was pulled from producing Gord Stellick’s show to focus on the Raptors. I was full time now. No more day and night double shifting!

As an analyst, you have so much knowledge and data. How do you get your information and make sure it is up to date? Do you do all the research yourself, or is there a team of researchers to provide information?

We are lucky that this is where the industry’s changed quite a bit, especially in the last few years. I literally mean the last 3-4 years. Before that, here’s how all my research was done. It was up to us to do all the research and look up all the latest stats and the numbers. So I’d be on espn.com, sportsnet.ca and nba.com and any other sports site looking for the latest trends in the last five games literally around the clock.

I still do a TON of prep on my own. Hours on end per day — especially on game days. I’ll tell you a few of the activities prep work consists of for me:

  • Obtaining and analyzing statistics numbers
  • Conversations with coaches and players
  • Watching and scouting other games

What’s more, is we have a stats department at Sportsnet that consists of 4-5 employees. The department compliments the prep work I do. The team is working round the clock to collect more data for me to use on air.

Research is a HUGE aspect of my job. I can’t just show up at the game, grab an email, print it off and just stick that in front of my face to call a game. What the stats department gives you is great, but you have to synthesize it and put your own touch on it. It complements the research that I have nicely.

Something admirable about your (Eric Smith’s) commentating is that you stay neutral. I think many of us in the Sport Management field can take a lesson from you on this. Sometimes we want to react based on feelings. Tell us how you stay so neutral?

I stay focused on my job. I respect my relationship with the players. Likewise, the people that reach out to me, especially those that start positive discussions. Also, I like to thank those who enjoy listening to the radio show and podcast and who see me on social media and television. As a fan, I would want me to respond.

However, sometimes I react to negative social media. Generalizations and blanket statements really get to me. I truly believe it’s important not to use the word “all” when describing a type of person. For example, when someone says all men are messy, that statement is not true. Many men are very tidy. So I correct people when they use “all” statements in person and on social media. If someone makes allegations and assumptions that are factually incorrect, I will say something.

The people that reach out to me, especially those that start positive discussions. Also, I like to thank those who enjoy listening to the radio show and podcast and who see me on social media and television. As a fan, I would want me to respond.

However, sometimes I react to negative social media. Generalizations and blanket statements really get to me. I truly believe it’s important not to use the word “all” when describing a type of person. For example, when someone says all men are messy, that statement is not true. Many men are very tidy. So I correct people when they use “all” statements in person and on social media. If someone makes allegations and assumptions that are factually incorrect, I will say something.

For instance, a fan wrote this and I responded.

Don’t Sweat the BIG Stuff

There’s an old adage, “Don’t sweat the small stuff”. This means not to worry about small details and instead focus on larger issues. I stand by a different saying. I do sweat the small stuff because they build up. An important lesson for those in the Sport Management industry is to sweat the small stuff. Those small things add up and can lead you to the “big” stuff. Also, the big stuff is less easy to control. Work on the small things that you can control.

Eric Smith | Toronto Raptors | Radio Play-By-Play | Rogers Sportsnet
Eric Smith posing with the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship trophy after the Toronto Raptors won in 2019. This picture was taken from Eric Smith’s Instagram account.

Eric Smith
Toronto Raptors Radio Play-By-Play Analyst for Rogers Sportsnet

Interview by Mat Israelson
Posted April 12, 2019 in Industry Profiles