News & Updates

28 January 2021 • Uncategorised

Shearman plays key role in streaming revolution

Hayden Shearman, right, with fellow commentators, from left, Portia Bing, Camille Buscomb and Cameron French at the 2020 New Zealand Secondary Schools Track and Field Championships. 

The livestreaming of key athletics events in New Zealand has helped revolutionise the way the sport is consumed domestically. We chat to regular meet commentator Hayden Shearman to find out more.

In an increasingly congested sports market the battle for eyeballs becomes the primary currency. Of course, over the past decade or so, social media has played an increasingly pivotal role but perhaps the most significant innovation with the sport of athletics has been the introduction of the livestreaming of events.

From the Classic meets to national championships, suddenly the door has been kicked open in terms of accessibility for anyone, anywhere to follow all the action.

And at the very heart of the livestream coverage has been commentator, presenter and interviewer Hayden Shearman, who has called almost every significant moment in domestic athletics over the past several seasons.

A former presenter of The Kiwi Running Show – a podcast he presented alongside Athletics NZ Community Manager Hamish Meacheam – his introduction into the world of commentary came about in 2018 when asked to fulfil the role with Hamish at the New Zealand Track and Field Championships in Hamilton – among the first meets to be livestreamed seriously domestically.

“I think Hamish and I got the call because we were used to being in front of the mic”, explains Taranaki-based Hayden, a lifelong track and field enthusiast.

“That first event was streamed live on Facebook. I don’t remember being nervous – I treated it just like I was talking to my friends.

“What started off as a casual thing has really grown over the past three years. It has become much more professional and scaled up with the events shown on the Sky Sport Next YouTube channel and the main broadcast networks such as TVNZ and Sky Sport taking the coverage.”

Transforming the sport by opening up athletics coverage to everyone, Hayden insists the livestream offers a hugely satisfying medium of consuming the sport.

“Before the livestreaming of events, we often had to wait for results to be posted on a website or via a text update from a mate, but livestreaming has made athletics in New Zealand accessible to everyone in the world,” he explains. “Last weekend, for example, at the Potts Classic we had between 11 and 12,000 views and that will continue to grow.”

Initially a little unsure of his role, as Hayden has built up his experience in the commentary booth so his confidence has developed.

He believes his role behind the mic is to provide a dash of colour and to help narrate the storyline of the competition with his co-commentators, including the likes of 400m hurdles national record-holder Portia Bing and Athletics NZ coach Terry Lomax providing that greater in-depth knowledge in support.

“Portia, who was a heptathlete, and Terry, who calls himself an all-round athletics coach, have been a massive help because of their widespread knowledge of so many events.

“My role is to make sure I can express the action, so the viewer can taste and feel the tension on the track. It is a work in progress, but it’s something I’ve sought to develop.”

Working hard on honing his craft, Hayden admits for every one hour of commentary he devotes between two to three hours of research. He has a personal database of information on more than 100 events across three age-groups (senior, U-20 and U-18) and has learned a lot from working alongside experienced New Zealand broadcaster Nigel Yalden at several athletics events last year.

So what are some of the greatest challenges he regularly faces as a commentator?

“Knowing the athletes is definitely the hardest part,” admits Hayden, whose day job combines working in marketing and as a professional running coach.

“When commentating, I often live in the moment so I’ll sometimes forget that I’ve seen the same athlete across five different events during the course of the weekend. I suddenly think, oh, that’s right, she won the junior triple jump earlier in the meet. Sometimes connecting those dots can be tricky while the other big dangers after a long event is losing your voice, especially by the last day of nationals!”

Yet the role of commentator is always fraught with danger. The man with the mic is always vulnerable to mistakes as Hayden readily admits.

“I’ve made a clanger every time I’ve commentated,” he adds with great honesty. “At the New Zealand Secondary Schools Champs in Tauranga last month, I thought we were viewing the senior girls 800m race when it turned out to be the junior girls 800m final. We couldn’t see the bib numbers and many of the singlets were the same school colours as the senior race. It was only 10 minutes later when the senior girls lined up that we realised our mistake. I’m always very thankful for the viewers’ patience!”

Since Sky Sport Next offered their YouTube channel as a platform for livestreaming athletics events, aided by excellent work carried out by the Streamshop production team, there is little doubt the coverage has been dramatically enhanced.

Of course, improvements can always be made but Hayden, who celebrates his 40th birthday in February, feels hugely privileged to have been able to call so many memorable moments for New Zealand athletics.

“As a Kiwi kid growing up in Palmerston North, I was brought up on the stories of Sir John Walker and Sir Peter Snell. These were my heroes and I’ve converted that love for running into all the other athletics disciplines, which I’ve become equally passionate about. There are a lot of parallels between all the events. There is certain purity to it and in the end, success in any event comes down to applying your mental will and determination.”

But in his fourth year of commentary, does Hayden have a favourite moment?

“Every national record is special and I do love seeing the likes of Dame Valerie Adams, Tom Walsh and Nick Willis, our real superstars of the sport, perform. But I also like to keep an eye on the up-and-comers working through their craft and that’s why it was so good to watch Tiaan Whelpton win the 100m at the Potts Classic last week. He suddenly emerged as top dog, I love those moments.”

With the livestream now a staple part of the coverage, he would encourage any fan of the sport, whether a long-standing devotee or casual fan, to tune in.

“This season in particular it just seems like athletics history is being made at every meet, whether that is a New Zealand record, resident record or Olympic Games qualifier,” Hayden adds.

“It is good entertainment to have on the background but it also offers the chance to look back on the action to scan through the coverage and pick out some highlights, which can be shared on social media. Without a doubt the livestreaming has grown interest in the sport and will continue to do so in the future.”

The next event to be live streamed via Sky Sport Next will be the Cooks Classic, featuring the New Zealand Mile Championships, which takes place at Cooks Gardens in Whanganui on Saturday 30 January. 

The live streaming coverage will start at 7pm. 

To watch live streaming of the Cooks Classic and other domestic athletics action, please follow the Sky Sport Next YouTube channel