Joe Beninati has broadcast thousands of hours of sports on Comcast SportsNet and various ESPN properties, yet his face is rarely on television. The popular Caps play-by-play man is typically on camera only briefly before and after games and during intermissions; he is heard far more than seen.
That will change this summer. Beninati is hosting CSN’s pre- and post-game D.C. United shows, an eight-game broadcast schedule that will put him in front of cameras for hours during a slow time in his calendar.
“It’s something that I wanted to do,” Beninati told me this week. “I’m always trying to get better, and I can do that in this role because it’s new to me and it’s different. It’s not game-related. When you’re a play-by-play guy, the sport does a lot of the talking for you. As a host, you’ve got to generate the conversation.”
The broadcaster said he likes to “keep busy” during hockey’s offseason; he had extra time this summer because ESPN is
no longer involved doing less with Major League Lacrosse. So he went to CSN executive producer Bill Bell and asked about joining the United broadcasts.
Beninati is, of course, joined by soccer analysts during these programs; he’s worked with former U.S. star Bruce Murray and Maryland Coach Sasho Cirovski. He also can turn to CSN’s broadcast crew of Dave Johnson and Santino Quaranta, and reporter Rob Carlin. He’s done play-by-play for college and MLS matches in the past. And he’s doing the research he would do for any assignment, going to practices and talking to players and coaches. (“I’m definitely watching all of D.C. United’s moves; I’m not Cadillac-ing this,” he said.)
So it’s the format more than the content that’s presenting a test.
“I know how to go into a locker room,” he said. “But the actual execution of being a host, being on camera so much — especially in studio where there are so many cameras — I wanted that experience. I’m usually the guy in Dave Johnson’s chair on Saturdays: the play-by-play guy who’s being led to by the host. It’s cool to be on the other side. It challenges me in a different way, and I always want to be getting better at this.”
The pregame shows are 30 minutes; the post-game shows are usually at least 20 minutes, depending on how long the matches last. Beninati has done the pre- and post-game shows twice; he will be on-location at RFK Stadium for Saturday’s pre- and post-game programs. “D.C. United Central” begins at 6:30 pm, and “D.C. United Postgame Live” is scheduled to begin around 9.