Between a new school year starting for the kiddos and the addition of pumpkin spice into everything, autumn is an active, bustling season. And for each of the past several years, few — if any— sports broadcasters anywhere have been as busy as Dallas’ Mark Followill.
Best known as the television play-by-play voice for the Dallas Mavericks, a role he’s held since 2005, the 48-year-old University of North Texas graduate has made his signature baritone voice known to millions of sports fans since leaving his first major job as a host and reporter on local sports radio powerhouse 1310 The Ticket almost 20 years ago.
Since 2012, Followill’s become the voice for soccer in North Texas through his TV duties with FC Dallas of Major League Soccer. Oh, and he’s a regular presence on college football broadcasts. Good luck flipping the channels on a September weekend and not hearing the 2018 Lone Star Regional Sports Emmy winner’s voice.
Just to be clear, the summers have certainly been highly productive in recent years as well. In 2016, Followill was part of the broadcasting crew for the 2016 Summer Olympics soccer matches, and in 2018, he teamed with English soccer legend Warren Barton to call matches during the 2018 men’s World Cup.
It’s a lot of gigs for one fellow, but he’s into the variety.
“It’s great to be exposed to different ideas and crews,” he says over the phone. “I’m all for learning new ways of doing things and making new friends. That’s the biggest positive aspect of doing things the way I do.”
If Followill enjoys adjusting to new surroundings, then 2016 was indeed a pleasure-filled year for him. Not only was it an Olympic year, but he packed in play-by-play for that year’s Copa America Centenario, another massive international soccer tournament that same summer, before jumping back behind his FC Dallas, Mavericks and Fox college football microphones.
“That year stands out to me because I really progressed on the Fox soccer stage,” he says. “And it was a broadcaster’s dream to get to do an Olympics. It’s the Olympics ... there’s something so incredibly unique about it, and so many people are watching. 2016 really stands out to me as a highlight year.”
A hectic season or calendar year is one thing, but a high-mileage, multi-job weekend is another thing altogether. And for a guy juggling as many microphones as Followill does, such a map-crossing weekend isn’t terribly uncommon. A Friday night basketball game in Dallas with a football game to call in central Iowa late the next morning? No planes, no problems.
“One recent year I had to be in Ames, Iowa, for an early Saturday college football game, following a Friday night Mavericks game,” he says. “And Ames isn’t exactly the easiest place to get into and there weren’t any late Friday flights there, nor any early Saturday flights. The people at Fox got nervous when I suggested the best option for me would be to rent an SUV that I could sleep in the back of while my brother-in-law and the statistician I worked with on the football broadcast took turns driving overnight from Dallas to Iowa in shifts.”
It sounds crazy, but it worked, Followill says. He guesses he got “three or four hours of decent sleep” and felt it wise enough to follow a similar plan when the need arose only a couple of weeks later. A small amount of sleep between broadcasts didn’t hurt since the Cannonball Run-style shenanigans were sandwiched between games.
“I already have a lot of adrenaline pumping on game days,” he says.
There have been closer calls, however, thanks to the most basic nature of sports competition. When a game is close in the final moments, inching ever closer to overtime, the players and coaches involved aren’t likely too worried about the crammed schedule of its announcers. In 2014, Followill found himself needing a bit of special assistance from some rather powerful folks in order to make it to Los Angeles for an FC Dallas match on time from Houston, where he had been calling a Rice University football game.
“The Rice game went down to the wire, almost went into overtime, which would’ve really made things rough,” he says. “I knew someone who knew someone else, who was able to get me a motorcycle police escort to Bush Intercontinental Airport, just in time to catch my flight and get to Los Angeles in time for the match.”
These are just a couple of the wilder examples of what Followill has done in order to meet his demanding schedule of commitments. Married, and with a couple of dogs at home, he’s sure he still loves the games as much as he’s ever loved them, but he also admits the narrow escapes might be less frequent moving forward.
“My energy and passion for what I do is there and hasn’t waned,” he says. “But the desire to do some of the things I did five or 10 years ago has waned for sure. I pick my spots a little better these days. It’s a privilege to get to call the games I call, so I’ve always felt as though I needed to go out of my way to do as many as I can, but I’m starting to minimize risk on some of these adventures in the name of being smart about my health and welfare.”
It would be easy for a Dallas sports fan to look at Followill’s career and assume that since he’s seen and heard so much, even the biggest games and matches bleed together. His audiences only get larger, his subjects more global. As he nears 50 years old, maybe it’s just not as fun anymore. Perhaps the thrill of having the best seat in the house, night after night, might even get old for him. Maybe that’s the case for another broadcaster somewhere else, but that’s far from the case for Followill.
“It never gets old,” he says. “Nothing about what I actually do is mundane. The travel and preparation and being away from the people you care about can wear on you because it’s challenging, but calling games still feels like a privilege to me. It’s a wonderful thing.”
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.