Soccer fans are among the harshest broadcast critics so it has not gone unnoticed that Rebecca Lowe has drawn both viewer and critical praise for her intellect and professionalism as the first-year studio host of the NBC Sports Group's Premier League coverage. And come February, she'll be stepping into a much bigger television stage.
NBC management has tabbed Lowe to be one of the hosts of its Sochi Olympics coverage. She'll serve as the live weekday and weekend host on NBC Sports Network. Lowe said in an interview on Friday that she did not lobby her bosses for the assignment. A couple of weeks ago, she received a call from Pierre Moossa, the NBC Sports coordinating producer in charge of the Premier League, telling her that management was interested in assigning her to the Olympics. Lowe said she discussed it with her husband, as well as Rebecca Chatman, a top producer in NBC's Olympics unit. She decided it was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
"When they asked if I would be interested, I was floored," Lowe said. "I wasn't expecting it. It is very easy to pigeonhole people and I think being a female back in the UK, I was pigeonholed as one of the females who does football (soccer) only. It's very difficult to show people that you can actually do other things and why wouldn't you be able to do so? I'd like the opportunity to say maybe I'm not just all about soccer, even as much as love the sport. Fingers crossed, I'm hoping I can show that."
Prior to her NBC role, Lowe was seen Stateside for ESPN's coverage of the 2012 Euro championships and the Women's World Cup from Germany in 2011. She also worked as a studio host for Setanta Sports and was a longtime contributor to the BBC. Last year she became the first woman to front the FA Cup Final for a U.K audience. She has been remarkably good in her first three months on air in the States.
"Becks -- her nickname from our time on the Women's World Cup in 2011 -- will bring the same credible and poised affability to the Winter Games that she displays each weekend on the EPL," said ESPN Outside The Lines host Bob Ley, who worked with Lowe in 2012. "I am so thrilled for her that she'll play an even larger room now."
"My background, coming from the UK, is that the Winter Olympics are not as big as the Summer Olympics and that's really because we are not very good at them," Lowe said. "I'm not going to say that I come in with a ton of Winter Olympics knowledge, but I come in with an open brain and an appetite to learn. My head will be in the books and I am not somebody who does something in life not fully prepared. My Dad [Chris Lowe, a longtime BBC presenter] always said you can never over-prepare enough. I will let this become my world. The Winter Olympics is something I have to work on and I will. I'm not going to know everything. I'm not going to be able to tell you the stats on what happened eight years ago but I will be interested, which I think is key. I think people at home will be similar to me. It's my job to know the stories and I hope I will be able to bring a new interest to viewers because this will be new to me."
Along with Lowe, the NBC Olympics Group has also assigned Football Night in America host Dan Patrick to host NBCSN's live weekday and weekend coverage from Sochi. (Coverage of the Games begins on Thursday, Feb. 6 on NBC, one night before the Opening Ceremony. The competition runs through Feb. 24.) Patrick previously hosted NBC's daytime coverage at the 2012 London Olympics. Lester Holt, the anchor of Dateline and the weekend host of NBC Nightly News, has been assigned to host NBC's weekday afternoon Olympic coverage. Holt has had Olympic assignments for the network since the 2004 Athens Games. The trio joins previously announced Bob Costas, NBC's primetime and late night host, and Al Michaels, who will serve as host for NBC on weekend afternoons and NBCSN on weekdays.
The Premier League has fixtures during the Olympics and Steve Bower, who covers soccer for the BBC, will fill in for Lowe when she is in Russia. How will Lowe stay current with the EPL while on Olympics assignment?
"The Premier League is all-consuming and if I am not presenting it, I'm reading about it or listening to the radio on it," Lowe said. "It is my life and I came here for the Premier League. Yes, I won't see as many games but I will follow it during any downtime I have in Sochi. So it looks I won't be going to the gym for three weeks."
The Noise Report
SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the past week.
1. About 10 minutes after arguably the most famous finish in college football history, Craig Silver greeted Verne Lundquist in the parking lot of the broadcast television compound of Jordan-Hare Stadium. Neither man could believe what had just occurred.
"We looked at each other, we hugged, and I said, 'What the hell just happened'," said Silver, the longtime lead college football producer for CBS. "Verne looked back at me, smiled and said, 'Well, I don't know.' I said, 'Verne, you are living a charmed life.'"
As Auburn's Chris Davis returned Adam Griffith's missed 57-yard field goal attempt 109 yards for a touchdown, Silver and game director Steve Milton were in a broadcast truck about 200 feet from the field. Two weeks ago, at the same location, the same crew was parked in the same place when Ricardo Louis's miracle catch gave Auburn a 43-38 win over Georgia. For that play, the production truck stood up and screamed, reacting as any viewer would to an amazing finish. But as Davis headed down the sidelines and into history, Silver said the CBS broadcast truck was quiet, as if he led into stunned silence. "Nobody said a word or screamed and when he crossed the goal line, we kept working," Silver said.
Silver said the first rule for all end-of-the-game situations is to let game director Steve Milton show the scene, which the director did with a series of quick cuts that documented the amazing images being played out around Jordan-Hare. Viewers saw CBS's cameras travel from Auburn's end zone celebration to a shot of Alabama coach Nick Saban walking toward midfield, to more Auburn players celebrating, to Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron hugging friends and family, to a shot from above the field, to Saban walking off the field, to shots of stunned Alabama fans. "Steve did a phenomenal job and then it was how long do you go before you start with the replays," Silver said. "My inclination was to let him keep going until it felt right. What I did consciously think about was not only did I want to show all the replay angles, but I wanted to try to show the best angles in the proper order."
CBS showed nine replays of the play, using many of the 17 cameras they had on the field. Viewers saw Davis' return from both sidelines as well as gorgeous replays from head on and just above the playing field. The eighth replay was shown with Auburn radio announcer Rob Bramblett's sensational call playing over it. (You must click on this.) "It was a matter of finding the right balance of live to videotape," Silver said. "The whole thing was surreal. When we got off the field, I kept saying to people, 'What just happened?'"
Silver praised reporter Tracy Wolfson for getting Auburn coach Gus Malzahn and Davis as bedlam hit the field (Wolfson always acts like a pro in these situations.) And credit Milton for keeping his cameras on the field as fans swarmed Jordan-Hare as Kool and the Gang played over the loud speaker. The final 15 minutes of the broadcast was great sports television.
"I think this could go down in history as maybe the greatest regular season college football game ever," said Silver. "We live in a competitive business and our phones and texts were blowing up after the game. The greatest compliment I can receive is messages from people in the business at other networks and I received a number of those. It makes you feel good."
1a. Here was the transcript of how Lundquist and Danielson called the final play.
Analyst Gary Danielson: "Remember, a blocked kick can go the other way, too. He's got to be careful and get it up."
Lundquist: "On the way.....No! Returned by Chris Davis. Davis goes left. Davis gets a block. Davis has another block! Chris Davis!... No flags! Touchdown, Auburn! An answered prayer!"
1b. Among other memorable Lundquist calls: The birdie by Jack Nicklaus on the 17th hole of the Masters in 1986; Christian Laettner's famous shot to beat Kentucky during the 1992 NCAA tournament and Tiger Woods' memorable chip shot at the Masters in '05.
1c. CBS had multiple replays of the play prior to the touchdown, though the announcers prematurely assumed that the game had headed to overtime. Danielson, who takes an inordinate amount of grief from SEC fans, then corrected himself, which is what good announcers do. CBS eventually got a synchronized split screen which showed that there was a second left.
1d. Silver said the one regret he had during the final sequence of the broadcast was not showing a replay of Louis's last-second catch against Georgia.
1e. Danielson had one of the great lines of the season during a replay of the final play. "There are no athletes on the field for Alabama, they got all fat guys," Danielson said.
1f. Silver said Sunday Night Football director Drew Esocoff, ESPN director Scott Johnson and Fox Sports West executive producer Tom Feuer all reached out to him immediately after he game.
1g. Great work by Alabama newspapers with their Sunday front pages.
1h. The NBC Olympics broadcaster Rowdy Gaines, an Auburn alum, was filmed by his wife watching the final play of the game. Enjoy.
1i. Of course, this was the best user-generated clip of someone watching the final moments of The Iron Bowl. It's 56 seconds of gold.
2. Retiring NFL broadcaster Dan Dierdorf, on what he wants viewers to remember about his career: "I would just hope that they realize when they were listening to me, they were listening to somebody who loves the game, who has a deep respect for the players who played it the right way, and not much respect for those that don't." Dierdorf continued, "I gave them what I saw honestly and I did not try to overhype things too much. Over anything else, I hope it came across how much I love the game of football."
2a. Last week, Fox's Cowboys- Giants averaged 27.9 million viewers, the third most-watched game this season behind Packers-Niners (28.5 million) and Broncos-Cowboys (28.3 million). NBC's Sunday Night Football broadcast of the Patriots-Broncos drew 26.5 million viewers, which ranked ninth among the most-watched NFL broadcasts of the 2013 season.
2b. CBS NFL pregame analyst Bart Scott on Peyton Manning: "He has a noodle arm right now... When I say noodle arm, what I'm saying is he doesn't have the arm strength to throw through the wind because he doesn't throw a tight spiral. So his ball gets caught by the wind and he throws some of those ducks every once in a while. (Manning has) never been known to throw a super tight spiral. You saw (Tom) Brady throw through the wind. You saw Peyton's ball get caught up in the wind. So if you're a defensive team, what you want to do is sit at the sticks and make him throw the ball deep. Because that's your best chance."
Postscript: Manning had touchdown passes of 41 and 37 yards against the Chiefs on Sunday.
2c. CBS director Mike Arnold got a great shot from the Broncos-Chiefs game of the tears streaming down the face of Denver running back Knowshon Moreno
3. Asked by SI.com if Michelle Beadle (who was praised both externally and internally for her work as a studio host at the 2012 London Games) would be working for the network in Sochi, an NBC Sports spokesperson emailed back a statement straight out of the Captain Louis Renault playbook. Said the spokesperson: "We are still finalizing our talent group for Sochi, which we expect to have completed by early January."
Translation: No Beadle. (In related news, those aren't the droids NBC Sports execs are looking for, either.)
3a. Lowe said growing up she admired BBC presenter Hazel Irvine, who is well known in that country for her work on Winter Olympic coverage. "She's understated, smart and professional -- which is what I believe a presenter should be," Lowe said. "She gives you information and stories but it never comes across as being about her. When I think about the Olympics growing up, that is who I think about."
4. Fox Sports 1 analyst Joel Klatt is the rare on-air sports television staffer who morphs between college football and the NFL on a weekly basis. Along with his role as a studio analyst for Fox College Saturday role and a game analyst on Fox's college football coverage, Klatt also hosts Fox Sports 1's Fox NFL Kickoff show. Though his college pregame show has struggled to gain traction with an audience -- ESPN College GameDay, the long dominant player in the marketplace, draws around two million viewers weekly compared to Fox College Saturday's 75,000 or so -- Klatt has impressed as a reasonable, prepared voice on the sport. By virtue of the sport's passionate fan base, college football broadcasters and writers can draw easy notice by saying outlandish things or trolling fan bases but Klatt has thankfully avoided that path. He signed a multi-year deal with Fox Sports this summer after previously working as a game analyst on FSN's Big 12 and Pac-12 Conference football coverage as well as serving as the pre-and-post game host of Rockies coverage on Root Sports. Klatt said he liked the idea of starting at the dawn of a new network and Fox Sports 1 brass offered him the opportunity to work both as an studio analyst and a game analyst.
"John Entz [Fox Sports 1's executive producer] and Judy Boyd [a VP of production] knew of my work and knew I could be a college football analyst," he said. "But when they saw my work for Root Sports hosting for the Rockies, I think they got very intrigued about bringing me out to Los Angeles to expand my role."
Asked how he views the challenge of competing with College Game Day for viewers, Klatt said he understood the reality of the competition but refused to concede outright. "With their decades head start, the quality of show they put on and the quality of people they have on, there is no doubt it is challenge to put something on the air that directly competes with that," Klatt said. "They [GameDay] are an institution and college football fans love them and rightly so. I don't think there is a guy in the industry I respect more than Kirk Herbstreit. I don't know him that well but I think he is fantastic and that show is fantastic. But at the same time if I am going to do something opposite of them, I am competitive. Right now we can't look at them and try and directly compare ourselves but my competitive edge tells me that I will do everything I can while I am on this show to make us a viable option on a different channel."
4a. I asked Klatt if he believed Fox College Saturday would ultimately have to travel to game sites to get more viewer traction: "There is no doubt that college football is much different than the NFL in the sense that the NFL has created an environment -- I don't want to say it is sterile but it is very cookie-cutter. They have found something that works and it does not matter which stadium you are in or what broadcast you are watching, it always feels like the NFL. College is very different. The atmosphere, the fan bases and the environment are so different and that rules the day with each fan base. So long term, I am sure that the Fox College Saturday show would want some piece of that environment to stay viable or to grow within the market. But that is because of the sport rather than the competition."
4b. Klatt suffered 10 concussions while playing quarterback at Colorado from 2002 to 2005. How is his health today? "It's okay, and I am not suffering by any stretch of the imagination but there is no doubt I deal with some things, whether it is joint-based within my neck and back or headaches-based that are a result of what I went through as a player," Klatt said. "I do things now retroactively to try to help, whether it is to work on my mind and exercising to stay as healthy as possible. I'm also cognizant of what guys have dealt with including mental depression. But at the same time, I can't control any of that so I try not to let it rule anything that I do."
4c. Klatt will be part of a 30-minute pregame show next Saturday that serves as a lead-in to Fox's coverage of the Big 10 title game between Ohio State and Michigan State (kickoff 8:17 p.m. ET).
5. Having limited access to Canadian television, there are plenty of other reporters and writers better positioned to offer cogent commentary on the NHL reaching a 12-year, $5.2 billion agreement with Rogers Communications for the league's Canadian broadcast and multimedia rights. But I have collected some links of interest:
•National Post writer Sean Fitz-Gerald, on what the deal means for Hockey Night In Canada and Don Cherry.
•National Post writer Scott Stinson, on the end of CBC as we know it.
•Via The Toronto Sun: 10 Things To Know About The NHL's New TV Deal.
•The Globe and Mail on how the deal compares with other sports.
•The Boston Globe NHL writer Fluto Shinzawa on the deal's biggest bullet points.
6. Really like the NFL's user-generated campaign -- "Together We Make Football" -- that asked football fans to send in stories about why they love football. Thousands of people sent in video entries answering the question, and the campaign is now down to 10 finalists. These short films (all are three minutes) are terrific -- poignant, well-produced, and thoughtful. The campaign is being run through NFL Films and the top five vote-getters will each win a trip to the Super Bowl (along with two guests each). Their stories will also be part of an hour-long NFL Films documentary that will be broadcast on Super Bowl weekend. You can watch the films and vote here.
7. This week's sports pieces of note:
•Matt Stanmyre of the Newark Star-Ledger wrote a beautiful piece on a 17-year-old New Jersey athlete's devotion to his sick mother. It's beautifully done:
•If you love to run, no matter your speed, I think you will love this short film.
•SB Nation's Spencer Hall on Auburn-Alabama.
•Great piece by SI's Alex Wolff on one of the most famous high school basketball shots.
• Jeff Pearlman on the final days of Jovan Belcher.
•Mashable's Sam Laird on a YouTube basketball legend.
Non-sports pieces of note:
•Fascinating piece by Serge Kovaleski on the frequency Hell's Angels appear in court to protect the group's branding.
•Nine questions about Iran's nuclear program you were too embarrassed to ask.
•The New York Times on the changing American family.
• Reuters photographer Gleb Garanich kept working despite being wounded by Ukraine riot police.
8. For The MMQB.com, I wrote about how those who work for NFL networks spend Thanksgiving at the site of the game. Among the traditions: The 16th annual Phil Simms Turkey Bowl.
9. The Sports Business Daily conducted a reader poll among its influential readership (made up of mostly of professionals who work in sports business and the media) and in a survey of 1,093 respondents, ESPN took first place in the category of sports network with the highest production values with 28.9 percent of the vote. They were followed by Fox (16.7%), NBC (15.1%), CBS (14.1%), and Turner (2.8%). The entry "They are basically the same" took second (17.5%). In a vote of "the afternoon studio you watch the most," congratulations to "Don't Watch Any," which rolled to a victory with 43.4 percent of the vote.
10. On Thanksgiving, The NFL Today delivered one of the best features on a pregame show this year with this Charlie Bloom-produced piece on Stacey Jackson, the mother of the late Cowboys linebacker, Jerry Brown.
10a. Andrew Bucholtz of Awful Announcing spoke with Bleacher Report executives about life under Turner Sports and its future editorial direction.
10b. Jason McIntyre of Big Lead Sports reported that Will Ferrell will be a guest on SportsCenter on Dec. 5. ESPN declined comment on that report at the time, but on Sunday, an ESPN spokesperson confirmed that both Ferrell and Anchorman 2 co-star David Koechner will be part of the 6 pm ET SportsCenter on Thursday.
10c. NBC Sports Network will air its first Wednesday English Premier League game of the season this week when Manchester United meets Everton at 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN & mun2.
10d. The Boston Globe's excellent sports media writer Chad Finn on the iconic SI NFL writer Paul Zimmerman (Dr. Z).
10e. Your weekly Outside The Lines-has-been-buried-by-ESPN management update: The show (which this column will start to refer to as District 12 in honor of the district in The Hunger Games that has been forgotten) averaged 231,000 viewers on Sunday on ESPN2. The last Sunday show that aired on ESPN averaged 846,000. As of this writing, Outside The Lines has also not returned to SiriusXM Radio after being replaced by The Paul Finebaum Show.
10f. Ron Burgundy covered curling for Canada's TSN on Sunday. Don't act like you're not impressed.