It’s a simple question with a complex answer. What makes a successful NFL game broadcast?
“I think a successful game broadcast is one where everyone is working in concert together to tell a story,” says CBS Sports broadcaster Jim Nantz, the network’s lead NFL play-by-play voice since 2004. “It is an effort of about 250 strong for our crew, and everybody has an important part to play to make sure the story is told accurately. The art of it, when you boil it down, is storytelling, and not just anecdotal stuff. It’s about why a play did or did not work, or why a player or coach made that decision. It’s storytelling whether from a play-by-play man or analyst, or the producer having the right sequence of replays, or the director visually showing you what happened.”
The voices that bring you NFL football are an important part of your NFL experience. Last week this column brought you the 2013 NFL Studio Show Guide. Below, we’ll outline the key broadcast players in the first-ever The MMQB NFL Game Broadcast Guide:
1. Jim Nantz (play-by-play) and Phil Simms (analyst).
2. Greg Gumbel (play-by-play) and Dan Dierdorf (analyst).
3. Ian Eagle (play-by-play) and Dan Fouts (analyst).
4. Marv Albert (play-by-play) and Rich Gannon (analyst).
5. Kevin Harlan (play-by-play) and Solomon Wilcots (analyst).
6. Bill Macatee (play-by-play) and Steve Tasker (analyst).
7. Spero Dedes (play-by-play) and Steve Beuerlein (analyst).
• CBS has a new graphics package including new animations and insert graphics. “For the insert graphics we put an emphasis on toning down the architecture and making the fonts more easy to read for the viewer,” says CBS spokesperson Jen Sabatelle. “We’ve added more team colors to the graphics package so the viewer can easily associate a stat with a team.”
• Nothing changes with the broadcast teams. The lineup is the same as last year.
• Possible ratings trouble. A subpar Jets team in the nation’s biggest television mark could impact CBS’ overall viewership this year.
Bengals at Bears (Sept. 8, 1 p.m.); Broncos at Giants (Sept. 15, 4:25 p.m.); Texans at Ravens (Sept. 22, 1 p.m.); Colts at Niners (Sept. 22; 4:25 p.m.); Steelers at Vikings (Sept. 29, 1 p.m.); Patriots at Bengals (Oct. 6, 1 p.m.); Broncos at Cowboys (Oct. 6, 4:25 p.m.); Ravens at Steelers (Oct. 20, 4:25 p.m.); Steelers at Patriots (Nov. 3, 4:25 p.m.); Bengals at Ravens (Nov. 10, 1 p.m.); Broncos at Chargers (Nov. 10, 4:25 p.m.); Ravens at Bears (Nov. 17, 1 p.m.); Browns at Bengals (Nov. 17, 1 p.m.); Broncos at Chiefs (Dec. 1, 1 p.m.); Patriots at Texans (Dec. 1, 4:25 p.m.); Colts at Bengals (Dec. 8, 1 p.m.); Broncos at Texans (Dec. 22, 1 p.m.); Steelers at Packers (Dec. 22, 4:25 p.m.); Ravens at Bengals (Dec. 29, 1 p.m.).
The MMQB television schedule rating: No. 4 of the five networks.
“The zone read is the modern-day version of the quarterback keeper. In other words, fake right, keep left, and keep the ball. Well, that was too slow because NFL defenses got too fast. This is just a modern-day version. I know a lot of teams are going to open it up and try to do more with it, but I have to see it to believe it because as last year went on, I saw more and more teams and defenses react to it much, much better and not only stop it but destroy it.”—Simms, on the zone read-option.
1. Joe Buck (play-by-play), Troy Aikman (analyst) and Pam Oliver (reporter).
2. Kenny Albert (play-by-play), Daryl Johnston (analyst) and Tony Siragusa (reporter).
3. Thom Brennaman (play-by-play), Brian Billick (analyst) and Laura Okmin (reporter).
4. Kevin Burkhardt (play-by-play), John Lynch (analyst) and Erin Andrews (reporter).
5. Chris Myers (play-by-play), Tim Ryan (analyst) and Jennifer Hale (reporter).
6. Dick Stockton (play-by-play), Ronde Barber (analyst) and Kris Budden (reporter).
7. Sam Rosen (play-by-play), Heath Evans (analyst), and Molly McGrath (reporter).
• FOX Sports executives private admit they had depth issues last year in the NFL broadcast group, so they reshaped a number of teams. The new trio of Burkhardt, Lynch (who moves from a team with Stockton) and Andrews is expected to get some big games.
• Sideline reporter Hale moves from the Stockton-Lynch team to the Myers-Ryan pairing (which remains the same from last year). McGrath, a former Celtics sideline reporter, makes her sideline debut with Rosen and Evans. Budden is also new to FOX’s broadcast lineup.
• Barber (who also appears on FOX Football Daily) makes his game broadcast debut with longtime announcer Stockton.
• Ron Pitts was not brought back as a play-by-play announcer.
• Aikman said because FOX will air the Super Bowl XLVIII this season on Feb. 2, 2014, his preparation will include more AFC teams than usual.
Falcons at Saints (Sept. 8, 1 p.m.); Packers at Niners (Sept. 8, 4:25 p.m.); Redskins at Packers (Sept. 15, 1 p.m.); Packers at Bengals (Sept. 22, 1 p.m.); Bears at Lions (Sept. 29, 1 p.m.); Seahawks at Texans (Sept. 29, 1 p.m.); Eagles at Broncos (Sept, 29, 4:25 p.m.); Saints at Bears (Oct. 6, 1 p.m.); Lions at Packers (Oct. 6, 1 p.m.); Seahawks at Colts (Oct. 6, 1 p.m.); Eagles at Giants (Oct. 6, 1 p.m.); Packers at Ravens (Oct. 13, 1 p.m.); Saints at Patriots (Oct. 13, 4:25 p.m.); Cowboys at Eagles (Oct. 20, 1 p.m.); Bears at Redskins (Oct. 20, 1 p.m.); Cowboys at Lions (Oct. 27, 1 p.m.); Giants at Eagles (Oct. 27, 1 p.m.); Redskins at Broncos (Oct. 27, 4:25 p.m.); Vikings at Cowboys (Nov. 3, 1 p.m.); Seahawks at Falcons (Nov. 10, 1 p.m.); Eagles at Packers (Nov. 10; 1 p.m.); Panthers at Niners (Nov. 10, 4:25 p.m.); Redskins at Eagles (Nov. 17, 1 p.m.); Niners at Saints (Nov. 17, 4:25 p.m.); Vikings at Seahawks (Nov. 17, 4:25 p.m.); Packers at Lions (Nov. 28, 12:30 p.m.); Bears at Vikings (Dec. 1, 1 p.m.); Vikings at Ravens (Dec. 8, 1 p.m.); Panthers at Saints (Dec. 8, 1:00 p.m.); Seahawks at Niners (Dec. 8, 4:25 p.m.); Redskins at Falcons (Dec. 15, 1 p.m.); Seahawks at Giants (Dec. 15, 1 p.m.); Packers at Cowboys (Dec. 15, 4:25 p.m.); Saints at Panthers (Dec. 22, 1 p.m.); Vikings at Bengals (Dec. 22, 1 p.m.); Bears at Eagles (Dec. 22, 1 p.m.); Cowboys at Redskins (Dec. 22, 1 p.m.); Panthers at Falcons (Dec. 29, 1 p.m.); Packers at Bears (Dec. 29, 1 p.m.); Eagles at Cowboys (Dec 29, 1 p.m.); Lions at Vikings (Dec. 29, 1 p.m.); Redskins at Giants (Dec. 29, 1 p.m.).
The MMQB television schedule rating: No. 2 of the five networks.
"There is more excitement for us when we kick off the year knowing we will see it all the way through to the game in New York. It adds an element of excitement for the whole network and it does for Joe (Buck) and I. It's a historic game to be played in an outdoor, historic cold weather city. It will be unlike anything we have seen before. Whether that is good or bad, everyone has an opinion of that, playing in the cold. I think it will be awesome and I am looking forward to it."—Aikman, on getting this year's Super Bowl call.
Mike Tirico (play-by-play), Jon Gruden (analyst) and Lisa Salters (reporter).
• ESPN has a new 90-second opening to the program directed by actor-director Peter Berg, the helmsman of the Friday Night Lights film. “It's a departure from any musical videos that we've done or any other networks have done for that matter; it's really a celebration of the 44‑year history of Monday night with pop culture and all of the legendary broadcasters that have brought you the game,” says Monday Night Football producer Jay Rothman.
• It’s not new but worth noting: Former NFL official Gerry Austin returns to take rules questions during games.
• More airtime for the Gruden Grinder award, which focuses on a behind-the-scenes player who makes something happen to win the game. Rothman said that when Monday Night Football was in Pittsburgh last year for Veterans Day, the crew met Zach Stinson, a 23-year-old Marine sergeant who was injured in Afghanistan and spent a year at Walter Reed Hospital.
“We had Zach speak to our team the morning of the game on Veterans Day to help us deliver some meaning and he touched us like no one has,” Rothman says. “In speaking with our group, one of the things that he shared with us was what a fan of the Gruden Grinder he was. So one of the things we're doing this year is we've recruited Zach to help us each and every week with our candidates. He's a great young man, married with a small child. He's going to be our little behind-the-scenes guy to help us out each and every week.”
• A host of musicians—Amadeus, Tobin Esperance, Los Lonely Boys, Brad Paisley, Patrick Stump, Gretchen Wilson and Zakk Wylde—have written music specifically for MNF, which will be used throughout the games in highlights, graphics and bumps this season.
(All times 8:30 ET p.m. ET unless noted)
Eagles at Redskins (Sept. 9, 7:00 p.m.); Steelers at Bengals (Sept. 16); Vikings at Giants (Oct. 21); Bears at Packers (Nov. 4); Patriots at Panthers (Nov. 18); Niners at Redskins (Nov. 25); Saints at Seahawks (Dec. 2); Cowboys at Bears (Dec. 9); Ravens at Lions (Dec. 16); Falcons at Niners (Dec. 23).
The MMQB television schedule rating: No. 3 of the five networks.
“Calling games has changed because the game itself has changed—the no-huddle offenses, option football becoming prevalent in pro football. You’re not studying pass rushers, you’re studying the read and the mesh of the quarterback. You’re looking at different things, you’re anticipating different situations now because of the nature of the game. And, very importantly with the rule changes in regards to player safety, you’ve got to really be careful that you see the video before you comment because it is a very controversial matter right now, players and how they tackle, etc. I think those are the big changes.”—Gruden, on how games have changed during his years in the booth.
Al Michaels (play-by-play), Cris Collinsworth (analyst) and Michele Tafoya (sideline reporter).
• Carrie Underwood replaces Faith Hill for the Sunday Night Football opener, and there will be 13 NFL players who join Underwood for her performance of “Waiting All Day for Sunday Night.” That list includes Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald; Saints tight end Jimmy Graham; Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson; Colts quarterback Andrew Luck; Giants quarterback Eli Manning; Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning; Packers linebacker Clay Matthews; Eagles running back LeSean McCoy; Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers; Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs; Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Ware; Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and Niners linebacker Patrick Willis.
• NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino will be available to Michaels and Collinsworth for rules interpretation.
• NBC has partnered with the Cowboys for a 360-degree look at red zone plays for the Sept. 8 broadcast of Giants-Cowboys game at Cowboys Stadium. The network will use 24 high-speed cameras—12 in each red zone placed on both sides of the field from the 20-yard line to the goal line and in the back of each end zone—to provide replays of key red zone plays from a 360-degree perspective. “It allows you to see what the key figures on a particular play are doing even if they’re not in proximity to one another,” says Sunday Night Football lead producer Fred Gaudelli. “You’ll be able to move around that play and see it from everyone’s viewpoint, and to see what they reacted to or what the quarterback reacted to on a passing play.” The system, known as FreeD, or free dimensional video, will be also used for NBC’s broadcast of the Oct. 5 Notre Dame-Arizona State game, and the Oct. 13 Redskins-Cowboys game.
(All times 8:30 p.m. ET unless noted)
Ravens at Broncos (Sept. 5, 8:30 p.m.); Giants at Cowboys (Sept. 9); Niners at Seahawks (Sept. 15); Patriots at Falcons (Sept. 29); Texans at Niners (Oct. 6), Redskins at Cowboys (Oct. 13); Broncos at Colts (Oct. 20); Cowboys at Saints (Nov. 10); Broncos at Patriots (Nov. 24); Steelers at Ravens (Nov. 28); Giants at Redskins (Dec. 1); Falcons at Packers (Dec. 8); Bengals at Steelers (Dec. 15); Patriots at Ravens (Dec. 22).
The MMQB television schedule rating: No. 1 of the five networks.
“We have Peyton Manning against Tom Brady for maybe the last time as Denver goes to New England. We also have Manning going into Indianapolis halfway through the season, which will be spectacular.”—Michaels, on the Sunday Night Football schedule.
Brad Nessler (play-by-play), Mike Mayock (analyst) and Alex Flanagan (reporter).
• Added games for the network over the last two seasons has resulted in higher subscriber fees. Adweek.com reported that according to SNL Kagan estimates, NFL Network in 2013 charges operators an average affiliate fee of $1.34 per subscriber per month, an increase from the $0.95 the channel received in 2012.
• Mayock said he is interested in a ton of rookies this season. “I thought it was interesting that some teams drafted two players at the same position to compensate for poor production from a year ago,” Mayock says. “For instance, St. Louis drafted Tavon Austin in the first round and Stedman Bailey in the third round. I’m very intrigued by how they do. Green Bay is a Super Bowl contender and they drafted Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin at tailback. They had some real problems running the football and protecting the quarterback, and those are running backs who understands pass protection. Arizona drafted Stepfan Taylor in the fifth round and Andre Ellington in the sixth—two more tailbacks. I thought they were two of the best pass protection running backs in college football last year. There were two wide receivers drafted by Buffalo—Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin—so you could have a rookie quarterback throwing to two rookie wide receivers as they begin to retool that whole thing. On the other side of the ball is pass rushing. Who will be most disruptive? Dion Jordan was drafted third, Ziggy Ansah was drafted fifth and Barkevious Mingo was drafted sixth. All three of those guys have big-time pass rushing possibilities. I don’t care who starts. I want to know who affects the quarterback.”
• Thursday Night Football will have a dedicated NFL Films directive photographer shooting solely for that broadcast. NFL Network senior vice president of production and programming Mark Quenzel came up with the idea to incorporate an NFL Films look into the broadcast after attending a ceremony to honor the late NFL Films president Steve Sabol. “The DP will look to shoot the really artsy type footage that NFL Films is famous for,” said NFL Network spokesperson Alex Riethmiller. “The footage will be shot at 24 frames a second—a common cinematic film rate—as opposed to most television which is shot at 30 frames a second. We will look to build two to three packages a game with this footage, probably somewhere in the 10-12 seconds per package length.”
• The network has upgraded its telestrator in the booth. The new HEGO telestrator will provide advanced animation capabilities when Mayock breaks down X’s and O’s.
(All games 8:25 p.m. ET)
Niners at Rams (Sept. 26); Giants at Bears (Oct. 10); Bengals at Dolphins (Oct. 31); Redskins at Vikings (Nov. 7): Saints at Falcons (Nov. 21); Chargers at Broncos (Dec. 12).
The MMQB television schedule rating: No. 5 of the five networks.
“Part of my job on Thursday night is to try to teach people more about the game and maybe a little differently than they have heard it before. You hear about all these zone blocking schemes and combination blocks and things people do not know much about. How are they [coaches] teaching it? If I understand it better, then I think I can convey it to a viewer on Thursday night.”—Mayock, on his broadcasting philosophy.