Publicly, the NFL says it loves all its football-airing networks equally, but the truth is it loves NBC a little more than the other kids. Sunday Night Football has replaced Monday Night Football as the league’s primetime showcase game, and for three consecutive television seasons, SNF has finished as the No. 1 show in primetime in household rating, viewership and the Adult 18-49, 18-34 and 25-54 demographics. Last year SNF games averaged 21.7 million viewers, and there’s no reason to think those numbers won’t maintain or increase.
"I know when I came over [to NBC] I was just hoping that it could attain the same type of prominence that Monday Night Football had when it was on ABC," said Fred Gaudelli, the producer of Sunday Night Football who came to NBC in 2006 after producing ABC's Monday Night Football. "You never dreamed that you were going to become the No. 1 show, but it’s huge. It’s huge within our building."
The network that broadcasts the Super Bowl always gets the benefit of added publicity, and NBC will air Super Bowl XLIX on February 1, 2015. The network has also added a divisional playoff game this year, which will be taken from CBS or Fox. It’s a big year for NBC, and here’s a quick snapshot of what the network has planned for NFL viewers.
Biggest changes: NBC’s talent essentially remains the same both on the broadcast and in the studio. On the technical end, Gaudelli said SNF will be mounting a real-time weather monitor on a cable cam at the end of the month, so viewers can get a weather perspective from behind the quarterback position. “Say the quarterback is throwing with the wind or throwing against the wind, that information will be tied to the time code stream and not to get too technical here, but that gets recorded on every camera,” Gaudelli said. “You can then go back and say this pass was woefully underthrown into a 25-mile-an-hour headwind.”
The league has also invested in the real-time tracking of players (via quarter-sized sensors the players will be wearing under their shoulder pads), which has infinite possibilities for viewers. The data the networks receive will be evaluated this weekend and again in Week 3 with the hope that all networks will use it on the air in October. "That type of evaluation will be cool for TV, but I think the bigger play will be for team evaluation of players and what performance markers you need for a player to be successful at each position," Gaudelli said. NBC has also redesigned its Football Night in America studio set.
Talent adds: Former Good Morning America and ESPN host/reporter Josh Elliott will work as a features reporter and interviewer. Kathryn Tappen, long with the NHL Network, will work as a reporter assigned to major Sunday games. Alex Flanagan and Carolyn Manno will also rotate as part of that assignment.
Talent losses: Scott Pioli departed for Falcons, where he is now an assistant general manager.
Keep an eye on: Any conversation about Michael Sam that involves Football Night in America staffer Tony Dungy. FNIA host Bob Costas offering a halftime essay that will create heated discussion on social media.
Ratings of note: Football Night in America averaged 8.0 million viewers in 2013, up three percent from last season.
On the Redskins’ nickname: "My feeling and I’ve expressed it a couple of times in the past few months is basically that that is the name of the team," said SNF lead broadcaster Al Michaels. "This is not a broadcasting issue so much as it is an issue for [Washington owner] Dan Snyder to deal with, which he has … I’m not sure exactly what I would do because I don’t have to make that decision right now. We don’t have the Washington Redskins on our schedule. We could have them in flex, but I think the more we talk about it or the more broadcasters talk about it, the more we become the story and that’s just not the way we do things on Sunday Night Football. We don’t want to be the story. We want the game to be the story."
Added SNF analyst Cris Collinsworth: "I’ve already gone on the record on [Showtime’s] Inside the NFL and said that I would prefer that it be changed. But that’s pretty much what I feel my responsibility is. My job is to serve the viewers of Sunday Night Football. While I probably would lean towards saying Washington, if you’ve done three hours of live television before, you tend to know there’s a lot of things going on up there and I don’t want to make political statements with what I do. I don’t do it about politics in general. I try to service the people that are tuning in to watch the game. I’ve said my piece on it, but as far as the broadcast itself, I just call the game."
Digital extensions: The entire SNF schedule will be streamed live online via NBC Sports Live Extra. NBCSports.com will offer behind-the-scenes photos and videos of the SNF production team and conversations with SNF and FNIA talent. Michele Tafoya will provide real-time tweets from the sideline, and the show’s Instagram feed has photos from inside the production trucks, locker rooms and the field.