Last August, Sunday Night Football coordinating producer Fred Gaudelli and his core production team spent a pair of 10-hour days at NBC Sports’s headquarters in Stamford, Conn. screening the previous three Super Bowl telecasts on a 100-inch monitor with surround sound. But this was no Sabolian Fantasy Camp for the 15-person group. This was work.
“We brainstormed during those viewings on what ideas we could bring to this telecast, what things we needed to improve upon from our last Super Bowl telecast in 2012, and what elements we might want to introduce,” Gaudelli told SI.com
Gaudelli cannot control the outcome of the Seahawks-Patriots game Sunday (kickoff is 6:25 p.m. ET on NBC), but he and director Drew Esocoff have an enormous impact on how you view it. This year’s game telecast will have 40 cameras, which is 15 more than a regular Sunday Night Football game. The extra cameras are there to make sure the broadcast gets every defining shot at crucial parts of the field. Gaudelli said there will be three low cameras on each side of the goal line, two high cameras on each goal line, and a camera shooting down the end line of each end zone.
"Many of the extra cameras are really situational-type cameras," Gaudelli said. "Could they factor into the overall mix of the show? I’m sure they could but the one thing Drew and I are sensitive to is you don’t want to start disorienting people with looks from everywhere. You want to try to keep it as familiar as you can. But then if you have a Santonio Holmes catch in the end zone, you can get a defining look of that play and that’s when those cameras and replays pay off. Also, keep in mind how hard the job of is of our camera operators. They have a different assignment every play depending on what the formation is. They have to be fluent and football intuitive."
Gaudelli arrived in Glendale, Ariz. on Friday and his first onsite production meeting came Sunday. Early in the week, key production staffers such as Gaudelli and Esocoff will have film sessions on each team and will watch footage of the Seattle-New England meeting in 2012. On Thursday lead broadcaster Al Michaels, analyst Cris Collinworth, reporter Michele Tafoya along with Gaudelli and Esocoff meet with NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino and game referee Bill Vinovich to talk about the game and cover any non-traditional things (such as the offensive formations the Patriots used during the Ravens game) that might come up.
“We might talk to them about different formations and how the officials will announce them, and how much time they will give Seattle [for example] to react to them,” Gaudelli said.
The next day, NBC will conduct a rehearsal broadcast at University of Phoenix Stadium. On Saturday the broadcasters go to team walkthroughs and a core group (Michaels, Collinsworth, Tafoya, Gaudelli and Esocoff) will hold 10-minute conference calls with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and quarterback Russell Wilson.
“That’s like a final check-in,” Gaudelli said. “We ask if anything is new, how they are feeling, that type of stuff.”
Given the impact of officiating this year, Gaudelli said NBC will have access to a robotic camera in the NFL’s replay booth during the game. That camera will be focused on Blandino and other replay officials reviewing any challenges or booth reviews. If there is any controversial play, such as Dez Bryant’s non-catch in the Green Bay-Dallas divisional playoff game, NBC will have the ability to put Blandino on the air for an explanation of the rule. NBC has had similar access to Blandino for regular season games but never for a Super Bowl. Network officials asked the league if they would make Blandino available to be used on the air if needed and the NFL agreed.
“If there is a Dez Bryant-like play, he has agreed to come on and tell us why the ruling was,” Gaudelli said. “He’s not going to second-guess officials or say something was a bad call but anything that goes to replay and is upheld or overturned, he will come on and explain to the audience why it was deemed such.”
How much will the inflated balls controversy come up during the game broadcast? Not much. Look for Deflategate stuff to be addressed in-game only minimally. The pregame will no doubt be heavy on that.
“The Bears equipment staff will be handling the footballs throughout the game” Gaudelli said. “In other Super Bowls I have done, especially with John Madden, he was always big on the fact that they use 100 balls in the Super Bowl. A new ball comes in basically every play because they want to give the balls to sponsors. We have shown the bag of balls in the past and we will probably do the same type of thing here because obviously it is a story. The balls are going to be an issue leading up to the game and potentially after the game but during the game we will pay proper heed to it and move on quickly.”
As for the number of people who will watch, the new rule of Super Bowl broadcasting is this: If you broadcast the Super Bowl, you are expected to set a viewership record.
Last year Fox drew 112.2 million viewers for its Super Bowl telecast despite a 43-8 Seattle blowout over Denver, topping the previous record of 111.3 million set by NBC in 2012 for the Giants-Patriots game. The numbers are part of a trend that has seen eight of the last nine Super Bowls set viewership records with that broadcast. The one outlier was Baltimore’s win over San Francisco in Super Bowl 47 in 2013, which drew 108.7 million viewers. That game famously featured a 34-minute delay when the power went out in the New Orleans Superdome (the score was 28-6 Ravens at the time of the blackout).
NBC Sports officials have said publicly they would disappointed if the game did not set a mark given the star power of the Patriots and Seahawks and the storylines coming into the game.
“I would definitely be disappointed, and surprised as well,” said Gaudelli, who will produce his fifth Super Bowl on Sunday. “I think we are all at the point ... and I think if you asked anyone at Fox or CBS they would say the same thing: If you don’t set a new viewing record, it is a little deflating. But you have zero control over that.”
THE NOISE REPORT
1. Gaudelli said NBC requested Seattle coach Pete Carroll, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, defensive end Michael Bennett, defensive back Richard Sherman and quarterback Russell Wilson as the individuals they wanted to meet with for the Super Bowl pre-game production meetings. Gaudelli said Seattle approved that list and NBC will hold those interviews on Thursday
1a. For the Patriots, Gaudelli said the broadcast requested Belichick, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, running back LeGarrette Blount, quarterback Tom Brady, and linebacker Dont'a Hightower. Gaudelli said New England approved that list and they will meet on Wednesday.
2. Sideline reporters with journalistic chops can be invaluable for a Super Bowl broadcast. Gaudelli said he asked Tafoya to speak this week with each backup quarterback, kicker and punter. Why?
“We had a game this year where the punter [San Diego’s Mike Scifres] broke his collarbone and the kicker had to punt and he had not punted since high school,” Gaudelli said. “You have to prepare for those contingencies.”
Tafoya will also focus on concussion protocols and each team’s inactive list, and how that will impact position groupings (e.g. If Seattle only dresses seven offensive lineman for the game and someone gets hurt).
3. Gaudelli addressed the criticism (including from this column) that he and his colleagues received two weeks ago for what came off as Michaels and Collinsworth providing auxiliary PR for the league on the Mueller Report findings.
“We were the first NFL telecast after the Mueller Report was issued,” Gaudelli said. “Commissioner Goodell was going to be at the [Patriots-Ravens] game. We addressed it in longer form in the pregame leading up to the kickoff with Bob Costas and Mike Florio and one of the things we wanted to make sure of was that this was not going to bleed into the start of a play. Because once that happens, you are now subject to anything -- an interception, a touchdown, a turnover -- where you can look foolish and you piss off the audience. We wanted to do it early in the game in the event the game became very good which obviously it did, and we wanted to quote the Mueller Report precisely, which is what you have to do when you are dealing with a document of this nature.
“So Al had talking points that he and I went over and they were really identical to Bob’s. But Bob had two minutes to do his and Al had 35 seconds to do his. Cris told me what he wanted to say ahead of time and I was fine with it because I know that is what Cris believes. We were all in the room when he posed the question to commissioner Goodell about [seeing] the in-elevator tape and at that point it was August before the Hall of Fame Game. He looked us all in the eye and said, 'No, I did not,' and Cris felt like he wanted to say I never questioned his [Goodell’s] integrity based on the hundreds of dealings I had with him over the years … We all knew we would take criticism for that but I think it was overblown by a great amount. But I am not sorry we did it. I think it would have been irresponsible not to do it as the first telecast. It is just a lot trickier inside a football game rather than the pregame show leading up to it”
4. NBC’s technical staff for its Super Bowl coverage does not get much public recognition but they do here given that they are responsible for the infrastructure. The core group: Tim DeKime (director of football operations), Keith Kice and John Roché, (technical managers of Sunday Night Football), John Howard (technical director), Wendel Stevens (head audio technician) and Rodney O’Rear (head digital replay technician). “Those are the stars of the weekend because we just show up and expect things to work,” Gaudelli said.
4a. What would happen if we saw a power outage during this year’s Super Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium? Gaudelli said he and Sam Flood have had conversations for months on contingency plans for various emergencies.
“Sam and I have had a bunch of conversations on where we could broadcast if the stadium was somehow not an option,” Gaudelli said. “Believe me, you run through a million things in your head because you try to figure out those answers before you have to figure out the answers.”
5. Interesting piece from Sports Business Daily writers John Ourand and Michael Smith on ESPN and the NFL lobbying college commissioners to move the college football semifinals off New Year’s Eve next year. The NFL is also considering expanding its playoffs and moving one of the new playoff games to Monday night when it would compete directly with the national title game.
5a. The NFL and YouTube have formed a partnership to allow the league to post NFL content on the video hosting service. The content will appear on an official NFL channel on YouTube, and will be video directly viewable for Google Search users.
5b. Good news here about NBC horse racing analyst Bob Neumeier, who suffered a serious stroke in October.