Thursday, February 9, 2017
GREG HUGHES: Thank you. And thanks, everyone, for joining us on this what is really historic day in the sports media business. We understand those of you in the New York area who couldn’t make it to our press conference here at 30 Rock, and to those of you who are in areas much further away, thanks for joining us today.
We’re joined on the call by Jim Bell, who is our executive producer of the Olympics, and Bob Costas and Mike Tirico.
Let me open things up by having remarks from Jim Bell.
JIM BELL: Thanks very much, Greg. I’ll be brief so we can get to your questions. I don’t know if anyone saw the movie Arrival, but there was a reference to a non-zero-sum game, and I think that’s what we have here today, was what we also call — another good movie, by the way – a win-win
It was a fantastic day. Thrilled for Bob. We’re so excited to have Mike – and onward.
BOB COSTAS: Well, as many of you may be aware, because it’s been out there for a few hours now and Mike Tirico and I were on with Matt Lauer on The Today Show to talk about it, I’ve decided that after 12 Olympics, it’s time to step aside.
And I couldn’t be more delighted that my successor is Mike Tirico, a person who has all the requisite combination of abilities and personality traits necessary to do a good job or a better than good job as host of the Olympics.
He’s a very hard worker. He’s a stickler for preparation. He has a broad view of the world beyond just the sport that’s in front of him. He can ad lib, he can react spontaneously to situations which often come up in an Olympics. Not just a live Olympics. I think many people aren’t aware, even Olympics that are taped, large segments are often what we call live to tape, so you might as well be live. Mike has all of the tools in that tool kit necessary to do a good job.
I had made this decision more than a year ago, and people at NBC knew about it, but we didn’t want it even in the tiniest way to obscure our coverage of Rio or get in the way or distract us in any way. So we waited until now, exactly a year out from the start of the Winter Olympics in South Korea, to make the announcement.
And here we are, ready to take your questions, I guess, after we hear from Mike.
MIKE TIRICO: Thank you, Greg, Bob, Jim. This has been an incredible day. A bit surreal for me as well, because Bob has meant so much to me as a viewer, as a fellow sportscaster. We share some great ties of both being born in the Borough of Queens here in New York, both attending Syracuse.
And getting to know Bob over the last 30 years, and certainly the last year now that I’ve been part of the NBC family, it gives you hope. Because sometimes the people who you admire from afar, you get to meet them, and they’re even better.
Bob has been so gracious about all of this. How lucky am I to get this opportunity of a lifetime and have someone who I think the world of available as a resource? And Bob has said he would be there for any questions I may have or any guidance I might need.
I’m just so blessed to be supported by my family and all the good people that are now part of my NBC family as well. And I would be remiss, something I haven’t said in other remarks today, a big thank you to the people who I came across at Syracuse University, the people I worked with at WTVH TV in Syracuse, New York, for four and a half years, and 25 years at ESPN.
All of their support, guidance, friendship and collective knowledge along the way has helped bring me to this point today. Wouldn’t be here without them or family, and I’m very appreciative of them.
Thank you for your time, and looking forward to answering the questions you may ask us here.
Bob, you just finished a baseball Hall of Fame cycle where there’s always going to be talk about performance-enhancing substances, and I get —
BOB COSTAS: I’m wondering where this is going, David? I’m fascinated.
Every couple days it seems I get an email from the IOC saying, well, this person’s had this happen in this Olympics or that Olympics. How do you sort of see the Olympic movement now as you step away from the post that you’ve had for so many years and look back on what it was and what it’s become here?
BOB COSTAS: Well, they’re going to have to get even more serious than they were before, and they were at least fairly serious. They’re going to have to other get even more serious about performance-enhancing drugs, unless they just want to throw up their hands and say forget about it, and I don’t think they’re pointing in that direction.
The recent Russian doping scandal, which was so pervasive and was not, like so many others, the result of individuals with rogue chemists but was a sophisticated, government-run-and-approved doping program that spread over a number of Olympics, including one which Russia itself hosted, if they’re not going to get serious about that with lifetime bans and even more comprehensive testing and with the possibility of taking international events, be they Olympics or World Championships, whatever, away from perpetually offending nations rather than individuals — and I’m talking about you, Russia, in this case — then they might as well just wave the white flag.
Are you optimistic, though, that things will be heading in that direction? How do you sort of sum up what you’ve seen as the Olympics have grown and changed and morphed in so many ways in the years you’ve been doing it?
BOB COSTAS: I think in terms of the doping, it’s heading in that direction. It’s easier said than done. It’s complicated. It’s like saying we’re going to fight crime or eradicate crime. You might be able to mitigate it, reduce it, change atmosphere, but to say you’ll completely eliminate it is a big step. But I think that is their intention, at least, to move in that direction.
What I’ve seen is this: That over time the Olympics have become more egalitarian in a certain sense. I remember first labelling the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta as the Title IX Olympics, because that was when American female Olympians — obviously there had been many great ones before that, but that was when the proportions began to noticeably shift toward 50-50.
And the IOC itself, in addition to changes within our own society, the IOC itself has indicated that that’s an objective of theirs. And I think at the most recent Olympics more than 50% of the participants were female. And from an American perspective, close to 50% of the Medal winners and more than 50% of the Gold Medal winners in Rio were female. So that’s a big change.
The Olympics has also, IOC has also obviously tried to spread its influence globally as much as possible. There are pluses and minuses to that. It’s a great thing that the Olympics were in South America for the first time. When they were granted in 2009, Rio and Brazil were flourishing economically; by the time the Olympics took place, the thing had taken a nosedive and there were all kinds of legitimate concerns surrounding those games.
And then there is this: Authoritarian nations are good at putting on big events. They can marshal hundreds of thousands of — and I put this in quotation marks — volunteers. They just show up from everywhere to volunteer, and they have a way of locking down security because they are authoritarian states.
So some of the difficulties that might take place elsewhere don’t happen in Sochi or don’t happen in Beijing. But there is a price to pay for that, and the price, at least part of the price, is that you’re helping to raise the profile and the prestige of regimes with which a good portion of the world takes legitimate exception.
I’d like to ask both of you about how the role of the sports anchor or host of big events such as the Olympics has changed. Bob, you alluded to it a bit today in your New York Times interview where you said there was less time for the long-form interviews and essays that you had done in the past.
BOB COSTAS: Well, that’s true. The metabolism of television, no matter what you’re talking about. I think there was a recent study where they looked back at sitcoms from the 1950s and ’60s and how much space there was between punch lines. Just people’s attention span was different.
Now things have tightened up and they come at you a little bit more rapidly. Any business has to react to the tastes and preferences of its customers, and that’s been true to a certain extent of the Olympics.
But I think we’ve still managed to maintain the majesty, the beauty, the sense that the Olympics stand apart from other sports events; that they’re a unique set of circumstances.
But at the same time, the formats have changed, and I’ve been the host during that time. And I’ve been proud to sit in that chair, and I accept whatever the opportunities are. If the opportunity comes across to do an essay or to make a contribution, then I do it. And if the format doesn’t allow for it or if the way events are developing doesn’t allow for it, then I just accept it. That’s the way it is.
MIKE TIRICO: There is always space for quality and things done the right way. That appetite is there no matter what the generation or what the age group.
I’ll cite as a parent of two teenagers, their society goes so quick, and it’s the next thing on the phone and social media. Yet they’ll sit or their friends will sit and binge watch a season of a show on Netflix. They have the patience to sit through stuff if they like it and want to be there.
So while it has changed in general, when it’s good, people will make the time and enjoy it and absorb it and appreciate it. Whether it’s features or Bob’s essays or other things along the way, if it’s something special at the Olympics, then I think people will give it the time. I think that’s always on a case-by-case basis, and I’m sure that will play out as we go through future years with me in that role.
BOB COSTAS: I’d like to change my answer to Mike’s answer, because his answer was better than mine. So erase my answer, and just say that’s what Bob and Mike both said.
Mike, I know that you don’t — this hosting of a world event, necessarily, isn’t completely new to you with the idea of hosting the World Cup a time or two there at ESPN. How do you anticipate your preparation, being similar or different in that respect? And, basically, have you gotten down the pronunciation of the host city yet?
MIKE TIRICO: Yes, well, PyeongChang has been the way a lot of people have said it. Certainly in America things get Anglicized and people say PyeongChang. You always have that conversation: Do you say it the way the locals say it? Do you say it the way people in America are going to say it and pronounce it?
And that’s something that over time you find the authentic sweet spot that fits all involved. At least that’s what I’ve tried to do with the experience of the Olympic games. Or in golf: Was it Seve Ballesteros or Seve Ballesteros?
So you go through that in any broadcasting situation where you’re involving names from around the world or places from around the world.
The experience for me, hosting the World Cup, being one of the hosts of the World Cup twice for ESPN and the European Soccer Championships last summer, those both — all three of those, I should say, can only help in my preparation for something like this.
But nothing got me better for this next opportunity better than Rio and seeing how NBC’s Olympic unit works. It’s an extraordinary research machine that cranks out page after page of content, and so many of the facts that you read you never get to access. But that’s very similar to a football game. I have stuff on the backup tight end that week after week never gets in. But it’s part of your preparation.
So the key is learn how to prepare, bring the best assets to the table. Know enough that you can curiously ask the right question at that moment and understand what you need to know to put this event that we’re covering in context and perspective.
So I think I have a good idea post Rio. I’m sure between now and then I’ll come up with a game plan for South Korea. And the greatest part of this for me is I’ve got the best who has ever done this as a resource. Bob’s flip phone does respond to texts very quickly, and I can text him any question at any time, and I know I’ll get an answer back that is from the heart and for the good of the future of the Olympics on NBC.
My only question was I wanted to hear a little more detail from Bob about the decision to step aside. When did you know that this was something you wanted to do, and why did you make the decision to step aside? Just give us a little more detail on how it got to this point.
BOB COSTAS: Well, when I signed my new contract with NBC, what then was a new contract in 2012 after Comcast took over, we actually talked about the possibility then. I said, looking down the road, my guess was that I would want to conclude with Rio, which would be my 12th Olympics. A nice, round number.
And we built into the deal what they were kind enough to call the Brokaw clause, where I would be to sports roughly what Tom Brokaw is to news. I’m flattered by the comparison, where Tom no longer anchors the Nightly News, and hasn’t for many years, but where you still see Tom frequently on NBC when there is an event, be it historical or current, where his insider perspective would seem appropriate.
And I’ll have that role at NBC for the foreseeable future as well as appearing on events like the Kentucky Derby or occasionally on our NFL Football coverage, though I’ll no longer be the regular host of Football Night.
But I will host the Super Bowl this coming February in Minneapolis because the game is only four or five days before the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics in Korea, and Mike will have to be there getting himself ready for his Olympic assignment.
So this is something that we began thinking about some five years ago. And the understanding was, and they were kind enough to leave it up to me, if as Rio approaches or after Rio you want to continue, you go ahead. If it still feels like this is the time you want to step aside, we understand, and we’re fine with that too.
It just felt to me like this was the right time. I have no misgivings about the decision. I’ll miss my colleagues and friends that I’ve worked with on so many Olympics, but I know that the position is in very good hands with Mike Tirico as my successor. That makes the decision even easier, although the decision had been made beforehand, it still makes it even easier knowing that Mike will succeed me.
I’m not retiring, I’m just transitioning. I’ll do more baseball for the MLB Network, and maybe if something else comes along that interests me, there will be more time on my calendar to pursue that as well.
Was it that the Olympics physically were very demanding or that you just want to have more time for other projects? What exactly made you decide that now was the time to try something different?
BOB COSTAS: A little bit having to do with more time for other projects. Baseball, specifically, and maybe something else, some kind of long-form programming that I’ve done in the past, both at NBC and elsewhere. Maybe that will come along, but there is nothing presently in the works there. But it could in the future.
But in terms of it being physically demanding, you run on adrenaline, you know? People have — I guess it’s just something they glibly say — compared my streak of nights hosting the Olympics to Cal Ripken. Well, Cal Ripken played 162 games day after day, night after night, season after season. I did 18, 19, 20 nights in a row once every two years.
I don’t think they’re exactly comparable. Most of the time — there were exceptions, but most of the time I got somewhere around six or seven hours of sleep. And you didn’t have to pack and unpack or go to a new city each time. Once you got there, your hotel room was kind of your apartment for a month. So it wasn’t as grueling in that respect as it might have seemed.
So you’ve had some time to think about this, and you’ve talked about the Tom Brokaw phase of your career. So can you give us some examples, some idea of the kinds of things you’d like to do?
BOB COSTAS: Well, within NBC I can give you specific examples. I’ve already done a number of things through the years that would fall into that category. For example, when Muhammad Ali died last summer, I was on virtually every NBC broadcast — The Today Show, Nightly News, it happened on a weekend, I was on Meet the Press — talking about Muhammad Ali. I did an essay about his life and career that ran between periods of a Stanley Cup Finals game.
If something like that occurs — even this week I was on Nightly where they did a piece assessing Tom Brady’s place in history. And somewhere along the line, some athlete of consequence will end his or her career and an appreciation or an assessment will be called for or some remarkable event will occur and there will be a controversy of some kind, and I’ll be called upon.
Even within NBC Sports, if something out of the ordinary occurs, something that kind of jumps off the page, then I won’t be taking anyone’s place, but I could be added to the coverage of that event if I have something worthwhile to contribute. So it’s kind of on a case-by-case basis.
Mike, was this in the game plan when you signed on with NBC?
MIKE TIRICO: Not this specifically. The Olympics were, and you saw that right away because within a month of starting at NBC I was there in Rio, so that was certainly part of the equation there. But I had no idea, one, if Bob was going to continue for another five or ten years, and he certainly can, not just in ability, but also physically. The question from before, Bob can still run the marathon with the best of them.
But I had no idea if I would be any good at this, or, more importantly, if the people making this decision who would be next would think I was good enough to do the job. So it was not written in. It was not there. It’s just the role in the Olympics that we had discussed, which was really a huge part of leaving ESPN and coming to NBC. The fact that it’s worked out this way this fast is an absolute bonus for me.
To follow up, was it in the game plan, anything about Sunday Night Football in the game plan?
MIKE TIRICO: Nope, I’m here working football. Still be doing what I did last year with the guys, and that will all play out coming up. But, no, I invested — I said this before and I’ll say it again, I hate to be telling the truth here, but I’ll keep repeating it: I came here because there were so many different things to be a part of. And that’s football and being at a network that has the best football schedule and is part of the Super Bowl rotation, which is something that I couldn’t say during my time at ESPN, no matter how much I loved the Monday Night Football experience. The Olympics was something I’d never covered. Getting back in the golf space was very important to me. That’s where I got my network career as a play-by-play announcer or lead announcer started, and that was completely gone except for hosting the Masters at ESPN.
So the opportunity to do all of those things together were the reason that I decided to make the move. It wasn’t for one specific thing or a specific assignment. I trust the people who make these decisions too. The leadership here is phenomenal. They made me feel as though I could be a part of the future of NBC Sports in a variety of different roles, and this happens to be one of them. But was it specific for either one? No.
Bob, it seems there’s been a long line of broadcasters, 60s, 70s, 80s, stepping back or retiring in the last couple months. Is it just a coincidence?
BOB COSTAS: In my case it’s just a coincidence, because the circumstances are entirely different. Vin Scully, whose greatness cannot be overstated, just turned 89. Dick Enberg, one of the greatest all-around play-by-play men in television history, is in his 80s as well. Brent Musburger is 77, I think, and the great Verne Lundquist is past 80. So those are different circumstances.
I just decided that a transition, not a retirement, a transition, was in order for me. And I feel like I’ve got a whole lot of years left in broadcasting, and I want to use them as wisely as I can to do some of the things that I feel most connected to. And the Olympics, certainly, would be very high on that list as I look back over my career.
But as I’ve said earlier, I’ve done a dozen of them, and that seems like a good, round number. It’s always better when they leave the decision to you. A, it’s better to leave before they start to drop hints, like do you think it might be a good idea or are you getting tired yet or can we help you up the steps or do you need another cup of Ovaltine, sir? I didn’t want it to get to that point. So this was entirely on my terms, and I like it that way.
I was listening or I was watching the event before, and, Bob, you talked about, again, you’ll miss your colleagues, being up and kind of representing the world of NBC with the different games. Could you speak at all to any specific events during your Olympic career that may have touched you the most? And similarly, if I could ask Mike, Mike, I know you’re supposed to be versatile and all the children are the same when it comes to Olympic sports, but are there any particular sports that really catch your fancy?
BOB COSTAS: You know, I always give the same answer when I’m forced to pick only one in the Olympics, and that’s Muhammad Ali lighting the torch in ’96 in Atlanta. It was such a well-kept secret that maybe 10 or 12 people in the whole world knew it was going to happen. They rehearsed it one time at 3 a.m. Dick Ebersol, who had the original idea of having Muhammad be the guy would, not tell me or Dick Enberg who it was going to be. He said, You will recognize him or her. But I want your reaction to be as spontaneous as everyone else in the stadium.
And the way they staged it, he literally stepped out of the shadows and into the spotlight. It was such an arresting moment. I’ve said this before, you hear a lot of sounds in the arena, but you seldom ever hear an audible gasp. And there was a gasp before it kind of set in. And then it turned into thunderous applause and cheering.
And it wasn’t just excitement. It wasn’t just admiration. It was all those things plus respect and I think an understanding that he represented so much — athletic excellence, grace. Whether everyone always agreed with him at every stage along the way, you had to respect the integrity. He walked the walk. He put millions of dollars and the prime years of his career on the line for his beliefs. And people had to respect that.
And they were also moved by how poignant it was that the man who once was the most beautiful and nimble of athletes on the entire planet and the most entertainingly loquacious of athletes had now been reduced to a man trembling as he held the torch and a man essentially unable to speak, even by that point, and yet he was willing to present himself to the world that way. And somehow even in that new state he was a dynamic and charismatic figure and a profound figure. So if I have to pick one, that’s my one.
Mike, can you talk about your favorite Olympic sports?
MIKE TIRICO: I’ll keep it to Winter since that’s the next one up. Of course there is the attention and magnetic quality of the figure skating. I think to see that lonely figure on that white sheet of ice and you know the pressure that person feels that you have to be perfect, that all of your years of the training, the early hours, they all have to come together at that moment or else you will, in your mind, feel like you didn’t leave your best at the biggest moment, that really gets to me.
As a kid, the Franz Klammer run still sticks in my mind. I can hear Frank Gifford and Bob Beattie calling that, even today – so the downhill skiing.
Then the ski jump is always just spectacular, because you watch people, and when you watch them flying through the air, you just — you have your breath taken away.
So that’s just a few off the top of my head that I’m looking forward to watching and experiencing and taking everyone from the prime time host role, from venue to venue, as those events are contested, and everyone enjoy them at home. We get to sit back and enjoy them as well.
I would say the one thing anecdotally that I’ll add from my Rio experience was how much I enjoyed seeing Olympic events in person. Obviously the job, depending on the timing, where the Olympics are, it makes it easier or harder to do. But it is so much fun after you spend your whole life watching it on TV to sit there and see those moments happen. I’m still a sports fan at heart. I still love buying a ticket, parking, going to a game, getting a beer and watching, and to be able to do some of that at the Olympic games as well was part of my Rio experience, and hopefully part of my future Olympic experiences as well.
Mike, you mentioned in the press conference that you had sat next to Jim McKay on the plane coming back from the British Open, and he talked a little about the Olympics, maybe even going back to Munich. What do you remember what he told you about the Olympics and something you’ll remember?
MIKE TIRICO: It’s hard to remember all the details. It was 17 or 18 years ago that this happened. But I remember the opportunity we did speak about other British Opens and the Wide World era in a day and age when not just television but travel was a lot more challenging. It wasn’t necessarily easy to go around the world and beam sporting events. And the times they had to go to London and beam things back to New York, or even set up stuff in New York because that’s as far back as they could get the videotape and report from there. So some of that.
But certainly the Olympic experience, to talk about how he experienced the growth of the Olympic games. And I do remember one specific thing because it was my memory as a viewer. I remember Jim coming on the air in Lake Placid, and their set for the 1980 Winter Olympics was almost like The Today Show. It was a street-side set. You could see the fans outside, and you could certainly see there was a party going on behind Jim.
If you remember the famous game against Soviets on Friday, that was a tape-delayed broadcast. At that time it was a bit easier to hide from the results. There was not Twitter in 1980.
So I remember asking Jim about that and trying to convey the excitement that people at home had of watching this game and all of its implications, sport and otherwise, while knowing the result and his ability to do that. He gave some detail about knowing the result yet trying to play it straight and to share the joy that he was sure was going on behind him with everyone after the game ended.
So those were a few of the experiences of that. I really had no idea at that point that I would ever get to year five of hosting golf, let alone be in a position to replace Bob on this role for the Olympic Games. So how lucky I was to have that opportunity to work with him on the air, to spend some time with him and to have the other face on the Mount Rushmore of Olympic television hosts in Bob Costas truly be a friend and a resource for me as I embark on this next great opportunity for me.
In the sports television industry, the Olympics are kind of the event, World Cup, Super Bowl, being the other, that kind of serve as a milestone in terms of production, technological advancements. Olympics are TV events that move the industry forward. From your perspective, as someone who has been a part of NBC’s television product for so long, what are some of the biggest innovations or advancements that you have seen that you feel have the greatest impact on how the games are produced and ultimately watched by viewers in the U.S. and around the world?
BOB COSTAS: Well, I remember the first time, and it might have been at the Olympics in 1996, Andy Rosenberg was the director of our Track & Field coverage. And we had a camera, and I forget exactly what our technical term for it was, but it could follow the runners along the track. It was called rail cam. And it could follow the runners along the track and give you that perspective. Then we were able to put, eventually, cameras under the water at swimming events and all manner of angles.
What used to be off limits, I remember at the World Series in 1986 and in ’88, I was in the corner of the Red Sox dugout in 1986 in the top of the 10th when they took the lead on the Mets before everything fell apart. And technically I was not allowed to be there, let alone talk to anybody. I was technically not allowed to be there, and it was only because the players knew me and they kind of said it was okay.
And in 1988 when Kirk Gibson came off the bench to hit the home run, technically I wasn’t supposed to be there, but I kind of snuck in the tunnel, and that was when I was able to let the truck know that Gibson had gotten into uniform and was hitting baseballs off the tee.
Now not only are you allowed to be there, they want you to be there. They interview managers between innings. They mic players in all sports during the course of the game. So this idea of being closer to the action, this idea of something closer to total access is really the biggest change, I think.