Mark Lazarus, Fred Gaudelli, Drew Esocoff, Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth and Michele Tafoya
Tuesday, January 30, 2018
MODERATOR: Thank you. Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to today’s call.
We’re joined today by Mark Lazarus, the chairman of NBC broadcasting and sports, Executive Producer Fred Gaudelli, Director Drew Esocoff, and our on-air team of Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, and Michele Tafoya.
With that, I’ll turn it over to Mark Lazarus.
MARK LAZARUS: Good morning, everyone. I’m excited to be here with what I think is the finest group in sports television production. They put on the biggest games in the best possible way. This is the 19th Super Bowl that NBC Sports has done over time, and it’s the fourth in what I’ll call the modern era, since the beginning of Sunday Night Football. It’s always exciting to be at the center of the media universe and the pop culture universe with what’s annually the biggest event on television.
Our plan is always to provide the best coverage, take account of what goes on on the field, and to be entertaining for our audience, and you’ll hear from our team in a minute.
What’s very unique and exciting for us this year is that the Super Bowl, while always an important promotional platform, will serve this year as a launching pad into the Winter Olympic Games from PyeongChang, South Korea, which begins just four days later.
So for NBC Sports, for NBCUniversal, for Comcast, a company that works very hard to put big events together, to work together, this is a very unique and important time, and no better team to lead it out than the one that I’m here with today, led by producer Fred Gaudelli.
FRED GAUDELLI: Thanks, Mark. As Mark just said, it’s the fourth Super Bowl for NBC in this new modern era. I think I speak for everybody on the team, we can only hope this game is as good as the previous three we’ve done – all last second thrillers with memorable plays and memorable performances by the players in those games.
I think we’re really excited about this one. We have the two No. 1 seeds, the two teams that were clearly the best this year in their respective conferences, and looking forward to a great game on Sunday.
Here’s our director, Drew Esocoff.
DREW ESOCOFF: Thanks. Really excited about the game as well. Great matchup, two rabid fan bases. We have some great technology that we hope to present. We have two SkyCams for the first time, I believe, in Super Bowl history. We started using high SkyCam a little bit during the season. We got to it three or four times in three or four games, and it really provides a great view of football action without being a gimmicky view. We have a good plan. The basic blueprint is our Sunday Night Football plan with expanded facilities. We think we have a plan to cover any defining play that needs to be covered, and we are looking forward to it.
It should be a great matchup, and it all starts in our announce booth with the experience of Mr. Al Michaels. Al?
AL MICHAELS: Thank you, Drew.
Freddy mentioned that the three games we have done on NBC have all gone down to the end. So we’ve been very fortunate in that we had Arizona-Pittsburgh, which featured two of the most iconic plays in the history of the Super Bowl. James Harrison’s 100-yard interception return – and ironically, he will be in the game on Sunday – and Santonio Holmes’ catch in the end zone to win it.
And then we did the Giants against the Patriots three years later, and that game ended with Brady launching one to the end zone for Gronkowski that fell incomplete as the Giants beat them for the second time in four years.
And then the last time out, we had the Seattle-New England game three years ago, and that featured the Malcolm Butler interception at the end of that game to seal it, and he is in the game. So we have Harrison and Butler, probably two of the most iconic defensive plays in the history of the Super Bowl.
It doesn’t get any more exciting, if you’re in this business, than to do this. We would like to think, when we do Sunday Night Football, that every Sunday night game, we treat it as a mini Super Bowl. Now we get the big one, and we can’t wait to get going with this one.
We always had hoped to do the first overtime Super Bowl, but the Patriots took care of that last year. So the only thing I’m rooting for this year is triple overtime and the longest game in the history of football.
With that, I’ll turn it over to my partner. It’s the third time we’ll call the game and the fourth time he has called the Super Bowl. All of them featured New England. Here is Double C, Cris Collinsworth.
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: We just finished the social media moment, where we were supposed to find out just how much we knew about each other, and we failed miserably. We’re looking forward to the next ten years and maybe another attempt at getting that part of it right.
But I think for us, it’s a great matchup, the two best teams. Tom Brady obviously gives you the marquee player in the league, but he’s also going to face a defense that is sort of perfectly suited. This is a team that is built around their pass rush. They’re a team that is going to challenge them. The New York Giants in the past in Super Bowls have given him problem with some of those NASCAR packages and the extra defensive linemen and the speed rushers. So it will be a great challenge for Tom Brady in this game.
And then on the other side, it’s one of the more compelling stories I can remember in the Super Bowl. Nick Foles was a guy that came back to Philadelphia, where he had tremendous success and, of course, had to fill in unexpectedly for Carson Wentz, who might have been the MVP of the league had he stayed healthy throughout the course of it. But to watch Nick Foles, a little bit up and down during the end of the season here, but to flash the way that he’s flashed, you just don’t know what you’re going to get.
He was tremendous against the Giants. He was great in that Championship Game last week. The RPO seems to have fit him right between the eyes here and something that he feels really good about it. Then you flip it over. Can the Patriots, when you have two weeks to prepare, take whatever you do best and take that away?
So there are just so many great conversational points about this game, that I think we’re all just very anxious to get it started.
And I think our hometown girl, Michele Tafoya, will wrap all this up for us. Michele?
MICHELE TAFOYA: Yeah, you know, it’s neat having a Super Bowl in your hometown. Of course, I didn’t grow up here. I grew up in California, but I’ve been here since 1994, and so it is my now hometown, and I can tell you that the state and the cities have been preparing for it since they’ve known it was going to be here. With all kinds of Minnesota nice, they love the winter here in Minnesota, and they embrace everything about it, and so there’s a lot of fun going on around town.
Even though the Vikings came really close and it’s been a major disappointment, I think still the fans here are ready to embrace the game as it stands.
I was at opening night last night, and I was in a different area than – you know, there’s the fore where all the reporters were talking to players on the podium, but I was underneath where we had certain players come back for interviews or photographs or video vignettes, and I got to see a bunch of guys – Tom Brady, Nick Foles, Zach Ertz, James Harrison – come through and chatted with each of them for a little while. And it was really an interesting night seeing how the experienced veterans of the Patriots carried themselves one way, and the Eagles, who haven’t been there in a long time, carried themselves a slightly different way, and neither was good or bad, right or wrong, but it was an interesting contrast.
It’s going to be exciting to see how that plays out on the field.
MODERATOR: Great. Let’s take your questions.
This is for either Al or Cris or maybe both. I just wondered if you could talk a little bit about what you appreciate about having Michele on your team, maybe how you’ve seen her kind of grow into that role, which is a very difficult one for a lot of people to handle when you got players coming off the field and coaches and some of them don’t want to talk to you.
AL MICHAELS: There’s nobody better than Michele. I’ve had the chance to work not only football with her, but basketball as well, the NBA, about 14 years ago. You can always count on her, and sometimes she’s in a very difficult spot. I know that we were doing the game in Houston about four years ago, and Gary Kubiak was the coach. He suffered what appeared to be a heart attack and collapsed on the sideline. There was Michele right there. I mean, that’s as tough as it gets, to get the information, to be able to, in the craziness that went on around trying to get Gary back to the locker room, to be able to get that done.
I’ve also watched her in situations where a player’s brother had died earlier that day in a motorcycle accident and able to do it both journalistically and with a great deal of compassion. She – no matter what the situation is, she is up to it. She has never missed a beat.
One of the great things about — I think that job, because I think a lot of people don’t understand, what do you need sideline reporters for? She can get information to us, to Freddy in the truck and to Drew and Cris and me, things we can’t get. She understands the game as well as anybody, and for my money, she’s as good as any reporter in the country, print or electronic.
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: For me, the thing is she has immediate respect. That’s a tough spot to go down there because one of those coaches is losing walking off at halftime, and you’ve got to ask him some hard questions. And because Michele is always in our meetings, she knows exactly what’s going on. She usually knows more what’s going on, more than we do, because she talks to so many different players during the course of it, that you can tell the respect level that the coaches have and the players have for her. It’s a difficult job on a personal level.
It’s like having – it’s like having your little sister riding around with you sometimes. It’s good in a bit of a men’s club to have somebody with a wicked sense of humor that Michele has to keep us all straight, keep us all entertained.
Half the time, she’s doing that, and half the time she’s on the phone back home with her kids trying to play mom, and trying to do the whole package of things that are expected out of so many working women in this day and age. But we’re all very lucky and very blessed to have her.
MICHELE TAFOYA: I’m blushing.
I’m guessing you guys might have discussed this question over dinner or a beer sometimes, but can you imagine a time where the Super Bowl goes away from what we call this over the air channel rotation and finds a platform that we don’t even know about yet? Kind of the context is the TV ratings seem to be always so weirdly inaccurate measuring the success of a sporting event.
MARK LAZARUS: This is Mark. I don’t see that. What I see and what is happening is the NFL continues to be a broadcast centric league, and I think that has helped them maintain and grow as the largest media property in the world. But what’s been added along the way are other platforms. So the games are now streamed as well as being on linear television, and I think the goal there is to make this game, in particular, accessible to everybody in the United States as it relates to our world and the league. Works internationally as well.
But I think what you see as linear will always be the base, will always be the biggest. It will maintain its dominance, but you’ll see platforms added along the way in conjunction with the media partners such as ourselves.
Any thoughts, Al?
AL MICHAELS: No, I think Mark is far better positioned to discuss this since he’s involved in those negotiations. I just don’t see the day when it’s – I mean, not in my lifetime anyway. Maybe in yours, Tom. That it comes off of broadcast television.
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: And in many ways this is a national celebration. It’s one of the things we all have in common. When a third of the country basically does the same thing at the same time on the same day, that’s a special day. I hope they always make it as easy for everyone as possible to participate in that national celebration.
Hey, guys, thanks for doing the call. Just a quick question for Fred and Drew. Obviously, the double SkyCam has really changed how you guys have covered the game over the last couple of months. You know, how has it evolved the way that you guys look at it in the truck, the way that you use it, and anything else from a production element or technology aspect that you guys are excited for the big game this year?
FRED GAUDELLI: I’ll handle the SkyCam question, and Drew will come in for the technology. It’s just been a nice complement to what we already have. We try to use it strategically based on the schemes the two teams run, obviously, the game situation, down and distance. It’s a great look at offensive line plays, especially offensive lines that run that wide zone scheme, things of that nature. We’ve experimented with receivers and routes and seeing all those things develop.
So, it’s a really nice complement. I don’t think it supersedes the other SkyCam, but it’s been a great complement to our coverage.
DREW ESOCOFF: What I think it does, I think it gives a football coach’s perspective from a little bit more of a dynamic view than your All-22 50 yard line camera or your high end zone camera. It has more movement to it. It has some dynamic traction to it, and I just think, especially on a show like the Super Bowl, which is a game that a lot of people are probably watching their first game of the year, I think it gives the football purist what they want to see and the casual fan a shot that’s, quote, unquote, not boring, like a coach’s film session would be.
And any other toys you guys have at your disposal this year that are new, or anything else you’re excited about?
FRED GAUDELLI: Yeah, we’re going to be debuting a virtual 3D system. We did body scans of six players last night. And during the game, when we do graphics on the players – not all the time, but a few special ones – you’ll see them in full – the players themselves in full three dimensions with their information, obviously, designed into the shot. So we’re really excited to take a look at that.
The ultra-slow motion, the cameras that are running at 600, 800 frames, we’ll have more of those for these games. They always seem to be the cameras that really provide that definitive view on the big plays of the game.
Cris, I had a question for you. When I asked readers what they wanted to talk about, overwhelmingly, they wanted me to ask you why you hate the Eagles so much. I’m sure it’s something you hear in every city. So I was just kind of curious where Eagles fans rate in terms of calling you out or criticizing you, compared to other cities.
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: It’s probably the most asked question I get in every city. I know the Eagles fans think they’re unique, which is kind of fun. I think the Patriots fans think they’re unique. The Cowboys fans think they’re unique. Even the Bengals fans think they’re unique by asking me that question. But I have probably heard that question, I’m going to guess in my lifetime, about 1,500 times.
Usually, I just give a traditional answer of it’s my job to critique the players. I really don’t hate these guys. I really – you know, blah, blah, blah, just go down the list. And then sometimes if a guy’s particularly obnoxious, I’ll just turn to him and go, I don’t know. I just hate them. It’s a bizarre world, and it’s something for me – I think that I spend 98 percent of my time saying glowing, nice things about people on the broadcast, and yet I know that the other 2 percent, they sting.
I’ve had my son play college football. I’ve heard him be critiqued on the air, and it’s no fun. Obviously, with these two teams, they’re so good, and they’ve come so far, that they become a bit of the family for the neighborhood, or for the local teams.
But I really, honestly, expect my next question to be why do I hate the Patriots so much? So I’m just going to hang on and go along for the ride.
AL MICHAELS: I’ll just tell you that traveling around with Cris, I can describe it in two words – universal animus. Simple as that. No matter where we go.
What is the plan if some of the players decide to protest on the field or during the National Anthem? How do you expect to cover it?
FRED GAUDELLI: When you’re doing a live event, you just cover what’s happening. I don’t anticipate that occurring. It hasn’t happened here in a while in the National Football League. We’re obviously here to cover a football game, not a politicized event. I mean, that’s how we would deal with it. If something happens, we look at it and decide whether or not we should put it on and just go from there really.
Any other thoughts, particularly from Al and Cris and how you would approach it?
AL MICHAELS: Report what we see. In a situation like that, people are seeing it. We can report it. But what people don’t want you to do at that point is editorialize. And we don’t plan to do that. We cover it, and we report it, and it’s as simple as that. People don’t want to be lectured to, and they don’t want to have an editorial comment thrown in right there. So it’s as simple as that. It’s what we’ve done this season, particularly early on. We haven’t seen much of it lately. Frankly, I’m not anticipating it on Sunday.
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: And the NFL has made some progress on this front as well. There’s been a bit of a partnership formed, and they’re going to try and get money to some of these community causes. So my hope is that it ends up being a better situation for, not just the players and owners and whatever in the National Football League, but for some very deserving communities, and I think to some extent that should be celebrated too.
This could be for Al and Cris and then maybe one of the executives. Cris did touch on it a little bit, that the Super Bowl is a national celebration that grows each year. But is it possible – I mean, just possible that there’s a Patriots backlash and some people will tune out?
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: I don’t think so. You know, even if you’re going to crown a new champion, I think you want to see the champion dethroned in some ways, you know. If you’re going to be considered the best, you want to beat the best. I think that’s what makes this so compelling. It would be very hard to argue, in this era of Kraft and Belichick and Brady, that this has not been the finest organization as far as the product they’ve delivered on the field during that time.
And if the Philadelphia Eagles and Nick Foles and Doug Pederson go in here and knock these guys off, it will be surprising for a good part of the country, but I think that sort of, that top rung of the ladder that they’ve lived on for so long, it’s even more amazing when you see somebody knock them off. And really the Super Bowls that the Patriots have played in – I forget what the number is, four or five of them, and the combined score, 19 points or something – this has been some really close games that they’ve been in in the Super Bowls.
AL MICHAELS: I look at it as the two franchises, in all the years that I’ve covered sports that engender the most emotion are the New York Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys. They captivate you. People either love them or they love to hate them, but they make you pay attention. And the Patriots have now, I think, gotten into that category too. A lot of people love them. A lot of people respect them. And a lot of people can’t stand them because, for whatever reason, they probably won too much in the minds of a lot of people. And a lot of things that have gone around that franchise for the past 17 years.
For what it’s worth, you can’t tune away. You really can’t. So I don’t think anybody wakes up on Super Bowl morning and says, it’s the Patriots again. I’m going to go to the movies. I don’t see that happening.
FRED GAUDELLI: Since we’ve had Sunday Night Football on NBC, the Patriots are always among the top performing teams in a very small group of top performing teams in terms of the ratings. Remember what Al said, when you’re that good for that long, obviously, the fan base wants to see it going and keep it going, but the rest of the country wants to see somebody knock you off. So I agree with that. I don’t see anybody waking up Sunday morning and saying, let’s head to the movies.
Doubling back on the protest question, I’m not concerned so much about the players’ protest because neither of these teams have been protesting much since about week 10 or so, but I was curious if the NFL has any say over the musical acts. The Grammys were extremely political last weekend, and I wasn’t sure if there were any sort of stipulations or requirements for, say, Timberlake, who came out with a very anti-Trump song just a few weeks ago. I was wondering about that.
MARK LAZARUS: That’s a question for the NFL. We work closely with them. We are aware of Justin Timberlake’s set list, as we have to be for rehearsals to know what we need to do, but I would not anticipate anything in that area. This is a musical performance, not an awards show.
This question is for Al Michaels. Al, throughout your career, you experienced many dynasties, dating back to the Big Red Machine with Cincinnati in the ’70s, the 49ers in the ’80s, the Cowboys in the ’90s, and even the L.A. Lakers led by Shaq and Kobe in the turn of the millennium. I just wanted to ask, the New England Patriots, where does that dynasty rank in terms of all the dynasties that you witnessed throughout your career? And just how unprecedented is this run that we may never see the likes of this ever again?
AL MICHAELS: Well, it’s unbelievably impressive to me for a number of reasons. Number one, some of those earlier dynasties took place when the National Football League had fewer teams. Certainly, with the Yankees in baseball in the ’40s and ’50s, when they won all of those World Championships, you only had 16 teams in Major League Baseball. Now you’ve got 32. Now you’ve got a system that’s set up to mitigate against this type of thing happening because of the draft and where you get the draft. The more success you have, the lower you go. The salary cap.
So everything is designed to create – I don’t want to say parity, but the league would prefer different teams winning every year, if that was the case. So for the Patriots to do this over a decade and a half is astonishing. Granted, you’ve got maybe the best coach of all time, maybe the best quarterback of all time, just a solid franchise.
You look at these guys, I mean, the one time they didn’t make the playoffs in recent years was when Brady got hurt on opening day and Matt Cassel came in, and they still won 11 games and didn’t make the playoffs. They’re always in it. They always seem to be hosting a championship game. They won the division, what, now nine consecutive times, looking for a sixth Super Bowl. To me, it’s as impressive as anything I’ve seen in my lifetime.
Michele, the interesting thing about having a Super Bowl in your hometown is you still have to walk the dog, you still have to take out the garbage, you still have to take your kids to school, I presume, while you’re working the Super Bowl. Do you have assistance doing all that this year, or are you really doing double duty having a home Super Bowl?
MICHELE TAFOYA: I am absolutely doing double duty until Thursday, and then I’m going to treat it like every game weekend when I show up in a town. I was just thinking, before you asked that question, OK, what time do I have to be in the carpool lane today? Because I have to pick up my kids from school.
It kind of cuts both ways. It’s a luxury in that I get to spend extra time at home, and that is a premium to all of us who are on the road all season long. We miss a lot of stuff. And my kids are still young, and Freddy’s daughter is young, and we miss a lot of things. So I’m trying to take advantage of the fact that it’s home, and I am doing a lot.
Yes, I have a hired assistant. His name is Mark Vandersall. I married him about 17 years ago, and he has always held down the fort when I have to go to work. This week is no different in that regard, but we’re going to try to enjoy it too.
It’s neat to see my kids go downtown and enjoy the NFL Experience and do all of those things in their hometown, and they’ll remember it as something they experienced because it’s their hometown, not because mom had anything to do with it. So it’s neat in that regard too. But definitely, double duty is on.
I think this question may be more for Fred and Mark. Can you talk about the cameras and more the technical aspect of putting this on together. I know you talked about streaming earlier. I was wondering if you could expand on that a little bit more, the importance of it.
DREW ESOCOFF: We’ve added some high speed cameras. A lot of the stuff we have is to add what we consider a defining view of a critical play. It’s 4K cameras, high speed cameras. We’ve added pylon cams for the Super Bowl, which we don’t use for the Sunday Night Football season.
So a lot of these things I describe as add-ons that get, at least from the director’s point of view, get added to the outskirts of my monitor wall. In other words, I try to keep the monitor wall the same as it would be for the Sunday night game, and I’ll look to those specialty cameras in game-specific instances.
But we – you know, it’s the biggest sporting event in the world, and our goal is to have the best look of any scoring play, any penalty that comes into question, so on and so forth
Care to talk about the streaming aspect of the game to reach a wider audience?
MARK LAZARUS: We’ve been streaming games for many years. It’s a complement to our TV coverage. It’s the same coverage, and just making it available to those who are maybe place shifted and not in front of a television set. What we’ve seen over the years, it makes up somewhere between 1 percent and 4 percent of the total audience, so it’s relatively small. But in the case of a Super Bowl, that can mean well over 1 million, maybe headed towards 2 million concurrent users. So it’s a significant amount of people. On a percentage basis, it’s not the largest number.
But we think it’s important to make the game available, as we do with every broadcast we do for sports at NBC. Everything is simultaneously on linear and streamed for our fans.
This question is for Mark Lazarus and would be interested in Al Michaels too, if he wants to weigh in. Mark, do you envision the day when we will see a point spread in a national football game airing on the graphics of a game broadcast?
MARK LAZARUS: I think we first have to see a day where sports gambling is legalized. That is not the case today, though there are some pending rulings taking place. I don’t see that in the short term. Today it’s not relevant legally to our viewers, so we would not put that in place. Over time, if the laws change and the league allows for that and it is relevant to viewers, we would obviously embrace that if it could mean further engagement for fans.
AL MICHAELS: Richard, my feelings are exactly as put forth by Mark at that point. Also, my feeling too, if you’re going to bet on the game, you know the point spread. Nobody is going to have to show you a graphic as to what the spread is. If you’re betting on the game, you already know.
Always good to bet on your boss.
AL MICHAELS: You know that, Richard. Of course.
MARK LAZARUS: First time for everything.
Yeah, I want to circle back to Bob Costas’ comment. I was wondering if any of you would share his ambivalence about broadcasting football given the concern over CTE and concussions. And, two, will the whole broadcast pregame, post-game miss a big name and a big personality like Bob?
MARK LAZARUS: This is Mark again. Bob’s been a part of our broadcast on many sports for a long time. We have the best team in the business, in my opinion, and obviously, I’m biased, and my competitors – our competitors would say the same. But Dan Patrick and Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison and Liam McHugh, and others who will participate in our pregame are the best at what they do. I don’t believe any of us – and everyone should speak for themselves – have any ambivalence towards airing the National Football League.
The game is an exciting, fast-paced, hard-hitting game. There clearly are some health concerns that the league and the players have been discussing and are addressing, but I think everyone who plays the game goes in eyes wide open, and our job there is to document it.
Bob was not part of our NFL coverage at all this year, save a quick interview at the – or a quick piece at our opening game. And for him to come into our biggest game of the year wouldn’t be right for him and would be unfair to those who have dedicated themselves to the season.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, everybody. We’ll have a transcript of this call available later this afternoon on NBCSportsGrouppressbox.com. And a reminder the pregame show call will be tomorrow at 2 p.m. ET.