Event Previews

Sunday Night Football: NBC Voices will be live; Al Michaels gets bye-weeks; Tafoya not allowed on field

This will be NBC’s 15th season televising Sunday Night Football. Unlike any other season, it’s fluid  No one can guarantee where it’s headed.

NBC sounds prepared and this is what you can expect watching at home:

Al Michaels

Al Michaels in a league by himself on NBC Sunday Night Football - Baltimore Sun

  • He’s  been NBC’s lead NFL voice since the SNF series began in 2006. This is his 35th season as the Voice of the NFL in primetime. He took over for Frank Gifford on ABC Monday Night Football in 1986 when it was still the NFL’s exclusive primetime gem. Back then, there was no other primetime series. A year later in 1987, ESPN got the rights to Sunday Night Football but the sports network had fewer bells an whistles, an inferior schedule and no flex games.
  • Michaels’ contract expires at the end of the 2021-22 season. His last game for NBC will be the Super Bowl in Los Angeles on February 6, 2022. At that point, Mike Tirico is slated to succeed Al. NBC’s final season of its NFL contract is 2022-23.
  • On the conference call with NBC this week, SNF Executive Producer Fred Gaudelli announced that Michaels will have a number of bye-weeks this season. His first miss will be Sunday night, September 27th, when Green Bay visits New Orleans. Tirico will sit in for Al.
  • The play-by-player is looking forward to an exciting start to the season. The first three games in the Sunday night series are Houston at Kansas City, Dallas at Los Angeles (Rams) and New England at Seattle.
  • On the issue of empty stadiums or sparse gatherings at games, Michaels acknowledged that announcers are fueled by the crowd. More so than ever, Al said that in this uncharted year, he’ll focus ‘straight ahead,’ on the game. He added that manufactured crowd noise will be streamed into his headset. In other words, the voices presiding over the broadcast will have the feel of a crowd in their ears.
  • Al’s concern: What he’ll likely miss most is the one-on-one, in-person interaction with players and coaches. Conferences will be done on a Zoom call. “Some of the best stories that we share on-air are what we get on the field, often the night of the game. We’ll miss it,” the veteran voice said.

Cris Collinsworth

NBC Planning to Cut Cris Collinsworth After Poor Preseason Performance | by SportsPickle | SportsPickle | Medium

  • Cris Collinsworth, back for a twelfth year with Michaels, talked about what a strange year it has been on and off the field; citing the virus and Tom Brady’s move to Tampa Bay. Because of it, he’s unsure of what to expect.
  • The former receiver works with PFF, a company with European roots. He was asked about gambling elements slowly and formally being introduced into sports. He said, “It’s been such a part of their (European) culture for so long that you could bet on anything, and when they see the gnashing of teeth and everything that we’re going through in this transition period, they just find it very, very entertaining.” 

Michele Tafoya

Michele Tafoya (@Michele_Tafoya) | Twitter

  • The sideline reporter will have to adapt to restrictions to comply with social distancing. She won’t be able to roam the field looking for storylines, something she has done all these years. Michele will instead have a seat in a front row at field level. This limitation might be lifted at some point during the season should governmental agencies ease distancing restrictions.
  • Tafoya said that for the first time in her sideline career, she’ll bring binoculars to the stadium.
  • Depending on conditions, Tafoya’s halftime interviews, be it a player or a coach, might be done on a phone connection from her position in the stands to the interviewee on the field.

Crowd noise

  • Leave it to the NFL and its network partners. NFL Films has recordings of ‘actual and natural’ sounds of all the league’s stadiums with the exception of the two new ones in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. The recordings are in soundtrack mode with authentic groans and cheers that decipher the nuances of crowd reactions from one stadium to the next. These accented inside-sounds will be part of the telecast. They’re all carted up and ready to go, be it a special touchdown or interception cheer in a particular venue. When the telecast is in Philadelphia, for instance, viewers will hear the special chant of E-A-G-L-E-S.

Animation, Cardboard cutouts and fan caricatures

  • Gaudelli was asked whether NBC will incorporate manufactured crowd inserts, a la Fox on baseball. To do so, he said, you’d need special instrumentation on each camera. “The technical power you would need to do that would increase the compound tenfold. It’s just not feasible financially or, I would probably say, technically at this point, to have every single camera configured so you can have it.” So no fake crowds!

Concerns

  • NBC had no practice game, so to speak, Fred said. The annual Hall of Fame match in Canton was cancelled so the network will be going cold into the season opener in Kansas City on Thursday.

Production/Fred Gaudelli, Executive Producer

Fred Gaudelli - Fred Gaudelli Photos - Disney ABC Television Group Archive - Zimbio

 

  • While the announcers will travel to the stadium, Gaudelli, the executive producer, said a plan is in place should it be risky to do so. In such a case, the game will be called remotely.
  • Gaudelli was asked whether NBC is concerned about a ratings decline given the fact that in this condensed sports year, the NFL will be up against the NBA playoffs in September and early October. While he said it could be a factor, Fred stressed that the NFL is the king of sports ratings. SNF has been the top watched network television series, sports or non-sports, for years.
  • The NFL will allow clubs, revenue-deprived as they are, to sell commercial signage down on the field, similar to what you might see on soccer telecasts. Gaudelli says that as he understands it, local commercial inventory will be in the end zone. General NFL messaging will be sideline-to-sideline.
  • As I understand it, the inventory is pricey. The league asked teams to require seven figure dollar packages from local advertisers if field signage is an included element. It might be a tough ask locally under today’s economic conditions. Remember that fascia signs in the upper reaches of stadiums are essentially worthless with no to few fans in-house. Teams are desperately trying to fill some of the terrible revenue void. TV friendly signs on the field are of great value and a first for the NFL. We’ll see if it sticks long term.
  • Gaudelli isn’t concerned about the signage clutter. He considers it wallpaper. It’s part and parcel of most sporting events, he says, albeit it’s not been part of the NFL until now.
  • While the announce crew will be on site, Gaudelli told members of the media that some of the technical crew who have traveled in the past have opted out for health fears. As such, he’ll have some on the job training to do in this unprecedented year with those who haven’t done SNF in the past.
  • Gaudelli said that the graphic and edit teams that have traveled in the past will not this season. They will instead function from the network’s nerve center in Stamford, Connecticut.
  • Still, NBC had to order an additional truck for each compound to comply with social distancing. The network can’t squeeze too many bodies into one truck. Everyone will be wearing masks, Fred underscored.

 

 

 

 

 

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David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History.

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