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NBC Saying Goodbye to Two of Its Best, Al Michaels and Michele Tafoya

Tafoya will be missed because she’s pretty much perfected the craft. She makes it look easy. Her skill comes from a lot of hard work.

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The old saying in sports and I guess life in general is, “Go big or go home.” NBC is taking that message to heart in quite a large way. The network that is currently airing some 2,800 hours of Olympics coverage from Beijing over its on-air and streaming platforms, will also be airing the Super Bowl this Sunday in Los Angeles. The folks at NBC are certainly hoping they haven’t bitten off more than they can chew in this case.

There are multiple storylines for the game broadcast, and I’m not talking about stories generated about the Los Angeles Rams or Cincinnati Bengals. NBC is saying goodbye to one important on-air talent and may be saying the same to a major part of its coverage of the NFL over the last decade-plus. There is a lot to digest here, so let’s start with the actual task of doing justice to both the Super Bowl and the Olympics simultaneously.

NBC is no stranger to either big event. The network has broadcast the Winter Olympics for years and has been the home for 19 previous Super Bowl telecasts. But this time around, the rarity of televising both huge events will prove to be a challenge, but one that NBC is looking forward to.

Fred Gaudelli is the executive producer of NBC’s Sunday Night Football and will be the game producer for Super Bowl LVI. This is the seventh Super Bowl for Gaudelli in this role. While the Olympics telecasts focus on not just the action, but the stories surrounding Team USA and others, the Super Bowl telecast will focus on Southern California.

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“We had this idea to do an open that kind of merged Hollywood and the Super Bowl, and we were able to get Halle Berry to be the host of this open, and it’s a lot of movie clips of famous football movies. It’s obviously some Super Bowl clips and some really great cameos by Hollywood actors and Super Bowl luminaries,” Gaudelli said in a video conference.

“SoFi is a magnificent architectural structure and we show that off. If you want to say L.A. proper, I believe the last Super Bowl in L.A. proper would have been Miami and Washington when Miami completed the perfect season back in 1973.”

Gaudelli added that there will be a Los Angeles flavor in the look of the graphics and it will be “sprinkled in throughout the broadcast of the game.” The network will unveil new graphics and a new scorebug for the telecast.

There will be one face/voice tying both the Olympic coverage and Super Bowl coverage together for NBC: Mike Tirico. He is serving as the host for both the Winter Olympics and Super Bowl telecasts. Tirico will leave China and then return to Los Angeles for Super Bowl programming.

THE FINAL HURRAH?

Super Bowl LVI could be the last time on NBC for two of the network’s sports stars. One is leaving for sure. It has been announced that Michele Tafoya leave as sideline reporter after Sunday’s game. The other is Al Michaels, who is in the final year of his contract.

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Zade Rosenthal

Michaels has been the voice of the NFL on NBC since the network got back into the football business in 2006. The 77-year-old hasn’t stated his future plans publicly, but said it was exciting to be a “free agent” for one of the few times in his career.

“I don’t know what I’ll be doing, but I do know I will have the opportunity to continue and I want to,” Michaels said earlier this week in an interview with The Associated Press. “The time is coming now after the Super Bowl where I will think about a lot of things. I’ve got a couple of people very close to me who I trust their judgment, insight, and what they’ll say in terms of what is next.”

This is Michaels’ fifth Super Bowl for NBC and his 11th overall, tying him with Pat Summerall for the most ever by a lead announcer.

“Pretty much before the season began, I knew that I wanted to just enjoy this year because it was the end of this particular deal,” Michaels said to the AP’s Joe Reedy. “I knew if I got distracted by other things, it would take away from just enjoying the people I work with and just having a hell of a time. And I’ve been able to do that.”

Both Super Bowl teams, the Rams and Bengals, tie into the life and career of Michaels. He rose to prominence in Cincinnati in 1971 when he was the Reds announcer for three seasons. On the other hand, Michaels lives within 10 miles of the Super Bowl location in Los Angeles. Thankfully, this will not be the last time we see Michaels on a football broadcast. He’s one of the best ever in the business and I’m glad to know we’ll see him somewhere next season.

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The same may not be said for Tafoya. Her fifth Super Bowl assignment may be the last one for the veteran sideline reporter. In early January, the network announced she was leaving. The Super Bowl game will be her 327th NFL game.

“Some may consider me crazy to walk away from one of the more coveted roles in sports television, and I do not doubt that I will miss many aspects of the job,” Tafoya said in NBC’s press release.

“But for some time, I have been considering other areas I would like to explore both personally and professionally. I couldn’t ignore that little voice anymore after what we have all endured over the last few years. There’s no better way to walk away from covering the NFL than with one more Super Bowl!”

Tafoya’s media career began in 1993, and she started her current role with NBC Sports and Sunday Night Football in 2011. Tafoya has evolved into one of the top, if not the top, sideline reporter in the NFL. For those that may think the role of reporter isn’t an important one to a broadcast, well, you should probably think again. The stories told through her lens are powerful and meaningful to the broadcast.

If you don’t believe me, take the words of Michaels, who’s worked with Tafoya on ABC and NBC, with the NFL and the NBA. When he found out Tafoya was retiring, he described her in this way.

“Michele Tafoya is the perfect broadcast partner. I’ve worked with Michele on close to 350 telecasts and she always hits it out of the park. Her preparation is unmatched and her ability to convey what she’s addressing in the moment is flawless. And she does it in the snow or rain or heat or any element you can think of,” Michaels said to Bleacher Report.

“What she does on the air speaks for itself but what she does behind the scenes in fleshing out stories through the years has been invaluable to me and to John Madden, Cris Collinsworth, Doc Rivers, Hubie Brown, and every production unit she’s been a part of. And on top of all this is who she is—brilliant, funny, compassionate, understanding and a mom who just happens to have raised, along with husband Mark, two beautiful children. Working with Michele has been pure joy.”

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Michaels hit on the key to Tafoya’s success over the years. Preparation. Putting in the work, well before the game she’ll be reporting on. The best of the best truly are ready to perform by the time the lights go on. Storylines before a game are critical and not just the obvious low-hanging fruit. Whichever team she is covering, you can be sure that her reports will be well-researched and presented in an upbeat and professional manner.

The importance of her position can’t be understated either. The viewer relies on the on-air reporter to provided updated information as the game goes forward. We want to know what the mood is on the sideline. What did the coach think of the first half and what does he plan to change or continue in the second half? What is the injury update on my favorite player? We lean on our sideline reporters for all of that information.

I preach that to my students at the Illinois Media School when they perform sideline reporting at basketball games. Be ready to go right when you get to the arena. In other words, come with a plan and be ready to execute it. Don’t give me stats, don’t give me information that will intrude on what the broadcasters in the booth are going to give the audience. Be a complimentary piece. Notice things, pay attention, and be ready at all times.

Tafoya will be missed because she’s pretty much perfected the craft. She makes it look easy. I know that it’s not, because I’ve tried my hand at it a few times. Her skill comes from a lot of hard work. Earning trust and forming relationships is paramount in her pursuit of information. The well-respected journalist isn’t afraid of the tough questions, but athletes know they’re going to get a fair shake with her.

Much respect to Tafoya and the NBC broadcast crew. Have a great show!

DID YOU KNOW?

For the first time, the NFL did not move the big game to avoid conflicting with the Olympics.
NBC actually swapped seasons with CBS so that it could air the two major sporting events together. CBS was originally scheduled to air the Super Bowl in 2022, but changed to 2021 instead. That allowed CBS to coordinate ad deals with its NCAA Basketball Tournament coverage, which the network only holds rights to in odd-numbered years, thanks to the deal with Turner Sports.

Normally Super Bowl broadcast rights rotate among NFL rights holders CBS, NBC and Fox in a set order, which was upset due to the CBS-NBC swap. As part of a new broadcast agreement, ABC will also gain a Super Bowl in 2026 for the first time since the 2005 season.

BSM Writers

The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.

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This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.

Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.

This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.

The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.

Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.

NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.

Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.

Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.

Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.

A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.

It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay. 

MLB Network is another option

If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.

Quick bites

  • One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
  • CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
  • The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
  • ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.

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The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.

First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.

Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.

Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.

It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do. 

Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.

Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?

I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?

That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.

After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else. 

There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.

Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.

Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.

Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.

I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not

Demetri Ravanos

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On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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