This past offseason, there were various changes pertaining to the 53-player rosters across the National Football League’s 32 teams – some moves that have altered the balance of power in both conferences and could lead to a new Super Bowl champion at season’s end. Similarly, both where and how football fans will consume games each week has also gone through a seismic shift, introducing all-digital counterparts to the traditional linear network packages. In total, the agreements run through the completion of the 2033 season, and are sure to alter the landscape of sports media.
Last year, the NFL and Amazon Prime Video finalized their 11-year agreement to broadcast all Thursday Night Football games on the streaming service, along with one preseason game. The media rights deal is the first of its kind, demonstrating the emphasis being placed on streaming technology and fan accessibility amid other changes in sports media. Amazon Prime Video had been simulcasting Thursday night games produced by Fox for the last few years, and was originally going to start producing broadcasts in 2023. The timeline moved up though, thanks in part to a reported eagerness to get started, and now the time has arrived for a new presentation of Thursday night matchups.
“What we learned mostly from our [simulcast] is the power of the NFL,” Amazon Vice President of Global Sports Video Marie Donoghue said. “That’s one of the reasons we ended up acquiring the exclusive rights. NFL fans are avid and rabid, and they expect quality. That’s what we’ll be doing here.”
A priority for Amazon Prime Video, aside from effectively promoting the broadcasts and continuing to build a working chemistry among its crew, will be to appeal to all types of viewers, whether or not they are football fans. It is one of many factors the team hopes will make its broadcast appointment viewing for those interested in live sports.
“We’re an innovation-first company [and] we approach our broadcasts that way,” Donoghue said. “….A lot of what we’re trying to do is program and cultivate a unique experience for fans…. Not everybody wants to watch the game in the same way. We’re not choosing one type of fan to serve; we’re serving all fans.”
With the primary focus on creating the most high-quality, robust broadcast possible from the onset, Amazon Prime Video has assembled a team with vast experience in sports media and one that looks to pioneer a new chapter in broadcasting. Al Michaels, a long-time play-by-play announcer who has been with NBC for the last 16 years calling Sunday Night Football with the late-John Madden and Cris Collinsworth, signed a contract to join Amazon Prime Video when his deal with NBC expired. He is excited for the opportunity to broadcast games on a new platform to a large audience of NFL fans, and to continue bringing his knowledge and expertise about the game on the gridiron to fans.
“It wasn’t that long ago when I didn’t know what streaming was,” Michaels said. “….I find it to be exciting in the sense that all of my friends and my kids and my grandkids think this is about the coolest thing in the world.”
Michaels will be joined by Fred Gaudelli, who will serve as executive producer for the broadcasts. Gaudelli previously worked with Michaels at NBC on Sunday Night Football broadcasts in the same role, and will remain with the network on its executive team and work as a contributor on their Sunday night broadcast’s editorial and production efforts. His move to Amazon Prime Video was catalyzed by the immense potential the broadcasts have to differentiate themselves through the functionality and modernization made possible by streaming technologies.
“NFL fans have a very definitive expectation when they turn on the television,” Gaudelli said. “The best people in sports television work on the NFL, and when it comes to prime-time, I think their expectations are even heightened. If you don’t come with a real, quality show, they’re probably not going to come back.”
Amazon Prime Video seems to be equipped with the necessary tools on that end, as it plans to utilize various skycams, super slo-mo cameras and other camera angles to better present the game. Additionally, the service will embed augmented reality into the broadcasts and allow fans to choose alternate camera feeds to experience the game. Interactive fan features through Next-Gen Stats powered by Amazon Web Services, along with X-Ray technology will also be available for viewers during each contest to keep them engaged and entertained each Thursday night.
“If you only want to watch the main broadcast, you’re going to have a telecast that has every technical innovation that football fans love,” Gaudelli said. “….It’s going to be as good, if not better, than any football telecast they’re used to watching.”
“Fred has maybe the most difficult job of all because he’s going to bring in a whole bunch of new production people,” Michaels added. “We’re going to have some stumbles along the way, but I think in short order by just a few games into the season, you’re going to see a show that rivals any football telecast I can think of.”
Emmy-winning analyst Kirk Herbstreit will join Michaels in the booth as the color commentator for broadcasts, a role he will balance with his current obligations on ESPN College GameDay. This role will make him a pioneer of sorts in that he will work on both linear and streaming platforms interchangeably throughout the season. Having both jobs, albeit covering different levels of football, will be a challenge, but he and his colleagues know his knowledge of the former will help enhance his analysis and coverage of the latter.
“With streaming becoming more and more mainstream in the future, I don’t know if that’ll be the future [where] people are going to say: ‘Hey, you can’t do both,” Herbstreit expressed, “but I’m very fortunate to be able to do both. It’s going to be very taxing and tiring, but I’m looking forward to the challenge for sure.”
Joining Michaels and Herbstreit as the broadcast’s sideline reporter is Kaylee Hartung, who is moving from working from ABC News as a reporter to Amazon Prime Video. While Hartung has worked within sports media in the past, most recently as an award-winning sports reporter on ESPN, she says her time in news gives her a broad perspective on the task at hand and how to enrich the broadcasts.
“I think what I learned in being away from sports was that, at the end of the day, the craft is the same,” Hartung said. “It comes down to great storytelling…. Hopefully, I can find some stories to shed light on that others haven’t heard about, and give the players a platform to shine aside from their work on the field.”
Crafting a first-of-its-kind, high-quality NFL broadcast is a challenge in and of itself, and by bringing on Gaudelli and Michaels, Amazon Prime Video is relying on a known quantity that is coming off a historic season in terms of ratings on NBC. Bringing on experienced professionals was of great importance to Donoghue, who recalled eyeing Gaudelli early in talks to executive produce the broadcast, and from there, was able to assemble proven production and announcing teams to bring Amazon squarely into the forefront of sports media.
“We’ve been working around the clock [for] the past few months, and I can truly say that not only is this group incredibly talented, but they are absolutely the best teammates we could hope to have,” Donoghue stated. “It’s a pleasure working alongside them, and we can’t wait to get started.”
Amazon Prime Video’s coverage of the National Football League will begin with a preseason matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and Houston Texans from NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas this Thursday, August 25. The broadcast is set to begin with pregame coverage starting at 7 p.m. EST prior to the 8:15 p.m. EST kickoff. Then on September 15, Thursday Night Football on Amazon Prime Video will commence its regular season slate of games with an AFC West matchup between the Los Angeles Chargers and the Kansas City Chiefs.
“I think a lot of people are curious since it’s such a new template on a new platform as to what’s going to go on,” Michaels said. “[It’s] a big tent, [and] we want everyone to come into it…. Come one, come all!”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, Derek serves as a production manager, broadcaster, voiceover artist, technical director, audiovisual editor, and media engineer for Hofstra University’s WRHU. He has also worked on New York Islanders radio broadcasts. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @DerekFutterman.
Pedro Martinez: ‘Never Imagined’ TV Career
“And the reason I’m here, it’s not because of the camera, it’s actually because it gives me an opportunity to remain linked to the game, remain linked to what’s going on, the different changes the game is offering right now, adjusting to different things.”
As the Major League Baseball season comes to a close and preparations for the playoffs begin, MLB Network and TNT analyst Pedro Martinez joined The Press Box podcast to discuss his time as a television analyst.
When asked what he liked about working in television, Martinez didn’t hesitate with his answer.
“I think it’s a platform and the opportunity I have to bring to the audience what I know, what I think, what I understand and broadcasting gives me the opportunity to continue to have that communication with the people, the young athletes and fans. At the same time, I’m able to continue to learn and transmit some of the things that I would love to show everybody by playing but my body doesn’t allow me, but my mind does.
“This is a great way to bring the right information to the people, but I take advantage of the platform to communicate with my fanbase, the player’s fanbase, and the voice behind the players and the situations that come up, I can actually teach the audience some of the things that I understand from my point of view.”
A media career was never in the cards for Martinez. At least that’s what he thought during his playing career.
“I swear to god, it’s the only thing I never imagined. I never thought I would like being in front of a camera,” Martinez said. “And the reason I’m here, it’s not because of the camera, it’s actually because it gives me an opportunity to remain linked to the game, remain linked to what’s going on, the different changes the game is offering right now, adjusting to different things.
“You learn so much just by having access to information, having access to so many other different things. A lot of people would be surprised how much you can dig into and I think for everybody else, if they knew the kind of information we have access to, they’d be intrigued to come do what we do.”
He then said one of the things he would have never picked up on was how many pitchers tip their pitches, but due to all of the information, video, and relationships broadcasters have make that information readily available. He added his work in television has enabled more relationships with baseball players from his home country, the Dominican Republic.
Stephen A. Smith and Malika Andrews Get Heated Over Ime Udoka Coverage
“Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me, I listened to you,” Smith interjected, “you’re the one telling me to stop on my show. It ain’t happening.”
On Friday’s First Take, Stephen A. Smith continued his stance regarding the public leaking of information surrounding Celtics’ Head Coach Ime Udoka relationship with a team staffer. He also went further by sharing his dismay that Udoka was seemingly the only person punished for the violation of company policy.
“Only he is in violation of the company policy?” Smith asked. “The woman who elected to have a consensual relationship with him is not in violation?”
Before the end of the show, ESPN NBA Today host Malika Andrews called in the program and wanted to address Smith’s comments.
“Stephen A., with all do respect, this is not about pointing the finger. Stop,” Andrews said. “The fact that we are sitting here debating whether somebody else should have been suspended or not, we are not here, Stephen A., to further blame women.”
Smith would replay saying that his intention was not blame anyone outside of the Celtics coach.
“First of all, let me be very clear, I don’t appreciate where you’re going with that, I’m not blaming anybody but Ime Udoka,” Smith stated. “The fact of the matter is, he deserves to be fired if they were going to fire him. If you’re not going to fire him, then don’t fire him. My issue is all of this being publicized.”
Andrews tried to jump back in for further commentary but Smith stopped that and noted he didn’t appreciate being interrupted on “my show”.
“Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me, I listened to you,” Smith interjected, “you’re the one telling me to stop on my show. It ain’t happening.”
Andrews did thank Smith for clarifying his stance at the end of the segment. ESPN has removed access to the video from its YouTube channel by making it private.
Rich Eisen on Tom Brady Joining FOX: ‘I Gotta See It to Believe It’
“I think what Peyton Manning has done with his post-playing career is more of a blueprint that I would think Brady would follow.”
Is 2023 the year we see Tom Brady in the broadcast booth for FOX? Rich Eisen isn’t so sure.
“I still gotta see it to believe it, I’ll be honest with you, man. I know it’s a great chunk of change and it’s a lot of money. I don’t know,” the NFL Network icon said on the most recent edition of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast.
Tom Brady has taken his foot off the gas in 2022 in a more public way than fans are used to. He voluntarily missed eleven days of training camp and has announced that he will not be available to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Wednesdays during the season.
Eisen says if Brady is looking for a less demanding career, broadcasting isn’t the best option.
“It is a lot of work. And I’m not saying Brady’s not up for it, but if he’s been grinding for 23, 24 years, it’s still a grind in its own way.”
FOX signed Brady to a ten-year deal reportedly worth $375 million to start after he retires. He will be in the network’s top broadcast booth and also serve as an ambassador for the network’s coverage of the NFL.
Eisen says there is a much better model for Brady’s media career in his old rival Peyton Manning.
“I think what Peyton Manning has done with his post-playing career is more of a blueprint that I would think Brady would follow,” Eisen said. “Peyton Manning could be making that much money in the booth himself, right? Instead, he’s got his own production company and he’s doing the games, but not all of them, only 10 of them. And he’s doing them from his basement and he’s got the rights to the games!”
He added that Tom Brady “write his own ticket like that” if he chose to do something similar to what Manning has done with Omaha Productions.
Brady has not had much to say about his deal with FOX since the news became public. In June, he told Dan Patrick that he knows his first season in the booth will come with a lot of growing pains.