At its heart, Sunday’s telecast of Super Bowl LII will look a lot like NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.” The network will use the same announcers, the same producer and director, the same crew and many of the same camera angles.
But the Super Bowl is not an ordinary game, and NBC’s broadcast will mirror the grandiosity that surrounds the most watched TV event of the year. Like everything else associated with the game at U.S. Bank Stadium, the show required years of planning, a spare-no-expense vision and a crew of hundreds to carry it out. With more than 100 million people expected to tune in, their mission is to create a dazzling show, while keeping their focus squarely on the game itself.
Executive producer Fred Gaudelli and director Drew Esocoff are old hands at this, teaming up for their sixth Super Bowl. Their bag of tricks includes 14 production trucks, 106 cameras, 50 miles of audio/visual cable and more than 500 employees, all ready to make some TV magic in Minneapolis.
“It’s the biggest event in America, if not the planet,” Gaudelli said. “You want to make sure your broadcast reflects that.
“It’s the same philosophy we use on Sunday nights, but the Super Bowl is different. We have more resources, more time to get ready, more cameras. We’ll surround the game with all the bells and whistles and glitz that a spectacle like the Super Bowl deserves, and hope we get a good game.”
The Super Bowl is a culmination of NBC’s season-long NFL coverage, which includes Thursday and Sunday night games. Esocoff said the usual number of cameras and crew expands by about 40 percent for the Super Bowl. While the game-week routine is similar, the planning for Sunday’s game began two years ago, with a site survey of U.S. Bank Stadium.
Gaudelli, Esocoff and their crew made three more visits to become familiar with the layout of the building and how it would function as a stage for the Super Bowl. The production team held a two-day seminar last August to watch the most recent Super Bowls aired by NBC and Fox, as well as other big events. They gleaned ideas from all those sources — some they wanted to imitate, and some they wanted to avoid — to begin shaping the look and feel of Sunday’s broadcast.
The primary objective, Esocoff said, is to cover the game as thoroughly as possible. NBC has placed 20 pylon cams around the field to ensure clear views of the game’s pivotal moments. For the bird’s-eye view, it will use two SkyCams zipping over the field at different heights.
“We probably add 15 cameras, with many added for the sole purpose of having a defining view of what could be a game-deciding play,” Esocoff said. “A lot of those cameras, we won’t pay any attention to until they’re needed for a very, very specific reason. We have pylon cams set up that may never see the light of day.
“We really think for the Super Bowl, it’s all about the action on the field. The number one goal is to have that defining look of every play in the game.”
That said, Esocoff noted that half of Super Bowl viewers probably don’t know — or perhaps even care — about football during the other 364 days of the year. The announcing team of Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth will lead the way in reintroducing major story lines surrounding New England and Philadelphia, and the broadcast will use more pretaped video packages to flesh out the characters on the field.
NBC won’t be using much new technology during the Super Bowl, to reduce the margin for error. It will be using more 4K ultra-high definition cameras and ultra slow-motion cameras, and the network will debut a virtual 3-D system. It has taken body scans of six players, and when it shows some graphics of those players, they will appear in 3-D with their statistics integrated into the image.
Gaudelli said he hasn’t encountered a major glitch or off-field controversy during his six Super Bowl telecasts, though he and his crew plan for the unexpected as much as possible. Neither he nor Michaels expects any players to protest during the national anthem, but if it happens, Michaels said he will not ignore it.
“People are seeing it. We can report it,” said Michaels, who will call play-by-play of the Super Bowl for the 10th time. “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.”
Both Gaudelli and Esocoff said part of the fun of producing the Super Bowl is the camaraderie. They have worked together for nearly 20 years, and some crew members have been with them for just as long. That familiarity, they said, allows them to work seamlessly in concert to create a polished broadcast.
That doesn’t mean they don’t get pregame butterflies. It is the Super Bowl, after all.
“You’re not as nervous as you were the first time, but yeah, I’ll be nervous,” Esocoff said. “And then, you think about all the people who have worked in this industry at high levels and never got to do a Super Bowl. It’s really an honor. It’s going to be great.”