Fox Sports will unveil some tech bells and whistles at Super Bowl LI, including Be the Player, which offers the real-time perspective of the players. As Eric Shanks, Fox Sports president, COO and executive producer, put it, the technology allows the viewer to get “inside the helmet of any player on the field.” While there’s no device in the helmets, an array of cameras around the field is “stitched together,” he said, allowing the network to “fly into someone’s helmet” and offer that player’s perspective.
Intel is a partner on the technology. Shanks said they’ve been testing Be the Player for three months but have not featured it on air.
The big game will feature at least one 8K camera and four 4K cameras out of the 100 total. There will be 24 pylon cams in the end zone and 93 microphones strategically arranged.
“Everybody’s Super Bowl is bigger than the one before,” Shanks told B&C.
Shanks acknowledged a 6% dip in NFL ratings, and singled out the fall’s attention to the presidential race as the culprit. For the same reason, he said, 2012 ratings were down. “This unique election cycle clearly has impacted the ratings,” he said.
Shanks did allow that the vast number of NFL windows on TV in a given week is a factor in the viewership decline, too. “We think that the NFL was populating a lot more national windows with the same amount of games as it had in the past,” he said. “They’re trying to get people to watch a lot more windows. When you have more national windows but don’t have more high quality games, the average ratings are going to go down.”
Fox NFL Sunday cohost Terry Bradshaw said Fox understands better than any network that football is entertainment as much as it's sports. He quoted former Fox Sports chief David Hill, saying “let’s entertain the masses.”
Bradshaw reveals that he does very little preparation before going live. He cited a lesson from George Foreman, a fellow cast member on NBC’s unscripted show Better Late Than Never; a minister, Foreman said he prepares his sermons the moment he stands up at the pulpit.
Bradshaw and cohost Howie Long expressed frustration with covering modern players, who are pressed for time and, with their PR handlers nearby, are unlikely to stomach pointed questions about off-field incidents. “If you try to dig deep, you’ll go nowhere,” said Bradshaw. “And you’ll find you won’t [get to] do another one after that.”
Shanks acknowledged the pressure of producing the Super Bowl—making contingency plans in case of a power outage, as happened in 2013, and always keeping in mind the “economic impact” of the big game for Fox.
“There’s also a fair amount of additional pressure because 110 million people are watching,” he said.