With Univision and the Olympics Behind Him, Neal Looks Ahead to World Cup at New Home on Fox

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David Neal joined Fox Sports Media Group last week where he
will be executive producer of Fox's World Cup soccer coverage. Fox has the
contract on that coverage stretching from 2015-22, and it includes the 2015
Women's FIFA World Cup in Canada, the 2018 Men's World Cup in Russia, the 2019
Women's World Cup and the 2022 Men's World Cup in Qatar.

Neal, who has more than 30 years of TV production
experience, spent the past year as senior VP of sports production at Univision,
but prior to that was executive producer of NBC Sports, where he won 34 sports
Emmys and produced coverage of nine Olympics.

In this early junction in his new Fox job, Neal sat down to
talk about working on major TV sports coverage for television and how
international sports telecasts differ from major sporting event coverage in the
U.S.

As World Cup
executive producer, what is your involvement, if any, with sponsorships and
advertising for the telecasts?

Ad sales for the Cup telecasts is a collaboration. We don't get involved in
regular commercial sales, but if advertisers are looking for on-screen
enhancements, the sales group will come to us with queries and we will sit down
and brainstorm to see what is doable and try to come up with ways to deliver
value for advertisers during the telecasts.

How much lead time do
you need from a production standpoint if you have to put some type of
advertising or ad graphics on the screen during the telecasts?

Well, you usually need some time in advance to test it to see how it works
and how it looks. However, nothing is impossible. We can do whatever needs to
be done. We are planning to have an ongoing communication with the sales group
throughout the planning process leading up to the telecast.

Fox's first entry
in World Cup coverage is about three years away. What types of innovations do
you expect technology-wise by 2015 that you can use in the telecasts?

In my first few weeks at Fox, I have seen some new technology being rolled
out, 3D graphic technology, that definitely can be applied to our World Cup
soccer coverage. But I can't really get into specifics at this point.

Will you look back
at the ESPN or Univision coverage of previous World Cups to see how they have
been produced? And how much can you get involved with ESPN's telecast of the
2014 Men's World Cup from Brazil?

We certainly will look at both ESPN and Univision coverage of past World
Cups and we'll attend the World Cup in Brazil. We have a very cordial
relationship with ESPN so I don't think we will be made to feel unwelcome in
Brazil. It will all be very collegial. But since Fox is already covering soccer
within its family, we will have a bit of a head start from a staff production
standpoint.

This will be your
first World Cup production. How will it differ from Olympic productions? And how
long do preparations take?

Ideally it takes five years to prepare for an Olympics telecast and it will
take that long for the World Cup also. You need to begin work on the next
telecast before the closer one is televised. The biggest priority is
relationship building with the national organizing committee in the country
where the event will take place and also with the local committees. You have to
get to know the people you will be working with locally and learn about the
country where the telecasts will take place. You also have to begin hiring
additional personnel. If we took 1,500 production people to the Olympics, about
90% of those would be freelance that were brought in just to do the Games. And
that process has to begin early. It takes time to find all the right people.

You also have to begin lining up on-air talent and locking
them in. You have to visit all the sites in person, assuming the venues are
built.

For me, it is a great situation at Fox with the World Cup
because Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Deportes are already televising a lot of
soccer so there are plenty of people on staff with experience. Fox also covers
so much sports that there is a large talent pool already on staff here to draw
from.

At NBC you produced
nine Olympics, along with NBA Finals, World Series and Super Bowl pregame
programming. In a nutshell, how do the Olympics compare to the other sports
telecasts from a production standpoint?

The biggest difference between large domestic events like the World Series,
NBA and Super Bowl and the world events like the World Cup and the Olympics is
that with U.S. events, the one broadcast network is dealing with only one
league or organization. With international scale events, you are dealing with
several organizations as well as other media operations. With the Olympics you
are dealing with the U.S. and International Olympic committees and you also
have to take into consideration the needs of all the other broadcasters that
are televising the Games. With production for U.S. events you can put cameras
wherever you want for the telecasts, but with international events you can't
always get everything you want. You have to compromise. It's a constant
exercise in diplomacy.

What are some
examples to illustrate your point?

For the World Series, you may have 20 or 30 cameras and maybe MLB Network
may have one or two. But at the Olympics in Beijing, NBC had 25 cameras at the
opening ceremony but Chinese television had 30, Japanese television had 20
and the BBC had 12, for example. So as the main TV production operation, we had
to make sure everyone was accommodated.

So this is what you
are going to have to deal with when producing the World Cup telecasts for Fox
beginning in 2015?

Yes. The World Cup games have multiple rights-holders internationally and
decisions have to be made as to how many cameras each get in the stadiums and where
they are located. There is a protocol in place where everyone meets and has a
discussion and there are guidelines so that the discussions do not get out of
hand. Producing international TV sports events is a totally different
environment than producing them domestically. It is very unique.

What did you learn
from producing each successive Olympics that you brought to the next one?

The single biggest lesson is not to get complacent. All Olympics are not
cut from the same cloth. The Summer Olympics may have the same sports and
schedule every four years but each city and venue is different. You are also
dealing with different people who you have to initiate relationships with at
the local level. I also learned when televising international sporting events
that the telecast is being watched by more than just the diehard fans. We have
to make these telecasts interesting to both the hardcore fans and the casual
fans. During the Olympics coverage we always tried to explain the events and
how they work and make them understandable to the casual fan and that's what I
plan to do with the World Cup soccer telecasts also.

You were involved
in the creation of DiveCam, the underwater camera used in the 1996 diving
coverage from the Atlanta Games. How did that all come about?

This is a classic bar napkin story. Tom Roy, who was an NBC Sports
producer, and I were having a discussion on how we could make the diving
competition telecast more interesting. We were standing on the 10 meter diving
platform and looking down and wondering how we could capture on television what
the diver was experiencing on his way down into the water. We drew up a diagram
on a napkin of how we envisioned a small camera attached to a pulley that
followed the diver down. We took it to [cinematographer and inventor] Garrett
Brown and he developed the prototype that we used during the 1996 Games and has
been used since. Back then it was done more manually but now it is totally
mechanized.

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