The Super Bowl returns this Sunday for its 52nd outing, and this year will see the Philadelphia Eagles take on the New England Patriots at Minneapolis’ U.S. Bank Stadium. It also represents the BBC’s ninth Super Bowl, having broadcast its first ever NFL Championship in 2008.
The biggest challenge for the BBC is deciding whether to present the game from the stadium itself, or from a studio in the UK.
“We have presented the Super Bowl on site on five of the eight occasions we have shown it, and the programme is infinitely better,” says Ron Chakraborty, BBC Sport head of major events.
“However, taking a production team to the States for one programme in the middle of the night – UK time – is not a decision we take lightly. The other challenge for the BBC is that we are not a commercial broadcaster, and there are usually more than 30 ad-breaks in the Super Bowl that we need to fill.
“Thankfully we have a great presentation line-up, and through a mixture of additional guests, social media interaction and the occasional piece of archive, we have managed it relatively easily. It’s another reason why being there is a better option – breaking away from the game to a detached studio on so many occasions will lose the atmosphere at a time when you need to keep people awake.”
Ever since its first Super Bowl in Arizona ten years ago, the BBC has used PMTV as its outside broadcast supplier on-site. “They have a great relationship with the NFL, years of experience providing facilities for numerous international broadcasters at the Super Bowl, and have proved to be more economical than trying to go it alone,” explains Chakraborty.
“They provide us with an OB truck, a fibre route back to the UK for our programme signal, plus cameras, lights and sound for our studio booth.”
Chakraborty also notes that BBC Sport has partnered with Whisper Films to deliver its weekly NFL shows, helping the Corporation broadcast its preview programme from the OB truck while sharing material from the week in Minneapolis.
Asked if the BBC will look to incorporate emerging technologies such as AR, Chakraborty prefers to let the occasion do the talking. “While our weekly highlights show does include touchscreen analysis, the Super Bowl is a relatively simple operation,” he says. “The game usually speaks for itself!”
From a European perspective, one of the more taxing issues with the Super Bowl is its comparative length to that of a football or rugby match. Is that something that is equally felt by the production teams?
“It certainly can be,” says Chakraborty. “As the team usually arrives fairly close to Super Bowl weekend, jet lag can also be a factor. We’ve been lucky that seven of the eight Super Bowls we’ve covered so far have gone right down to the wire, so the game itself has kept the adrenaline pumping. For the viewers, the Super Bowl half-time show is one of the must-watch moments of the year; for the production teams it’s usually the only moment you can grab a toilet break!”
Looking ahead to next year, Chakraborty is keeping his cards close to his chest. “It’s probably a bit early to talk about our 2019 plans, but Atlanta’s new stadium is absolutely spectacular so it would be fantastic to present the show from there.”