Power Hitter Profile: Jerry Steinberg: Sports Field Operations Specialist, Team Leader
Referred to as “The Godfather” by his Fox Sports colleagues, Jerry Steinberg is an icon of remote sports production. Having worked at ABC, CBS, NBC, ESPN, and Fox during his 30-plus–year career, he was an original member of two startup teams: the ones responsible for launching ESPN in 1979 and Fox Sports in 1994. Since his humble beginnings as an NBC page, Steinberg has become a field-operations specialist, working on four Olympic Games, 13 World Series, and a half dozen Super Bowls, including the 2011 broadcast. Currently senior vice president of field operations for Fox Sports, he is a mainstay in the truck compound and a team leader, no matter what sport — or initiative — he is developing.
A native of the Bronx, NY, Steinberg got his start in the business as a page at NBC in Burbank, CA. He served as a runner for The Dean Martin Show before a friend started a video-sales company in New York.
“I had a friend who was a band leader but also started this company selling tape machines and cameras when ¾-in. tape started to come around,” Steinberg explains. “He had all this demo equipment, and I started to rent it and turned it into a real business. We had to send people to go out with the rentals, and that ended up being me. I traveled all over the place, and that was the beginnings of my life in this business.”
Twice in a Lifetime
Steinberg officially joined the sports-television industry in 1979, when he heard of a little company in Bristol, CT, that was forming a dedicated sports-programming network. He sought out ESPN and was hired as a mobile-production-truck engineer in charge in 1979, becoming a member of the network’s original technical crew.
“I’ve been part of two startups in my life, ESPN and Fox,” he says. “The most exciting thing to do is to be part of a launch. To be part of a team that starts a network is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but to be part of a group that’s involved in two startups, both of which have turned out to be what they are today, is pretty exciting.”
He spent several years at ESPN as a truck EIC, maintaining technical standards and equipment during live broadcasts. During that time, he formed a close relationship with Chet Simmons, then president of ESPN.
“Chet Simmons was a dear friend and a mentor,” Steinberg says. “I watched how he handled himself and the stuff that he did. We remained friends over the years. He’s one of those people who no matter where he was, he was always the same. That’s important to me, that you don’t become arrogant and self-absorbed when you deal with people. Chet was a gifted TV guy, and he was a great guy.”
In 1984, Steinberg left ESPN for the lure of freelancing. Over the next decade, he served as a technician and video operator for World Cup soccer, US Open tennis, four Olympic Games, the World Series, the NCAA Final Four, the Super Bowl, and even Operation Desert Storm. In 1994, he was working for CBS on the Lillehammer Winter Olympics when Fox Sports acquired the rights to broadcast the NFL. Soon thereafter, he joined the original Fox Sports launch team as a technical manager, and he has not left.
Today, Steinberg manages operations for all of Fox’s live broadcasts (upwards of 300 a year), including facilities, manpower, and new technologies. Besides the World Series and Super Bowls, he has overseen eight Daytona 500 races, BCS and National Championship games, and Stanley Cup Finals. The biggest challenge in overseeing such mega-events, he says, is building the right team to work on them.
“The key is the people,” he points out. “It’s not about what I do; it’s all about this team that we put together. It’s like being a football coach or a baseball manager: you’ve got a team of people, and the challenge is to keep those people in sync with each other and keep the parts moving smoothly. On these big events, there are so many moving parts that you have to be able to have confidence that good people are doing their best to make it come together smoothly.”
Steinberg has made a name for himself by building successful teams, groups that not only work well together but also mesh into the fabric of Fox Sports. He is happiest working on the world’s most complex sports television events. The World Series, Final Four, Super Bowl, and NASCAR are particular favorites.
“The TV part of NASCAR is exciting,” he says. “It’s as big a show as the Super Bowl, and it happens every week. We’ve probably done two of the leanest, most efficient Super Bowl productions ever, and a lot of the stuff we learned was from the TV part of NASCAR coverage. By building something that size, getting there on a Wednesday and leaving on a Sunday night and going to the next place with the same amount of hardware, you go through these experiences, and you apply them to the next thing. Hopefully, we all remain teachable.”
A New York Guy
Though having grown up eight blocks from Yankee Stadium, Steinberg never set out to build a career in sports, but it was a happy coincidence that he has spent his life working in sports television.
“For a guy like me, this is the greatest blessing in the world,” he says. “I’m very fortunate to be able to make my living and love my job.”
A Yankee fan living in Los Angeles, Steinberg roots for all the New York teams. “It’s not like Chicago, where, if you’re from the South Side, you like the White Sox and really hate the Cubs. I’m a New York guy, so, if the Yankees weren’t in the World Series and the Mets were, I’d root for the Mets.”
On a Different Kind of Road
When he’s not planning the logistics for Fox’s next big remote production, Steinberg can usually be found in the gym. “I ride my bike, I swim, I’m in the gym every day.”
He’s a six-time marathon finisher, with a personal best of 4:18. His favorite marathon to run was Paris, although he says there’s nothing like New York: “I would come off the 59th Street Bridge, and I always had my name on my number. You come into that sea of humanity on First Avenue, and everybody’s yelling, ‘Go Jerry!’ and you get juiced. You go through all these parts of the city that you ordinarily would not see. You get a real sense of the city by running through it.”
With a nuanced sense of what makes a great television production, Jerry Steinberg is still running strong, with a passion for his work that has followed him through four decades in the business.