SVG’s Sports Entertainment Production Summit Preaches Storytelling, Perseverance
More than 200 production professionals from across the sports and entertainment industries converged on the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel in Los Angeles on Wednesday for the second-annual Sports Entertainment Production Summit. Highlighting the event was a pair of stirring keynote speeches by Ross Greenburg, founder of Ross Greenburg Productions and long-time president of HBO Sports, and Jim Steeg, the father of the modern-day Super Bowl.
“I have always thought of sports as the Rodney Dangerfield of entertainment: never really appreciated or given much respect,” Greenberg said during his afternoon speech. “The fact is that this is an industry that should be proud of what we are, which is a group that is documenting one of the great forms of entertainment in the history of the country and the world.”
For Greenburg, Top-Notch Storytelling Remains Key
The Summit — sponsored by Bexel (Gold), Thought Equity Motion (Silver), and event sponsors Fox Sports Media Group, Grass Valley, NewTek, and Txtstation — highlighted the ever growing convergence between the worlds of sports and entertainment production not only for television but also for second, third, and event fourth screens where fans consume their sports content.
“We’re now seeing the lid being blown off in terms of distribution, both in terms of live programming as well as a lot of the programming we are talking about today: reality, documentaries, magazine shows, talk shows, and plenty more,” said Greenburg. “What makes this all possible are the people that produce it and the [public’s] passion for the game.”
Greenburg, whose newly founded production company is responsible for a series of documentaries and studio shows for NBC Sports Group, offered an in-depth view of how the sports entertainment sector has evolved during his more than three decades in the business. Though acknowledging that evolving technology and distribution channels have dramatically altered both sports and entertainment programming, he maintained that the core element of storytelling has always remained a constant.
He recounted how enthralled he was — along with the rest of the nation — with the U.S. Olympic hockey team’s Miracle on Ice win over the Soviet Union in 1980. More than 20 years later, he helped create an award-winning HBO documentary and later executive-produced the theatrical film Miracle about “a group of kids that lifted a country from deep despair.” It is this type of poignant storytelling, he said, that will drive the production of sports entertainment programming for years to come.
“The fact of the matter is that the industry will only thrive if the programming sets the bar as high as humanly possible,” said Greenburg. “You have to have the sense to know when you have a dramatic, emotional story, because, if it is going to tug at your heart, chances are that it is going to tug at the masses’ heart. And that’s how great programming happens.”
Steeg’s Historic Super Bowl Effort
Earlier in the day, NFL front-office legend Steeg kicked things off with an inside look at Super Bowl XXXVI, a game that is forever intertwined with the 9/11 attacks, which had occurred less than five months earlier. The fact that the game took place at all, after being pushed back a week by games delayed after the attacks in September, is a tribute to Steeg and his team’s hard work and on-the-fly thinking.
“It was probably the most pressure I have ever felt in my entire career, because I knew, if we didn’t succeed and execute everything correctly for that game, the country was going to fall deeper into a recession,” said Steeg, currently director of the Pac-12 Football Championship Game. “After 9/11, no one was getting on airplanes or going to major events because they were afraid there may be another attack. If we hadn’t succeeded with that Super Bowl and made everyone feel safer, I think our country could have gone down that road for a long time.”
Originally, Steeg and his staff had 3½ years to plan Super Bowl XXXVI, but, when the 9/11 attacks forced the NFL to cancel a week of games and postpone the Super Bowl to Feb. 3, he scrambled to rebuild a full week of Super Bowl festivities in just 137 days. He was faced with the unenviable task of rebooking not just the Louisiana Superdome but also the pregame and halftime acts, hotel rooms and transportation for tens of thousands of fans and workers, hospitality and Fan Experience events throughout New Orleans, and much more.
In addition, his team was forced to deal with the added security measures taken for America’s most-watched single-day sports event just months after the deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history.
In the end, Steeg was able to move a litany of New Orleans-based events off the Feb. 3 weekend, including the National Automobile Dealers Association convention scheduled to take place at the Superdome, 11 Mardi Gras parades, two minor-league hockey games, a tractor-equipment show, a jewelry show, the state wrestling tournament, and countless weddings and celebrations booked at hotels around the city.
However, although Steeg was able to secure the needed venues, housing, and transportation, the entertainment side of the Super Bowl experience was still in shambles when he met with his team in October.
“To be honest, the entertainment side of it was really bad,” he said. “We couldn’t come up with the one thing that was going to grab fans. So we were very frustrated and didn’t quite know what we wanted to do from that standpoint.”
In September, he had attended a “mind-blowing” U2 concert at Madison Square Garden but assumed that Bono and company would immediately decline an invitation to play the Super Bowl halftime show. However, with some help from Jimmy Iovine and Interscope Records, Steeg was able to schedule a meeting that ended with a surprising result.
“It was one of the shortest meetings I’ve ever had,” he recounted. “We met with them in Las Vegas, and, about two minutes into it, they said, ‘Absolutely, let’s do it.’ That provided the key element that we needed to build the rest of the show around.”
In the ensuing months, Steeg worked with broadcast partner Fox Sports and the NFL to book a cavalcade of stars to fill out the rest of the Super Bowl lineup: Paul McCartney to perform during pregame ceremonies, Mariah Carey to sing the National Anthem, Marc Anthony and Mary J. Blige to sing “God Bless America,” Credence Clearwater Revival and the Neville Brothers to perform outside the stadium before the game, and the Boston Pops to perform on the field before the teams began their warm-ups. In addition, a full procession of patriotic and 9/11-remembrance elements were incorporated into the various shows throughout the day.
“There are literally tens of thousands of people that made this thing happen,” said Steeg. “It was one of the great accomplishments in NFL history, but it was also one of the great accomplishments for our country. I think that, combined with the [Salt Lake City Winter] Olympics later that year, truly showed that our country was getting back to normal and was still strong.”