Legends Behind the Lens: Jerry Steinberg
The icon of remote sports production played a key role in the founding of numerous groundbreaking sports networks
The story of American sports television is engrained in the history of this nation, rising on the achievements of countless incredible men and women who never once appeared on our screens. During this pause in live sports, SVG is proud to present a celebration of this great industry. Legends Behind the Lens is a look at how we got here seen through the people who willed it to be. Each weekday, we will share with you the story of a person whose impact on the sports-television industry is indelible.
Legends Behind the Lens is presented in association with the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame and the SVG Sports Broadcasting Fund. In these trying times — with so many video-production professionals out of work — we hope that you will consider (if you are able) donating to the Sports Broadcasting Fund. Do so by visiting sportsbroadcastfund.org.
By Ken Kerschbaumer
Referred to as “The Godfather” by his Fox Sports colleagues, Jerry Steinberg is an icon of remote sports production.
Logging stints at ABC, CBS, NBC, ESPN, and Fox during his 35-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.
From humble beginnings as an NBC page, Steinberg became a field-operations specialist, working on four Olympic Games, more than a dozen World Series, and a half dozen Super Bowls. During his time at Fox Sports, he was a team leader, no matter what initiative he was developing.
“Jerry loves people, sports, and television,” says Ed Goren, former vice chairman, Fox Sports Media Group. “He has a perfect combination to be a success in this business, and he was always looking to bring the next big thing to Fox Sports to elevate our productions.”
A native of the Bronx, NY, Steinberg got his start in the business as a page at NBC in Burbank, CA, where he served as a runner for The Dean Martin Show before a friend started a video-sales company in New York.
“We had to send people to go out with the rentals, and that ended up being me,” Steinberg recalls. “I traveled all over the place, and that was the beginnings of my life in this business.”
The Start of an Era for Steinberg and Sports TV
He 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 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.”
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.
“Didn’t matter what I’d throw at Steiny, the answer would be a grin and a ‘why not? And guess what? It would always happen. I never know what comes first: the technical ability and understanding of how and why everything happens or the big grin and the can-do attitude.” – former Fox Sports executive David Hill
In 1984, he 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.
It was in those early days at Fox Sports that Steinberg met Game Creek Video founder and President (and fellow 2015 Hall of Fame inductee) Pat Sullivan.
“The legacy he leaves,” says Sullivan, “is participating in the formation of a really important player in the broadcasting business, one that changed the way sports events were televised and, in particular, audio.”
Eventually, Steinberg would manage operations for all of Fox’s live broadcasts (upwards of 300 a year), including facilities, personnel, 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 key is the people,” he points out. “It’s not about what I do; it’s all about this team that we put together. The challenge is to keep those people in sync with each other and keep the parts moving smoothly.”
Given the vision that Chairman David Hill and others at the top of the Fox Sports pyramid had in those early days, Steinberg’s can-do spirit was a perfect match.
“Didn’t matter what I’d throw at Steiny, the answer would be a grin and a ‘why not?,’” recalls Hill, who worked with Steinberg for nearly two decades. “And guess what? It would always happen. I never know what comes first: the technical ability and understanding of how and why everything happens or the big grin and the can-do attitude. Add in the mind of a producer, the fact that he knows everyone on the planet and, more important, everyone on the planet knows and likes him, and you see why he’s so remarkable. Plus that he seems like he’s modeled himself on one of Damon Runyon’s characters!”
Still Looking to the Next Big Thing
Steinberg officially retired from Fox Sports last year, but he still has a desire to tackle the next big thing as a consultant on a variety of next-generation technologies.
“A lot of people listen to what he has to say,” says Sullivan, adding that manufacturers still tap into Steinberg’s knowledge and ability to cut right to the core of an issue.
Sullivan should know. Probably no one else in the business has spent as much time listening to what Steinberg has to say, and, over the years, the two formed a strong friendship and partnership.
“The Fox trucks we built in 2006 are still doing NASCAR today,” says Sullivan. “We have upgraded certain parts, but the basic philosophy Steinberg tasked us to deliver is still very viable today.”
Probably the biggest challenge that both Fox Sports and Game Creek Video faced together was Super Bowl XLVIII in 2013 at Metlife Stadium. Instead of building a massive pregame set in the swamps of New Jersey, the Fox team headed for the crossroads of America: Times Square.
For Steinberg, it meant making sure that production teams on both sides of the Hudson worked in sync and that the massive number of permitting and construction issues for building a set in Times Square were addressed early and often. Steinberg’s tendency to say what is on his mind served him well when dealing with New York City officials and also made it easier for the Game Creek Video team to know (as in all the work they did together) what needed to be done.
“He got things done, and he brought an interesting touch to the role he played,” says Sullivan. “He was a real worker bee because he used to be a freelance guy who had to scratch it out a bit. He brought a sensitivity to his role because he knew what it is like to be in those shows.”
Growing up eight blocks from Yankee Stadium, Steinberg didn’t 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.”
The video in this profile was originally produced in 2015. For more on the life and career of this industry legend, visit their profile at the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame.