Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame 2020-21: Fred Gaudelli, Father of the Modern Pro-Football Broadcast
In a ceremony postponed by the pandemic, the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame Class of 2020 will be inducted on Dec. 14 at the New York Hilton. SVG is profiling the nine inductees in the weeks prior. For more information, CLICK HERE.
Few — if any — individuals have had as indelible an impact on the look and feel of NFL broadcasts over the past three decades as Fred Gaudelli. The producer of NBC’s Sunday Night Football, ABC’s Monday Night Football, and ESPN’s Sunday Night Football has reimagined how viewers watch pro football, deploying groundbreaking technical innovations, inimitable storytelling tactics, and an impeccable sense of style to bring the game into the modern age for millions of fans.
“There’s no one better than Fred Gaudelli,” says Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer John Madden, who worked with the 24-time Emmy Award winner at ABC and NBC. “He’s the hardest-working person in TV, and he’s a great coach.”
The Early Years: Sports-Crazed Kid Eyes the Broadcast Booth
A native of Harrison, NY, Gaudelli grew up obsessed with sports and was a fan of Knicks and Rangers announcer Marv Albert and ABC Sports’ Keith Jackson, Chris Schenkel, and Howard Cosell.
“I figured out that I wasn’t going to be a professional athlete around 13 or 14,” Gaudelli explains, “but I still had this great passion for sports, and I grew up constantly listening to sports on radio and watching on television. I thought it would be a fun job to call games and get paid for it. That’s when I really started thinking hard about it and paying attention to the broadcast of games.”
After graduating from Harrison High School, where he served as PA announcer for basketball and baseball games, Gaudelli headed to Long Island University – C.W. Post. As a communications major, he was extremely active at the campus radio station, calling football and basketball games and serving as sports director his senior year. However, he soon came to realize that his future was behind the scenes rather than behind the mic.
“I just didn’t feel like my voice was the kind of voice that you would hear at a Super Bowl or a World Series and realized that would put a pretty quick ceiling on how far I could go,” he remembers. “So I took an internship at Channel 5 in New York City in the production department. I fell in love with it right away and thought that it would be a better path for me because I would still get to use my sports knowledge and satisfy my passion for sports, but my success wasn’t going to be incumbent on something I couldn’t control: my voice.”
Bristol-Bound: Landing at the Worldwide Leader in Sports
After graduating and while working on a weekend sports-radio talk show at WFAS White Plains, NY, Gaudelli heard via the station’s owner about potential job opportunities at a fledgling cable sports network in Bristol, CT. He soon found himself working in the mailroom at ESPN and, by 1983, had worked his way through the ranks of ESPN’s remote-production department to become an associate producer on a variety of sports, including college football, basketball, and baseball; the USFL; the U.S. Olympic Festival; and the NFL Draft.
“I was extremely fortunate to work closely with Fred from the very beginning of his career at ESPN,” says Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer and former ESPN exec Steve Anderson. “Right from the start, he was the most talented, hardest-working, and best-prepared producer I have ever known. He always set incredibly high standards for himself and for everyone on his team. In my opinion, Fred has developed into the best live-event producer in the history of television sports.”
Gaudelli got his first front-bench gig in 1986, producing ESPN’s live Thursday-night college-football package, and he went on to produce the broadcaster’s Big Monday college-basketball and College World Series packages as well.
“The people and the camaraderie that we had at ESPN back then are what sticks with me to this day, as well as the work ethic that was embraced and shared by everyone,” says Gaudelli. “I was fortunate to have two bosses in [Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famers] Bill Fitts and Scotty Connal, who were giants in the business teaching a bunch of young kids that didn’t know anything. They were demanding but, at the same time, understanding, kind, and they were terrific teachers in terms of storytelling, organization, and how to lead. I still use those lessons today.”
In 1990, Gaudelli took over as producer of ESPN’s Sunday Night Football package – the highest-rated series on cable television at the time – along with serving as producer of ESPN’s NFL Draft coverage. Named senior coordinating producer at ESPN in 1996, he also oversaw the network’s X Games broadcasts and its Cable Ace Award–winning Major League Baseball coverage in 1997.
He would go on to produce SNF on ESPN through 2000, with the show winning an Outstanding Live Sports Series Emmy in his final year.
“In my opinion, Fred Gaudelli is quite simply the best NFL-game producer of all time,” says Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer Howard Katz, who served as Guadelli’s boss at ESPN and later ABC Sports. “His knowledge of the game and the way he thinks like an offensive coordinator gives him an uncanny ability to anticipate in the truck what’s about to happen on the field. Combine that with his instincts and intuition along with his ability to process information in the heat of the game on so many different levels, and you’ve got a very, very special talent.”
Monday Night Football: Taking Over an Iconic Franchise From an Industry Icon
In 2001, Gaudelli succeeded Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer Don Ohlmeyer as producer of the most iconic sports franchise in all of television: ABC’s Monday Night Football. He went on to produce Super Bowl XL in February 2006 — the first of his six Super Bowls (with a seventh coming this February in Los Angeles).
“Fred’s leadership role for over 30 years running his network’s most important franchise, first at ESPN, then at ABC, and, for the past 16 years, at NBC,” says Katz, currently SVP, broadcasting and media operations, NFL, “makes him a true Hall of Famer in every sense of the word.”
With Gaudelli as producer, Monday Night Football and the production of Super Bowl XXXVII were nominated for nine Emmy Awards, winning four, including Outstanding Live Sports Series in 2004 for MNF.
“Fred should do a master class on sports-television production,” says Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer Al Michaels, who manned the booth for Gaudelli first at MNF and now on NBC’s SNF broadcasts. “Every aspiring young producer could get a big head start.”
The Peacock Calls: Building NBC’s Sunday Night Football Into a Ratings Juggernaut
In advance of the 2006 season, NBC won the rights to the Sunday Night Football package, which was to become the NFL’s No. 1 primetime broadcast package. That’s when Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer and legendary NBC Sports exec Dick Ebersol came calling.
“Watching a game that Gaudelli produces is unbelievable,” says Ebersol. “When it was announced that we were going to have Sunday Night Football, we watched a [MNF] game in their [truck]. I became very taken by listening to the conversation back and forth between Fred and Drew Esocoff, who was directing that game. Their language was almost without words as decisions got made in the truck. I said to them. ‘Come back to the hotel after the game. I’d love to buy you guys a drink.’”
That drink led to a new job at a new network producing Sunday Night Football for NBC and marked the beginning of a new chapter in NFL broadcast history. Since NBC launched SNF in 2006 with Gaudelli at the helm, it has held the title of primetime’s No. 1 TV show for an unprecedented 10 consecutive years.
“Fred has the respect of the league, the coaches, the players, and the production team,” says Mark Lazarus, chairman, NBCUniversal Television and Streaming, and former chairman, NBC Sports Group. “SNF is the number-one show in primetime for more than a decade due to Fred’s strong leadership, dedication, preparation, and relationships.”
In 15 seasons on NBC (2006-20), Sunday Night Football has won 30 Sports Emmys and is the first-ever 10-time honoree for Outstanding Live Sports Series, having won its 11th honor in the category following the 2020 season (it also received a record six consecutive Emmys in the category from 2008 to ’13).
“His work ethic and dedication to the profession have been a driving force not just for himself but for his peers and those that follow. I benefited as much as anyone,” says Esocoff. “There’s no question who the leader of the group is and he takes that on himself. That’s why he’s the best ever at what he does.”
Although Gaudelli has focused primarily on the gridiron during his time at NBC, he also produced the network’s Triple Crown coverage in 2011 and served as coordinating producer in 2012.
NBC promoted Gaudelli to his current position of SNF executive producer in June 2016 and also named him lead producer for its Thursday Night Football series. The 2016 debut of the NBC/NFL Network Thursday Night Football series, which was primetime’s No. 2 show in the 2016-17 TV season.
“Fred has the most brilliant eye for telling a three-hour story,” says NBC Sports game analyst Cris Collinsworth, who is in his 13th season alongside Michaels in the SNF booth. “Like the most talented filmmakers, he introduces the characters, hooks you on intimate storylines, and artfully rides those storylines to unpredictable conclusions. The difference is, Fred is doing it in real time without a script. There will not be another one like him, so enjoy his artistry while you still can.”
A 24-time Emmy Award–winner, Gaudelli is now in his 32nd season as lead producer for an NFL primetime game and his 16th season producing SNF for NBC.
“It is an honor to be a part of the same team as Fred Gaudelli and to see someone in action on a day-to-day basis who is truly the very best at what he does,” says NBC Sports Group President Pete Bevacqua. “Fred has a tangible passion for his work, and I am constantly amazed how each off-season, instead of resting on his laurels and decades of experience, he tirelessly strives to be better and looks for ways to elevate his teammates and Sunday Night Football. Fred improves each year. As a result, we do, too.”
A Storyteller to the Core: Gaudelli’s Philosophy at the Front Bench
A fanatical researcher and student of the game, Gaudelli believes in “being prepared for every possible eventuality.” However, he also stresses the importance of agility, the ability to adapt on the fly as the story unfolds on the field.
“I want to have an idea of a decision that I might have to make before I actually have to make it,” he says. “I’m a pretty incessant preparer, and I’m involved in every aspect of the show. That is pretty time-consuming, but I believe that is what the job requires. The one thing I’ve learned is that you can’t bend the telecasts to your will; the game is going to have its own story, and you better be ready to jump off your plan and adapt to the story evolving right in front of you.
“Madden had a great line about this: ‘You can’t format a live event,’” he continues. “You can have all the bells and whistles, but, if you’re not going to cover the game itself, people aren’t going to care about any of that stuff. I try to be a slave to the story that’s developing and not a slave to the things that I prepared in advance.”
Always a champion of technology when it can enhance the story, Gaudelli helped introduce live pitch-speed tracking during the 1988 College World Series — a first in television history.
On the NFL front, he also introduced the iconic 1st & Ten yellow-line technology in 1998, as well as the GoalPost Cam and the rotating clock/scorebox during his years producing Sunday Night Football on ESPN. In addition, he produced the first live sports telecast to use real-time polling data (via Enhanced TV) on all instant-replay challenges. In 2017, Gaudelli and Esocoff oversaw the first NFL game broadcast with the primary live coverage coming from Skycam, which followed NBC’s groundbreaking “dual” Skycam coverage of the notorious Fog Bowl II in Foxborough, MA.
“There’s no question that technology has allowed us to tell the story better,” says Gaudelli. “When it comes to technology, I just keep the criteria pretty simple. Does it make the game easier to understand, or does it make it more enjoyable? If it can do one of those two things, it’s probably worth it. If it can do both, it’s definitely worth it. And if it can’t do either, then I’d rather not have it.”
Looking Back: How Family, Friends, and Mentors Molded a Hall of Famer
Gaudelli, who currently resides in Madison, CT, credits his family and mentors for creating the path to success. He cites his first bosses at ESPN in Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famers Bill Fitts and Scotty Connal; former ESPN/ABC Sports execs John Wildhack, Steve Anderson, John Walsh, Steve Bornstein, and Howard Katz; and NBC legend Dick Ebersol and current Peacock execs Mark Lazarus and Pete Bevacqua as core to his success over the years.
“It’s rare you work 40 years in any business and say you’ve had nothing but great bosses,” says Gaudelli, “but I’ve been lucky that that has been the case for me. They were people that believed in me and gave me the resources and autonomy necessary for success.”
Gaudelli has also mentored several leading producers creating broadcasts today, including ESPN’s Tim Corrigan (NBA) and Tom Archer (MLB) and NBC’s Rob Hyland (Olympics and Triple Crown) and Pierre Moossa (Premier League), among many others.
Gaudelli praises his mother and father for instilling their passion and work ethic in him at an early age. Of his daughter Reese, a freshman at Syracuse University’s S.I Newhouse School for Public Communications, he says, “There’s no one in the world that means more to me than her.” He also credits the support of his longtime companion Maria as key to his success personally and professionally.
Today, Gaudelli continues at the front bench alongside Esocoff in the SNF truck every Sunday night and has no plans to slow down anytime soon. Reflecting on his three decades producing primetime NFL broadcasts and 40-plus years in the business, he cites a simple formula: extremely hard work and a fanatical passion for the game.
“To me, every game is a Super Bowl,” he explains. “I don’t treat any game less than I treat the Super Bowl. I and the thousands of others who have worked on our shows want people to have a better experience watching our games than they do watching anything else on television. So, in the end, I’d like to think I’ve had a small impact on how [pro football] is consumed and perceived by people. If that’s the case, then I’ve done my job.”