Live From Super Bowl LVII: Fox Sports’ Brad Zager on How His Team Preps for the Big Game
The effort is one part of a six-month stretch from World Cup to Daytona 500
For Fox Sports President, Production and Operations/Executive Producer Brad Zager and the rest of the team at Fox Sports, Super Bowl LVII is the culmination of a full season of development. It’s also part of an incredible month of big-time sports productions and a six- month run comprising the World Cup, the World Series, and plenty of college sports. Zager spoke with SVG Editorial Director Ken Kerschbaumer in Phoenix ahead of the Big Game.
The Fox Sports NFL regular-season A game is pretty big from a production standpoint, as were the playoff games. How do you amp things up for the Super Bowl?
Before the season starts on the Super Bowl years, we sit down and figure out a process to ramp it up throughout the end of the regular season and into the postseason, with each round getting bigger. That’s so, when [Super Bowl Producer] Richie Zyontz and [Super Bowl Director] Rich Russo sit down to do this show, they’re not going from zero to 100 because it’s a Super Bowl.
At all our meetings, we talk about how we [apply] our core values for how we produce a game in the regular season to how we do the Super Bowl. The last thing we want to do is change so much that we’re not doing the basics the way we’re used to doing them. We want to be able to accentuate and add to the broadcast, not change everything.
And we are proud of a lot of the bells and whistles that make the Super Bowl big; we try to augment things to make sure we have everything covered. There’s the large number of cameras and large number of tape machines and resources, and we go in knowing that not everything is going to make air. But we are covered just in case. And that’s a lot of Super Bowl [production]: making sure that you’re covered for every situation, every circumstance.
In the past couple of weeks, Russo and I have talked not just about where the cameras are in the stadium but about learning from each playoff game as the stakes get higher. What happened in the game? If it happened in the Super Bowl, how would we have covered it, and are we ready for it? It’s more than just starting from scratch on the Super Bowl.
Unlike next week, when you start the NASCAR season with the Daytona 500.
Yes, in NASCAR, we’re starting with the Super Bowl, especially as The Clash [last weekend in Los Angeles] is such a different type of race. The Daytona 500 can smack you in the face pretty hard, but I’m excited to get down there.
Walk me through that challenge, please. This is the first time you’ve had the Super Bowl and Daytona 500 on back-to-back weeks. Usually, there has been a week gap.
Yes, and we had the most NFL playoff games we’ve done in a long time. We had two crews do the Wild Cards and the divisional games and then the NFC Championship and now the Super Bowl. We were looking at four straight weekends of the NFC Championship, The Clash, the Super Bowl, and then the Daytona 500. Doing any of those four would be a huge month, but we did all four of them.
We tried to get as far ahead of that as possible and lay out not just the Super Bowl but how the how the whole month was going to work with all the logistics. We’ve had people in Arizona for close to a month now, and people are going right from here to the Daytona 500, especially on the technical side. We’ve been balancing the resources since last fall [with] Qatar and the World Cup. We had a lot of meetings about how we’re going to move all these pieces around the chess board going into the fall. We have the biggest show still ahead of us, but so far so good.
One change from the last time you were here in Phoenix for a Super Bowl is that the studio show is at the stadium. What do you see as the advantage of that approach?
It was about what works for this Super Bowl. In Miami three years ago, we had the South Beach set outside at the Fan Plaza. Here, we will be able to incorporate all of our talent without having to worry about moving them around, because you can lose your talent for over an hour doing that. That was a big part of [the decision]: where do we think we’re going to produce the best five-hour show? We thought it was just outdoor to indoor this year and being able to stay at the stadium. Two years from now, when the Super Bowl is in New Orleans, we’ll look at that one differently. But, for this Super Bowl, this made the most sense for how we were going to produce the best five hours.
What are some of the new things we can expect to see on Sunday?
We’re going to debut a new insert look for Fox Box and a new insert animation package for the Super Bowl that is very Super Bowl-centric with trophies and rings and [other] things that don’t translate to the regular season.
We have some other bells and whistles, like multiple Skycams and outdoor AR graphics built specifically for the Super Bowl. But again, we want to make sure that our resources are going to be ready for the biggest moments.
Three years ago, the Illustrator graphics debuted at the Super Bowl. Is that getting updated?
Yes, those are going to have a new look as the NFL was all-in. We will also refresh them for NASCAR as they were also all-in. With the same drivers every week and having such great access to them, that one was easy.
You have plenty of cameras, and the audio is great. What’s on your wish list for the next Super Bowl? Do you see things like AI playing a role?
Before we get to AI and machine learning helping the broadcast, I think there’s a way to go with 4K and 8K. We have an 8K camera that we haven’t had in the past: [it will be] shooting the whole field, and we’ll be able to extract anything we need out of it. How do 4K and 8K actually augment feeds? [Because] they ingest so much data in the shot, how can we extract something and actually get things that we normally wouldn’t be able to get?
During the NFC Championship Game, [San Francisco 49er] Nick Bosa was hurt on the sideline when a player ran into him. Russo and I discussed what if that happened in the Super Bowl, and we figured that, if an 8K camera had each sideline, we could pull that shot out. The level of 4K and 8K cameras is continuing to improve, and that’s a place where you’ll see a big improvement in the next two years.
I have to ask about HDR, which you guys have embraced a lot, including for the Super Bowl.
We feel like we’re the leader as we produced so many events this year in HDR. We produced two college football games every single week, including Big Noon, which is in 4K every single week. We did the entire MLB Postseason in HDR and the NFL on Thanksgiving in HDR, and every one of our playoff games so far has been done in HDR. Then, there was also the World Cup and even the Westminster Dog Show in HDR. We’re proud of where we are and working with our affiliate group and our distribution. If people at home have invested in 4K, we give them the biggest events at the highest level.
Your team has been through an amazing six months, beginning with the World Cup preparation. Can you talk a bit about getting to this point?
We have the most amazing, talented group of dedicated people that have spent often long periods of times away from their families. Their dedication and what they have devoted is something I am inspired by. The culmination of an amazing run is the Super Bowl and then the Daytona 500 the following week. At some point, we’ll be able to take a step back and appreciate this run. It’s pretty amazing what this group has been able to do, and the hard work of everybody is not lost on us.