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NFL Roundtable: Top Network Color Analysts Discuss Issues Facing Broadcasts

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With changes in technology and rising TV rights fees, the NFL’s media presence has continued to grow. THE DAILY conducted a roundtable with five leading national NFL color analysts -- Fox’ Troy Aikman, NBC’s Cris Collinsworth, ESPN’s Jon Gruden, NFL Network’s Mike Mayock and CBS’ Phil Simms -- discussing their views of  topics affecting broadcasts across the league.

Collinsworth said information on every team has
become easier to access

Q: How has calling the game changed?
Collinsworth: It’s changed a lot of different ways. I started in ’90 I think -- calling games -- and for me to get stories about the Seattle Seahawks was really difficult. I was buying every magazine, trying to get on local radio shows -- I was doing anything I could to try and learn about that local team. Now, with the Internet, every game video is available in HD on NFL.com. The only way we got access to the game tapes was to go to that city, go sit in their offices and they would let you watch it for a period of time, and that was a big part of the game prep. Now, there’s not the remotest possibility that I could watch everything I want to watch; read everything I want to read or study everything I want to study before we go on air.

Mayock: Things for me, thankfully, haven’t changed a whole lot. I think you still have to get the football part of it right. It’s the old John Madden thing: If you get the football right, everything else will be fine. And I look at that as my job: I have to get the football right. Now, as far as the rest of the industry, and doing shows in the studio, a lot has changed.

Simms: I have an instant replay where I can go back and forth, which I do like. I use it most of the time for overhead views that explain why somebody scored a touchdown or is wide open, or an interception of a play of some kind.

Gruden: Calling games has changed because the game itself has changed; the no-huddle offenses, the option football becoming prevalent in pro football.  You're not studying pass rushers; you're studying the read and the mesh of the quarterback. You're looking at different things; you're anticipating different situations now because of the nature of the game. And very importantly with the rule changes in regards to player safety, you've got to really be careful that you see the video before you comment because it is a very controversial matter right now, players and how they tackle, et cetera. I think those are the big changes.

Aikman: We’ve got the cable cam, and that I think has changed the way that we shoot the game and I think it’s a great camera that gives insight for the fans -- things like that that have certainly changed the way the game is seen. But as far as what I do or how I do it, I wouldn’t really say there’s been a dramatic shift in the last 13 years or has been for quite some time. I think technology certainly has impacted the experience for the viewer in a positive way -- it’s gotten them very, very close to the action on the field and I think that’s something that television is constantly striving to do, but for broadcasters when it’s all said in done, it’s a couple of guys ... talking about the game and presenting it to the fan and trying to give some insight into the game.

Q: How has social media changed broadcasting?
Collinsworth: You don’t need television critics anymore. If you want to know what people think about you, you can find out in short order. ... The first game I called after I’m on Twitter, and I go, “Oh, okay, let me go on here and look at some of the nice things people said about me.” Not so much (laughing). That was a mistake; that didn’t work out so well. It’s cruel. It’s like doing talk radio; when people are anonymous, what they say is completely different than what they’re going to do when they come up and see you in person.”

Mayock: There’s just so much awareness of the social media, and there’s so many immediate critics out there. Twitter, Facebook, whatever, that are voicing their opinions immediately and it seems like almost every show I watch these days, any kind of studio show, has a social-media piece to it. They’re looking for feedback from fans and trying to get the fans actively integrated into it, so I think it’s huge in the industry. But I think as far as actual game coverage during the live event, we have better technology but I think it’s still just about doing the game.

Q: How do you foresee the future of broadcasting with respect to the integration of advanced stats?
Collinsworth: Is there an interest on my end in all that? Yeah. Am I paying attention to it? I am. Am I reading all of it? I am. ... For the most part, I don’t worry too much about the statistics of the specifics of what’s going on because from what’s going on from our standpoint, it’s about people; it’s about matchups.

Mayock: Analytics has quickly become an accepted term in any major-league clubhouse. So I think it filters outward from the infrastructure of the teams themselves, and now it’s moving into the broadcasting industry. Because the reality is, my job is information-based, and I get most of my information from watching game tape and from talking to coaches. However, I’d be kind of dumb if I didn’t try to understand that there are certain statistical analyses that can help me do my job better.

Simms: These greats stats and all that, I don’t see it going too far. If I’m watching a telecast, if we want to start saying, “Hey, 33 percent chance they can pass, and 67 percent they won’t. What will they do!?” Then, boy, I won’t say I’ll be looking for a new job, but I’ll be shocked if it goes that way.

Mayock said the NFL's blackout rules aim
to protect the integrity of the game
Q: How do you view blackouts in the NFL, and whether they are beneficial or detrimental?
Mayock: When the NFL became what the NFL has become, it was because of the advent of television. I think it was a natural sport for television, obviously. And I think the blackout policy helps protect the individual franchises. From my perspective, I think all the individual teams are fighting hard now to sell out games. It’s a little different when you can sit at home without worrying about weather or anything else. ... I still think the NFL is trying to protect the integrity of the game at the stadium with the excitement. I understand what they’re trying to do, and I empathize with it.

Simms: The NFL is a great game; there are a lot of smart people running it, and business-wise they seem to be working things out pretty well. ... Whatever they’re doing, the program they got, it seems to work. I will answer this: I think there is becoming a fine line between the enjoyment of football on TV and the enjoyment of football at the stadium. Everybody’s staying home. Not that it worries me, because I can understand it. … The experience of being at a game -- it’s great. But the games are pretty great on TV too.

Aikman: I would never say people not coming to the game helps the product. But there was a time when, the reason they even had these blackouts was because they wanted to drive people to the game and that’s where the revenue was. Obviously there’s been a dramatic shift in terms of the last 40 years or whatever it’s been. Now, they’re loosening the blackout rules because so much of the revenue -- most of the revenue -- is generated based on TV. It certainly televises better when there’s a full stadium and people are at the games. It obviously has become more and more prevalent than where it once was. And to a certain extent I think that’s because of a couple things: With the rising costs at stadiums and the rising costs of the ticket prices that they’ve out-priced a number of fans who enjoy coming to the games. And also the experience at home has gotten so good that the fan is more and more inclined to stay at home and watch from the convenience of his own living room.

Q: How do you view whether analysts are giving enough attention to the head-injury issue during broadcasts?
Collinsworth: It is the most important subject going on right now when it comes to the game of football, because I think for the first time in my lifetime, you have people considering whether it’s the right thing for their kids to do. And we have long stories and a lot of discussion about why they shouldn’t. But I think that deserves a little balance from the standpoint that, I hate to think about our society with some of the kids that don’t always have great situations -- if we take away the influence of high school football coaches and coaches in general in any sport. I will fully admit that every time I forget someone’s name, I go, “I wonder if this is related to playing football?” With all the discussion going on, I mean none of us know what impact this game has had on our lives and will have on our lives in the future. So, if I talk about it anymore, I think people would throw me out.

Simms: What can I tell somebody that they haven’t heard 50 times? The one thing I can tell them is this: The NFL is doing everything they can to change practices; to change the way people do it at all levels; and they’re changing the game. What more can you do? I live it; I know it -- I know people who are older and younger than me that are former players. Each generation is going to see a tremendous improvement in overall health once they’re out of the game as we go along.

Gruden: Try not to turn the football game into a player safety matter. When you have a live football game, let's report the game itself. We try to cover as many different players in the game that we can. It's a great honor to be in this league and play on “MNF.” It's the only game going, so we try to stick to the game as much as possible, and I think that's the best approach to have.

Aikman: I don’t think people tune into the game to hear anyone break down the concussion issue and the safety issue of the sport. I think everybody recognizes it; I think most fans are aware of it. We touch on it if someone suffers a head injury; how then that’s handled and treated amongst the medical staff and trainers on the sideline. But to get into a discussion about the merits of the litigation now that’s it obviously been settled, I just didn’t feel like that’s the platform to do that.

Simms likes Bills RB C.J. Spiller's potential, but
thinks he is hurt by playing on a losing team
Q: Who is an NFLer that is flying under the radar either in terms of their marketability or broadcast ability?
Collinsworth:  A guy who I think would be a really good broadcaster is Matt Hasselbeck. I’ve always thought that he was really knowledgeable; he has a really dry sense of humor in talking about the game. ... You know who’d be good one day if he ever wanted to do it is London Fletcher. He’s fantastic. Everything he says sounds like an analyst; you get really insightful answers and he’s like the quarterback of the defense. He’s the one making the calls.

Simms: C.J. Spiller. He’s so fast with the ball, if he was in a big market with some splash on a winning team -- I mean C.J. Spiller, it’s a great name too. When I’ve seen him play in Buffalo I think, “Why haven’t I heard more from C.J. Spiller?” Well we don’t hear from anybody until they play great, play on winning team, get in the playoffs and somehow catch our fascination.

Aikman
: Victor Cruz. He’s not a guy I know but I think he has a lot of upside when he’s done playing, and has an opportunity or already has to get involved in a lot of things.
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