The stats about NBCU’s Rio Olympic coverage, like its 75,000 square-foot main broadcast compound requiring about 131,000 feet of fiber optic cable, are impressive.
But it might be more telling that the operation’s seems to have left even a veteran of big-time TV sports sounding flabbergasted.
“I’ve been around plenty of remote TV productions,” says Olympic TV rookie Mike Tirico. “But this is even beyond my scope of understanding.”
Which is saying something. Tirico worked marquee NFL and NBA action and golf and tennis majors as well as Brazil’s 2014 World Cup at ESPN/ABC before joining NBC in July – when he was dispatched to The Open at Troon on NBC/Golf Channel.
But he suggests the expanse of NBC’s Rio operation, propelled by 2,000-plus workers, pretty much has to seen to be believed. “With all the technology, the people, the constant planning that’s involved and each of the (28 Olympic) sports being its own separate production, the size is something I couldn’t even grasp,” he says. “And then there’s the quality. With the Olympic research unit, you ask a bizarre question and you get an immediate fact-checked answer.”
Tirico, who’s perched above Rio’s famed Copacabana Beach as an NBC daytime host, shouldn’t get too accustomed to life in the biggest single expeditionary force deployed in American broadcasting. He's going to have to make a quick transition: Just four days after Rio extinguishes its Olympic torch, Tirico will work an Atlanta-Miami NFL preseason game in Orlando with Cris Collinsworth and the pair will call another one – Cincinnati-Jacksonville – just three days later.
Tirico can’t complain that, unlike his legions of colleagues who can immerse themselves strictly in the Games, he’s also doing some NFL homework in Rio.
In joining NBC, he was clear that the NBC’s exclusive Olympic rights through 2032 made it “impossible to turn away from the opportunity.” And now that he’s been part of the Rio coverage, it’s changed him: “Once you’re around the Olympics, you feel differently about the Games.”
But the Rio experience hasn’t changed his mind about some other Olympic issues that generated lots of attention before the Opening Ceremony. Such as whether golf being an Olympic sport, for the first time since 1904, would somehow come across as a gimmick by Games organizers hoping to use established spectator sport to grab some attention.
After plenty of speculation over whether Olympic golf might prove mediagenic, and after the unprecedented sight of golf stars completely free of corporate logos, Tirico says he stands “by my statement I made before I got here -- golf needs the Olympics more than the Olympics needs golf.”
And, he says, that’s not just because Sunday’s conclusion of men’s play, in which Britain’s Justin Rose held off Sweden’s Henrik Stenson and the USA’s Matt Kuchar for the gold, produced “outstanding” action. Or, that the action produced a clear signal from American viewers that they accepted Olympic golf: NBC/Golf Channel’s coverage of Sunday's dramatic final 90 minutes trailed only the venerable Masters as the highest-rated final round TV golf coverage of 2016.
No, Tirico says the big picture about Olympic golf is that pockets of the globe which don’t normally get much, if any, coverage of the sport finally got an opportunity to see it thanks to its new Olympic status. And some of the effects of that might take time to develop, such as a future top golfer having been inspired by Rio Olympic golf because it “planted the seed for the dream.”
Then there’s Rio itself, whose suitability and preparations to play host generated plenty of often-negative speculation before the Games. Tirico, after spending about six weeks in Rio for the 2014 World Cup, says he arrived “with a good sense of what Rio is about. And Rio now is not that different.”
He says he’s out walking a lot, and “haven’t for one second felt threatened or even concerned. The security concerns were a bit overstated.”
As Tirico now moves on to new but still-unspecified roles at NBC, he’ll likely generate some speculation himself – at least in media circles -- about his on-air Olympic future. His already high-profile at a relatively young age – 49 – suggests that over the years he might move on to bigger roles at future Games.
But Tirico, appropriately given his Olympic TV rookie status, is having none of that. He’s just glad to have enlisted in a TV genre in which greatness goes back decades: “I go back to the Jim McKay days (on ABC), and for those of us who grew up in the 1970s, it was truly special. Jim McKay was the perfect host. But after he set the bar, Bob Costas has Katie Ledecky-ed that!”
There's a phrase you don't hear everyday. And if you hear Tirico say somebody just got Katie Ledecky-ed on, say, NBC’s NFL preseason, you shouldn’t be too surprised.
Because Tirico sounds like he’ll savor this career highlight for awhile: “When I look back, I can say I’ve hosted Olympic coverage. And not many people can say that.”