On the Gridiron: How the Kansas City Chiefs Celebrated Super Bowl LIV, Displayed Moment of Unity Before Season Opener
A close relationship with NBC Sports made both moments possible
Many professional sports have opted for a return to play inside a sanitized bubble. Not the NFL. Without skipping a beat, the league is soldiering on with regular-season games in all 30 stadiums across the country. Similar to our At the Ballpark series, On the Gridiron examines the new routines, habits, and production philosophies of in-venue personnel on any given Thursday, Sunday, or Monday.
In one of the last major sports events prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Super Bowl LIV, the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers to become NFL royalty. The champs spotlighted their accomplishment before the game kicking off the 2020 season on Sunday Night Football, but, to highlight a bigger social need, the in-venue team worked with NBC Sports to broadcast the two NFL teams’ gesture of equality.
“Winning the Super Bowl is, hopefully, not a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” says Kristen Pugh, manager, game and event entertainment, Kansas City Chiefs. “We worked together to get [the pregame ceremony] done, but we were able to do a lot of other things in pregame that spoke for humanity and the love for all people.”
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Let the Party Begin: Franchise Celebrates First Championship Since 1970
In a competitive league like the NFL, winning a Super Bowl is an extremely hard goal to achieve. With young stars like quarterback Patrick Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce, as well as a defense that is as stingy as they come, the franchise is poised to defend its title. But the team reveled in its achievement before the season opener against the Houston Texans. In the age of COVID-19, however, a process that was once simple became filled with difficulty.
“Getting [to the home opener and the Super Bowl celebration] is hard to do,” notes Pugh, “but getting there during COVID-19 is even harder. There was a process of getting people allowed on the field and having someone get tested so that they could be on the field to direct the production.”
Players and members of the franchise received their championship rings during a private gathering at the stadium in early September, but, for this public celebration, a large-scale version of the Lombardi trophy was placed at the 50-yard line as the backdrop for speeches given to the 15,895 fans in attendance. Among the dignitaries was Kansas City Chiefs Chairman/CEO Clark Hunt, who hoisted the Lombardi trophy in the air and spoke prior to the unveiling of the Super Bowl Champions banner.
24-Hour Notice: Team Works With NBC To Adjust Production Plans on Wednesday Night
While acknowledging a championship is necessary, constructing a platform and bringing a voice to a major social issue is even more important. The moment of unity between the Chiefs and Texans has been well-documented since the beginning of the season, but, for the staffers who created this scene of solidarity, the work occurred behind the scenes and began one day before kickoff.
For a massive show like Sunday Night Football (which handled the NFL Kickoff Game on Thursday, Sept. 10), a production plan is created and set for air prior to the day of the contest. The process is similar for an in-venue show, especially when it’s the first game on the league’s calendar. When Mahomes and Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson came up with the show-of-unity idea on Wednesday night, Pugh and the NBC broadcast team needed to reconstruct their previous agenda to fit the new wrinkle into the run of show.
“We ended up changing all of our timing for the pregame,” says Pugh. “We also had to meet with [SNF Executive Producer] Fred Gaudelli and with people from the league after our rehearsal on Wednesday.”
The impromptu decision by both NFL teams put the Chiefs and the network up against a hard deadline, but the meeting late Wednesday night ensured that the crews would be in sync and in communication.
“It turned out beautifully],” Pugh adds. “I wouldn’t have wanted to work so hard and put in the extra time, effort, and energy that it took to make that happen [with any other team]. Most of the shots that were seen on the broadcast were seen in the stadium because we worked closely with Fred to make sure that we were streaming at the same time and were connected on timing.”
Live on Social Media: At-Home Fans Treated to Pre/Postgame Shows on Facebook
Although thousands of fans are onsite in a socially distant manner, fans unable to experience a game day at Arrowhead Stadium are living vicariously through digital offerings before and after the game. The production staff has been working on the project over past seasons, but it has become a huge priority during the pandemic.
“For the past few years, we’ve been doing our pre/postgame show that is live streamed on Facebook,” says Pugh. “It has been a really cool thing to be able to push more to that, and, now that our broadcast window has opened up a little bit, we can show some more things leading into kickoff.”
Led by producer Anna Tobkin, these live streams are one of the main ways that fans can still connect to their beloved team. Different from what is seen during the pregame on the national networks, these shows set the table for a full day of action with hometown flavor.
“We’re trying to push our fans towards those live streams to be able to show everything we’ve got going on [at the stadium] by bringing people on to break down what they think is going to happen,” she explains. “They’ve also done a good job of connecting with the [national] broadcast by getting other people outside of the organization to weigh in.”
The Ones Who Get It Done: Notable Names of Chiefs’ Production Team
Off to an undefeated start, the Super Bowl champs are picking up right where they left off in February. The content and production teams are humming on all cylinders as well, and that’s through the efforts of Pugh and her colleagues, including Director, Live and Game Day Production, Brad Young.
“He has been here for over 10 years,” says Pugh, adding, “Not only is it his longevity but also his ability to be there for all of us. He’s vastly talented at what he does by being a leader, keeping everyone together, and fighting for the people who work for him.”
The franchise might have rewritten the history books with its first Super Bowl victory in half a century, but more history is being made above the playing field and inside the control room. Tobkin, who runs point on the live streams, became the first female videoboard director in the 48-year history of Arrowhead Stadium when she took the helm for the home opener.
“During the entire offseason and during all of these challenges, she has built out what our live streams look like,” says Pugh. “She’s done so much [for our team], and it’s incredible to watch her grow, because I know how much work she puts in.
The Chiefs host the New England Patriots at 7:05 p.m. ET Monday, Oct. 5 at Arrowhead Stadium.