In Its Last NHL Stanley Cup Final, NBC Sports Aims To Produce ‘First-Class Product Through the Final Shift of the Game’
Canadian travel restrictions complicate crewing decisions
One of the longest-running sports-rights partnerships of the 21st century will come to an end at the close of this year’s Stanley Cup Final, when the NHL departs NBC Sports Group for ESPN and Turner Sports next season. However, the NBC Sports production team is determined to go out on a high note, ensuring its 16th consecutive Stanley Cup Final production is on par with all those that came before.
“We’re going to finish up strong here in our final hurrah,” says NBC Sports Coordinating Producer John McGuinness. “We are going to put out a first-class product through the final shift of the game. And that has been [Executive Producer/President, Production] Sam Flood and my edict since the beginning of the playoffs. So far so good, and we’re just going to keep hammering it.”
NBC dropped the puck on its coverage of the Tampa Bay Lighting–Montreal Canadiens series on Monday with a Lightning 5-1 win at home. The series continues tonight with Game 2 at 8 p.m. ET in Tampa before shifting to Montreal for Game 3 on Friday.
Navigating Logistics North of the Border
It wasn’t until well after the Playoffs were under way that the Canadian government officially granted the NHL a travel exemption that would allow teams and broadcasters to cross the border for the Conference Finals and the Final. And the Canadian government continues to be extremely restrictive as to who is allowed to enter and exit the country.
As a result, although NBC is sending a crew of nearly 35 (including its announce team and most of its camera crew) and a production truck to Montreal, the bulk of the production team will be in a truck in Tampa.
“We’ll be taking that feed with our announcers back to Tampa and our truck there,” says McGuinness. “The producer and director will be down in Tampa communicating with the announcers.”
He notes that the strict safety protocols required for talent and crew during the Final made traveling everyone to the games in Canada impractical. Instead, NBC will take a world feed from Canadian rightsholder Sportsnet and augment it with its own camera feeds, graphics, and commentary.
“There’s a lot of red tape that our announcers have to go through,” McGuinness adds. “There’s quarantining. Even in Tampa, the only places they can go are the arena and their hotel room. And to put all of our crew through that was just logistically going to be a nightmare for us, to be honest with you.”
In terms of the production complement, he says, camera levels and elements are on par with what NBC has done in previous years at the Final, and no resources have been cut compared with years past. Productions in Tampa include roughly 30 cameras (half manned, half unmanned), which is on par with the 2019 Final. NBC added a Sony HDC-4800 high-speed camera beginning in the early rounds of the Playoffs and continues to deploy it for the Final.
“Operationally, [the Playoffs have] gone very well,” says McGuinness. “The difficulty [and] challenge this year was, the games have been up in Canada and Montreal, having to take a feed from the host broadcaster, but we’ve been doing that for the last couple of seasons and supplementing that with our announcers onsite. That was a bit of a challenge,” he adds, “but we got through that. Overall, we’re very happy with the way the Playoffs have gone so far. We’re looking forward to a long series here.”
NBC’s 16-Year Legacy on the Ice
Although McGuinness and his team remain focused on the series at hand, it’s impossible not to reflect on the legacy NBC has created in 16 years of producing NHL games. He credits Flood with leading the charge to innovate in the Peacock’s NHL coverage, including introduction of the Inside the Glass position that changed the way hockey was covered on television.
“The credit has to go to Sam Flood, our executive producer, who is a hockey player [and] used to play at Williams College,” McGuinness says. “He came up with the Inside the Glass position, so full credit goes to him for that. That has really opened up the game. We’ve heard some great things in between the benches and some firsthand information down there.”
He also cites the Winter Classic, Stadium Series, bringing an exciting 3-on-3 format to the All-Star Game, using NBC announcers on every single Stanley Cup Playoffs game, and the recent use of the first all-female announce team and production crew on an NHL game as major advances that NBC and the league have worked on during their partnership. In addition, he notes how NBC has innovated and enhanced NHL broadcasts with technology.
“There’s a lot of things that we did behind the scenes,” he points out, “just with different camera angles and replays and super-slo-mos and X-Mos and trying to use the technology as much as we could, [such as] drones at the outdoor game in Lake Tahoe. Personally, I wish ESPN and Turner success. Hopefully, they’ll push the envelope even further and make the games more enjoyable.”