Jack Simmons, Fox Sports Stalwart and Beloved Industry Icon, Dies at 71

Over five decades, the operations executive helped cultivate the next generation of leaders

Jack Simmons, who played an integral role in the launch and development of Fox Sports as part of his five decades in the sports-broadcast industry, died on Saturday at the age of 71. A beloved figure in the sports-broadcast business and a Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer, he joined the newly launched Fox Sports in 1993 after more than 20 years at NBC Sports and went on to become SVP of production operations — a position he held for more than two decades. He is survived by his wife of 48 years, Wendy, and two children, Brendan and Katie.

A veteran of eight Super Bowls, 19 World Series, 13 Daytona 500s, three Olympics, five Stanley Cup Finals, three BCS Championships, two French Opens, and three Heavyweight Championship Fights, the 25-time Emmy Award winner saw it all. Fox Sports honored Simmons during its NASCAR broadcasts over the past weekend:

Simmons served a wide variety of roles during his long career: upper management, production, remote operations, studio operations, on-air operations, accounting, purchasing, even the mailroom. And he did it all while being one of the best-liked and most-respected individuals in the business. Active, too, in the SVG community, Simmons was inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2017:

Born in Brooklyn, Simmons grew up in Valley Stream, NY, spending summers at Breezy Point in the Rockaways. In 1970, he snagged a job in the mailroom at NBC, where he quickly worked his way up the ranks. By the age of 23, he was overseeing a team of 20 people in the Accounts Payable Department.

In 1978, Simmons got his first big break in sports when he landed a job as a scorer for NBC’s NFL 78 studio show, followed by a gig as Bryant Gumbel’s talent assistant on NFL 79 and a stint as unit manager for NBC’s 1980 Moscow Olympics coverage. By the end of 1980, Simmons was a full-time unit manager for Sportsworld, overseeing primarily boxing productions for the anthology series as well as for numerous big-time events. In 1987, he was named manager of advanced planning for NBC Sports in New York and, in 1990, headed out west to become NBC Sports’ manager of West Coast Operations.

When newcomer Fox outbid CBS for the NFL rights package in December 1993 and launched Fox Sports, David Hill’s L.A.-based upstart came calling, and Simmons accepted a job as director of production. Like the rest of the newly hired Fox Sports team, he was tasked with building an entire sports franchise over the course of a summer. He helped coordinate a massive studio and postproduction-facility buildout while also training an entire crew with minimal experience in a live–sports-production setting — all in time for football season.

Over the ensuing two-plus decades, Simmons became a staple of Fox’s NFL Sundays, not only overseeing game-day operations at Fox Sports’ broadcast center but also serving as one of its biggest cheerleaders. He built a strong relationship with the ad-sales team, selling extra spots in case of unforeseen commercial breaks (overtime games, NASCAR rain delays, etc.), providing affiliates with additional ad opportunities, ensuring maximum use of virtual-signage opportunities within the game, and developing many strategies that have become commonplace but were groundbreaking at the time.

Of all Simmons’s accomplishments at Fox, he is perhaps best-remembered for his role as liaison for Fox Sports’ military initiatives. Its telecasts regularly honored the military and incorporated patriotic elements, including live studio shows from military bases in Afghanistan, Seoul, Qatar, and Fort Bragg, NC. For his efforts, Simmons and the Fox NFL Sunday team were honored with the Armed Forces Foundation’s Patriot of the Year Award in 2009.

After retiring in 2016, Simmons continued his work with the military, serving as an Army Reserve Ambassador for the 63rd Readiness Division (a position that carries the protocol equivalent of a major general), reporting to the Office of the Chief of the Army Reserve. He also helped spearhead Sports Video Group’s VIP (Veterans in Production) initiative.

Simmons mentored a cavalcade of successful sports-production and operations executives during his time at NBC and Fox, helping cultivate the next generation of leadership in the sports-broadcast industry. Of his ability to mentor the next generation, Simmons said in 2017, “I like to help people, especially young people, and give them opportunities, because I started at the very bottom with nothing in this business. The thing I’m most proud of at Fox is that I was given the opportunity to successfully teach and train people. Looking back, I’m so proud of how smoothly it’s running. I hope that my legacy is that people who have worked with me know what to do and how to do it well.”

CLICK HERE for Simmons’s full Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame profile (which served as the basis for this article). Stay tuned to sportsvideo.org in the coming days for further tributes to the life and legacy of Jack Simmons.

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