While NBC Sports has found continued success with extremely valuable media properties like “Sunday Night Football,” which finished the NFL season as the number one primetime show a record ninth straight year, it is also finding success with niche sports like curling.
Through seven telecasts in 2020, NBCSN’s “Curling Night in America” is averaging 85,000 viewers, up 21% compared to two years ago. The show has already drawn over 100,000 viewers twice, including 126,000 on February 21, marking NBCSN’s most-watched “Curling Night in America” in three years.
It’s the sixth straight year NBCSN has aired curling nationally, part of a deal with the U.S. Olympic Committee, World Curling Federation and U.S. Curling Association.
To find success with the property, NBC Sports hasn’t looked to make the sport into the NFL or NASCAR – rather it has leaned it what makes the sport unique.
The players’ talk strategy at great length. Things move at a lethargic pace until the polished, granite stones are released down the curling ice sheet. Suddenly, it’s like a craps table in Las Vegas with teammates yelling instructions and encouragement.
To take advantage of that, all the players are mic’d up to make sure every emotional high and low of the sport is captured.
“With the audio, you’re able to listen to the strategy, listen to the players talk and react to a good shot or a bad shot,” says Jim Carr, producer and director at Carr-Hughes production company, which produces curling on behalf of NBCSN.
“I don’t want to call us the reality sport of TV. But it gives you that realism,” Carr said. “You’re getting and strategy and insight that you don’t get in a lot of sports.”
Jeff Monty, a sports producer and creative director at Carr-Hughes, agreed the audio is a “huge” plus when it comes to televising curling.
“It’s really a unique situation. You don’t get to sit in the dugout and listen to a manager talk to the number three-hitter in the lineup about how they’re going to approach an at-bat. You get to be a fly on the wall,” noted Monty. “That’s what makes curling so fascinating. Initially, people said this game moves slow. But it actually helps us bring out what’s unique about it. You get to listen to the Skip bounce ideas off the rest of his (team) — and be a fly-on-the-wall in that decision-making process.”
The second thing NBC and Carr-Hughes did was put a robotic camera directly over the ice sheet and scoring area, or house.
This intimate view helped capture the finesse and grace of players – as well as the actual turn, or curl, of the moving stones.
From a production standpoint, curling also makes heavy use of telestrators. Announcers tell viewers what they would do with a shot in a certain situation, giving viewers a quicker, and more thorough understanding of the game.
Curling is not alone when it comes to increasingly micing up players
NBC puts mics and earpieces on players for the Premier Lacrosse League. Network announcers interview players right on the field after a goal. Ditto for the XFL, which has given sideline reporters free rein to interview players on the sidelines.
During ESPN’s “All Access” telecast of a Chicago Cubs vs. Los Angeles Angels on March 2, the announcers interviewed Cubs stars Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant during live game play.
Audio has become the last frontier for pro sports coverage, according to Jon Miller, president of programs at NBC Sports and NBCSN.
“The cameras and the resolution have gotten so good, you can already see about as clearly and as well as you want,” Miller said. “But to be able to hear the dialogue? That, to me, is really unique. You don’t see it in a lot of sports. But you’d like to hear it in a lot of sports.”