NBC Sports is planning to re-air some of the network’s best Super Bowl telecasts of the past 60 years as broadcasters continue to lean into airing classic games in the absence of live sports.
Starting June 1, the sports cable network will re-air seven Super Bowls originally telecast by NBC on NBCSN and NBC.
Among them will be the most-watched TV show in U.S. history: Super Bowl XLIX between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks in 2015, which averaged a record 114.4 million viewers. Other games include the New York Jets’ landmark Super Bowl III win over the Baltimore Colts in 1969, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 35-31 Super Bowl XIII win over the Dallas Cowboys in 1979 and Super Bowl XXXII in 1989, famous for the San Francisco 49ers and Joe Montana’s winning touchdown drive.
In addition to appearing on television, the content will also stream on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports App.
The “Super Bowl Week in America” strategy was born out of a previous pandemic programming move to re-air “classic” Sunday Night Football games in late March, according to Executive Producer Fred Gaudelli.
Those SNF encores averaged 163,000 viewers. During subsequent talks with the NFL, the network pitched the idea of re-airing some of the greatest NBC Sports-produced Super Bowl telecasts in primetime.
“We chose games that ranged from nail-biters like Patriots-Seahawks from five years ago to the Chicago Bears first-ever Super Bowl victory, to the Jets’ Super Bowl III win – which was very important from a historic perspective,” said Gaudelli.
NBC’s Liam McHugh will introduce each night’s Super Bowl telecast. During the games, he’ll speak with star players from those Super Bowls, including Joe Namath, Jerry Rice, Lynn Swann, Terrell Davis, and Malcolm Butler.
That strategy will add more context to the games, according to NBC. The re-broadcasts will also look to connect viewers to famous sportscasters like SNF’s current team of Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth and Michele Tafoya, as well as John Madden (who finished his historic TV career calling Super Bowl XLIII in 2009), as well as the late Dick Enberg and Curt Gowdy.
NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” ranked as the number one show in primetime for a record ninth-straight season in 2019, averaging 20.5 million viewers, up 5% from the season before. The Super Bowl reruns should get fans further excited for the expected return of live NFL games in September, Gaudelli said.
“We think that there’s an appetite for classic NFL games, and especially Super Bowls,” Gaudelli said. “We expect fans will be more than ready for the NFL’s return.”
Like other networks, NBC has been dipping into its library to fill programming holes caused by the shutdown of live sporting events. During recent weeks, it has re-aired back-to-back tournament wins by Tiger Woods in 2001; the famous “Bush Push” Notre Dave vs. USC game from 2005 with Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart; and also classic French Open matches with Serena Willams, Venus Williams and Andre Agassi.
Still, sports networks can only dip into the vault for old games before viewers get bored.
“It’s a little early to whet an appetite for a season that starts in three-plus months,” sports media consultant Lou D’Ermilio of LOUD Communications said. “But sports fans are starved for something to watch. This is post-Memorial Day, re-run time of year anyway. So why not?”
NBC’s roster of sports rights include the NFL, Olympics, NHL, NASCAR, Notre Dame Football, Premier League, Thoroughbred Racing and IndyCar.
The pandemic has forced TV partners like NBC to adapt to the challenge of televising games without fans in the stands once games return.
Broadcasters are considering everything from piped-in crowd noise to inserting fans digitally into empty seats, in addition to the options available with augmented and virtual reality technology.
NBC has been wrestling with these topics in weekly production meetings since April, according to Gaudelli. There are still no decisions. But nothing is out of bounds, he said.
“We’ve been watching how other sports come back on television – some with piped-in sound and virtual fans. Nothing is off the table at this point. But this is something that I’d expect all of the networks will discuss closely with the NFL as we approach the preseason and regular season,” said Gaudelli.
“Obviously, with empty stadiums or reduced capacities, there may be more opportunity to get in-game sound, but there could be a competitive issue there, so that’s definitely something we’ll speak about with the NFL.”