The controversy over NFL national anthem protests dominated the first half of the football season, prompting some nervous advertisers to threaten to pull their spots if coverage persisted. Those demonstrations have since tapered off, but if they recur during Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4, NBC said it won’t hesitate to spotlight it on-air for the telecast’s 100-million-plus viewers.
“The Super Bowl is a live event … and when you’re covering a live event, you’re covering what’s happening. So if there are players that choose to kneel, they will be shown live,” Super Bowl LII executive producer Fred Gaudelli said at the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour.
Gaudelli, who also executive produces Sunday Night Football and Thursday Night Football for NBC, added that while the controversy has “died down” since Thanksgiving, “it’s certainly possible that could happen again.”
If it does, he continued, “we could cover it the same way we would cover it on a Sunday night game or a Thursday night game.” NBC would show it, identify the athlete, explain “in a very concise way” why they are kneeling “and then get on with the game.”
Prior to the protests, the national anthem was rarely broadcast during the regular NFL season, but “obviously the national anthem is always covered live at the Super Bowl,” Gaudelli said. Earlier this week, Pink was tapped to sing the national anthem during the game.
Some advertisers have tried to distance themselves from coverage of the NFL national anthem protests, threatening to pull their ads over the controversy earlier this season—though none ultimately did—Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising sales and client partnerships for NBCUniversal, said in November.
A “list of advertisers have made themselves very clear: If you continue covering the political coverage of the issue, we will not be part of the NFL,” Yaccarino said at the time. “Because think about it: they have half the country that is cheering about that, and they have half the country that is emailing them, saying, don’t do that. So that’s a real thing.”
The potential protest controversy aside, Gaudelli said he has big plans for the Super Bowl, which is “the most anticipated event in America, every single year. We’ve spent the last year getting ready for this day.”
Al Michaels, who will be doing the play-by-play for his 10th Super Bowl, said his philosophy about the big game is always the same: “We’re not doing this game just for football fans. We like to think of it as the Big Top: You open up the canvas, and we say, come one, come all, come in and join us.”
After all, “the NFL is the greatest unscripted show out there,” said Michaels, who said he had always hoped to call the first-ever Super Bowl that went into overtime. But since that honor went to the Fox crew during last year’s game, “I guess we’re rooting for the first triple-overtime Super Bowl, so we go deep into the night,” he said. “This Is Us”—which is airing after the game—“has to be delayed until after midnight. They won’t mind that, either.”
NBC Sports will debut a new graphics package for the Super Bowl, said Gaudelli, which will include virtual graphics featuring three-dimensional scans of several players participating in the game.
Given the game’s Minneapolis locale this year, “the biggest challenge would be if you got socked with a major snowstorm on Super Bowl Sunday that would make it difficult for people to get to the game,” said Gaudelli, who added that Midwesterners are “unfazed” by snowy weather, “so I don’t really think the cold weather is going to be that much of a factor.”
Gaudelli declined to speculate about where the Thursday Night Football package that he oversees will go next season, now that NBC and CBS’ joint deal for those games is up. “Those negotiations are just about beginning, and it’s hard to speculate as to what’s going to be happen,” he said. “It’s really early in the game right now.”