There were a lot of new things going on at Notre Dame for their final home game of the 2019 season against Boston College. One being the uniforms; Under Armour outfitted the Irish in a vintage look paying homage to the 1988 national championship team with a mesh look on the numbers and a different shade of pants. As far as alternate uniforms go, this one was pretty good. It was a traditional look with the familiar color scheme and no changes to the overall look; the black shoes were also a familiar touch.
Another new feature, this time to the broadcast, was the “Notre Dame Fan Feed” playing on NBC Sports Network during the game. It featured Paul Burmeister and Ryan Harris on the call from the radio feed, and an in-studio panel of SI’s Jessica Smetana (a Notre Dame graduate), former player Darius Walker, and current injured player Daelin Hayes, with NBC’s Ahmed Fareed serving as the host inside. The format moved from the in-studio discussion to the radio play by play during gameplay, with live look-in’s on the crowd and in the booth during the game. There were also sideline interviews by Tony Simeone, which featured talks with the Leprechaun, cheerleaders, fans in the stands, and different looks around the stadium.
First, credit to NBC for giving this a shot. Most of us have hated the SkyCam throughout the year, but it has been an attempt at innovation and a way to improve the broadcast, which we should all be happy about, even if it was a miss. This was another step in the right direction, as the regular broadcast has been pretty cookie cutter over the last couple of decades.
Second, there is something to the Fan Feed; it was a pretty big success, even if it wasn’t perfect. If you’re the type of person who doesn’t want to hear Doug Flutie or have Terry McCauley tell us why penalties on the opposition shouldn’t be penalties, this was an excellent alternative. It’s also something NBC ought to continue.
To get the full comparison, I watched the regular broadcast live, and the NBC Fan Feed broadcast a day later. It seemed like it’s hard to weigh one over the other without getting both experiences.
Why It Worked
Burmeister and Harris
Part of the frustration for fans over the years for NBC is in the spirit of being non-biased, the network was almost too deferential to the opposition. A common complaint is the booth, especially the color analyst, is rooting against the team. Those calls are certainly overboard, but listening to both feeds did highlight the contrasts in how the game is called. The radio team did not pump up Boston College the way the TV crew did while the game was in doubt in the first half. They simply called the game as it went. It may seem like a small or petty gripe, but it was noticeable.
It’s difficult because Mike Tirico is clearly very good, among the best in the business. Still, it was nice hearing Burmeister and Harris call the game, and the camera showing those two in real-time was fantastic. Burmeister brings excellent energy to the call, and Ryan Harris did an excellent job next to him. The analysis was sound, their chemistry was undeniable, and because it was the radio audio, it brought the stadium sounds to life, something that doesn’t always happen with the network broadcast. If the radio call was still available to the TV copy, I’m not sure I wouldn’t choose this option all the time.
This being the first time it’s been tried on a live broadcast, it’s remarkable how well this went. There were equal parts analysis from Darius Walker, who has done work for Fox Sports and ESPN, the fan view from Jessica Smetana, and a look into the team from Daelin Hayes. This was perfectly illustrated when Boston College hit the long pass that led to their only touchdown of the game.
Jessica Smetana was talking about the Notre Dame superstitions in her house growing up, BC hits the pass, and the room goes silent. Smetana then lets out an “oh, God,” Walker begins analyzing the replay, pointing out that Notre Dame is going to be in man coverage because of the running game of Boston College. They ask Hayes how the defense responds to that type of situation. The drive ultimately ends with a BC touchdown, and while Walker explains how he used to react as an offensive player, Smetana puts her head in her hands in despair, the appropriate reaction for fans everywhere.
@jessica_smetana channeling all of us and going full despair after BC scored their only touchdown was one of my favorite moments from their broadcast. Felt like we all had a proxy on TV. pic.twitter.com/THNH2Azf4K
— Greg Flammang (@greg2126) November 24, 2019
In addition to the game commentary, during various breaks, the crew talked about various topics; their favorite experiences, Smetana growing up a fan, and what brought them to Notre Dame. Walker tells a story from high school when he was approached by a random person at Burger King telling him to go to Notre Dame. Hayes chimed in about wanting opportunities he couldn’t get other places, his role on the broadcast being a perfect example. It felt like sitting in on a game watch.
What Can Improve
The biggest flaw was the rough transitions between the radio call and the in-studio crew. For example, there was a discussion going on about linebackers while Braden Lenzy was flying down the sideline on his touchdown run. They had to go to the replay before everyone even knew what happened. If you wanted an option other than Flutie, but still mainly wanted the game, you were probably a little put off by those things. That feels more like something that comes with reps for the producers than a fatal flaw in the idea. It’s a tough balance, though. There was an excellent exchange on the BC touchdown highlighted above.
They probably could have gotten more out of Hayes, who knows a lot of inside baseball with the team, but there was likely a limit about what he could talk about. I would like to see them push that envelope a little bit more, though.
All in all, it was a success. I enjoyed how it was put together and the whole idea of it. It’d be a shame if this were a one-off. There is something good there for NBC to explore, and why own the rights if you aren’t going to make it more viewer-friendly for Notre Dame fans? It seems like a win-win for everyone.