NBC ready to kick off NFL season

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Tom Miller
Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The NFL regular season begins with a special-edition game tonight, and NBC has been preparing for this as much as the players on the Ravens and Broncos.

“We discussed this in the office that this was the beginning point of a six-month sprint,” said Janesville native Greg Hughes, who is senior vice president, corporate communications for NBC Sports Group.

“We have Premier League soccer, which is a big deal for weekend mornings and Monday afternoons. Then we have 'Sunday Night Football.'

“We just started Notre Dame football, and the NHL season starts in October. That's a signature property for NBCSN.”

The biggest project—production wise—arrives in February.

“Looming in the distance is the Winter Olympics that begin Feb. 6,” Hughes said. “We've made numerous trips already to Russia.”

Hughes, who owns interests in both GameDay and BaZinga's, was in town last weekend, playing in a benefit softball tournament at Dawson Ball Fields with many longtime friends. After losing its first two games, the team—the GameDay Old Farts—came back to win four of five games in the loser's bracket. The softball games and two rounds of golf left Hughes feeling a bit like his team's name as he flew back to New York City on Monday.

While the Olympics take a massive amount of manpower and hours to telecast, the NFL is still NBC's biggest baby.

Forget “Breaking Bad” or any other hot show. “Sunday Night Football” is the No. 1-watched show on television.

Tonight's opening game pits Super Bowl champion Baltimore playing at Denver, a team it beat in the AFC divisional playoffs in two overtimes thanks to a secondary blunder by the Broncos at the end of regulation.

The Super Bowl champion has usually hosted the regular-season opener, but a conflict with the Orioles having a home game on the same night prevented the Ravens from getting that benefit.

“It's a quality matchup,” Hughes said. “They played an epic playoff game. In a similar way, the FOX doubleheader game on Sunday is the Packers-49ers.”

The Sunday-night schedule starts with the New York Giants at the Dallas Cowboys.

The biggest change in the SNF presentation will be in the “Waiting All Day for Sunday Night” introduction. Carrie Underwood replaces Faith Hill as the singer for the intro, which was based on Joan Jett's “I Hate Myself for Loving You.”

“That's our signature piece,” Hughes said. “(Hill) had done it for six seasons. She just felt it was time to pass the baton.”

All 17 SNF intros are in the can. Underwood did all 17 in about 90 minutes, Hughes said.

“She just hit it,” Hughes said. “She said, 'When the song comes on the air, it's like ringing the dinner bell for football fans.'”

The Packers will play in three Sunday night games. They play on the road for the first two—at Minnesota on Oct. 27 and against the New York Giants on Nov. 17. The Packers host the Atlanta Falcons on Dec. 8.

“The Packers against anybody is a great draw for us,” Hughes said.

NBC Sports just acquired NASCAR rights starting in 2015. FOX will telecast the first 16 Sprint Cup races in 2015, with NBC taking over and doing 20 NASCAR races and 19 Nationwide events.

Despite diminishing ratings because of ever-expanding cable and satellite program offerings, Hughes said NASCAR is still the No. 2 viewing draw, behind only the NFL.

Last season, for the first time ever, an NFL game was the week's most-watched TV show in all 17 weeks of the season.

Don't expect that to change, starting tonight when Joe Flacco and the Ravens take on Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Underwood won't be singing, but Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya and crew will be there to kick off the best season of the year—football.

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