Fred Gaudelli has been the lead producer of the Super Bowl television broadcast on seven different occasions. If you are into Roman numerals, Gaudelli has produced Super Bowls XXXVII, XL, XLIII, XLVI, XLIX, LII, and LVI. He has been in the production truck for some of the most exciting NFL title games in history, including Super Bowl XLIX in 2015, which featured New England Patriots rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler intercepting Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson at the goal line with 20 seconds left to seal New England’s 28-24 come-from-behind win over Seattle. That game averaged 114.4 million viewers, which ranked as the most-viewed Super Bowl in U.S. television history before last year’s Super Bowl took the title.
During his 33 seasons as the lead producer for an NFL prime-time TV game, which included stops at ABC, ESPN, NBC, and Amazon Prime Video, Gaudelli has produced innumerable NFL games with famous people in the stands. How would he feel about the prospect of Taylor Swift attending Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas on Feb. 11 if he were producing the game?
“I would consider it a gift from the gods,” said Gaudelli.
Gaudelli, because he lives on Planet Earth, knows that Swift crosses over into popular culture and that means the potential for more eyeballs on the product. (If you are a Swift hater, this piece is going to be a cruel summer for you, and it’s best to bail out now.)
The challenge for the CBS Sports production team for Super Bowl LVIII, if Swift does make it to the game to watch boyfriend Travis Kelce and the Kansas City Chiefs take on the San Francisco 49ers — is navigating how often you incorporate images of the singer into the broadcast.
The good news for the crew — led by producer Jim Rikhoff, director Mike Arnold and replay producer Ryan Galvin — is that they’ve had the Chiefs plenty this year, including the divisional-round game in Buffalo and AFC Championship Game in Baltimore, both of which Swift attended. It would be editorial dereliction not to show Swift during the game, but at the same time, how much do you show her?
Then there is a new question: How much does the Super Bowl, a game that includes millions of people who are first-time football viewers for that season, impact your decisions on showing her?
“Let’s go to the last Super Bowl I did,” Gaudelli said of the Los Angeles Rams’ win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Feb. 13, 2022. “We had (Rams quarterback) Matthew Stafford, his wife and kids. We had (Bengals quarterback) Joe Burrow’s parents and girlfriend. We had (Rams wide receiver) Cooper Kupp’s wife. We had (Rams offensive lineman) Andrew Whitworth’s wife and kids. We had (Bengals wide receiver) Ja’Marr Chase’s mom and dad. You have these shots set up because they’re part of the story of the game and because there’s five times as many people (watching) as you would get for a normal game. Right off the bat, you’re already thinking about who’s at the game, and in L.A. we had celebrities like LeBron James and Jay-Z. (Director) Drew Esocoff was cutting those shots during the game. So when Stafford threw a touchdown pass, there’s a shot of Stafford’s wife. Burrow is on the ground writhing in pain? You see his mom and dad and his girlfriend with the ultimate look of concern.
“Now you have Taylor Swift, who also is someone that has a direct connection to the game because she’s a significant other of one of the stars of a team. Maybe you don’t show her for every Kelce sequence, but she’s going to be part of sequences when he makes a play.”
The airtime Swift has gotten so far during NFL games is much less than some think. New York Times writer Benjamin Hoffman wrote a great piece this week that chronicled “the dissonance between how many times Swift has been shown versus how many times people seem to think she was shown.” He reported Swift was on-screen for a duration of less than 32 seconds in most games, with a high of 1 minute and 16 seconds for Peacock’s coverage of the Chiefs against the Miami Dolphins on Jan. 13.
“You can’t help but put her on the air,” said Tracy Wolfson, who will be on the Chiefs’ sideline for the Super Bowl. “I can’t tell you the amount of dads who have come up to me and said, ‘My daughter is now watching football because of Taylor Swift.’ I mean, why wouldn’t you take advantage or capitalize on it? It’s great for the NFL and it’s great for ratings.”
Fox’s broadcast of the Chiefs’ game against the Chicago Bears on Sept. 24 set the template for Swift coverage because the network had to figure out everything on the fly. Lead producer Richie Zyontz said that his crew had no official word from the NFL or the Chiefs that Swift would be in attendance. (That changed in later weeks; Rikhoff knew the night before the Chiefs-Bills game Swift would be there.) They had to figure out the camera operators to use for the shots as well as how many to use.
“We were in uncharted waters having been the first to deal with the situation,” Zyontz said this week, reflecting on that game. “Moderation came to mind immediately. As the season progressed there were too many knee-jerk reaction shots, yet those were the shots that were talked about and written about on Monday. For the Super Bowl, there will be millions of new viewers because of her. Hopefully, good judgment will prevail. But for those who complain, come on, it’s a few seconds at a time, a few times a game. Is that really egregious?”
The Super Bowl will be very different. If Swift is at the game, the Chiefs and the NFL will know what suite Swift will be sitting in at the stadium. So there will be no issues for the CBS broadcast production in finding her. CBS will put a request in to interview the singer. (If there is a prop bet on Swift being interviewed on camera, I’d bet no.) Gaudelli said a production’s best shot would be to go through the Chiefs who would relay the request to her through Kelce. You’d also make the ask to see if she wanted to do something off-camera.
“We didn’t put that request in during the season because we didn’t think it rose to that level at that point,” said Gaudelli, who now serves as executive producer for NBC’s NFL coverage. “But, yeah, I think you put that in for the Super Bowl. You would try to get her on the pregame show.”
Expect some guaranteed visuals in the postgame. If the Chiefs win, there will be a CBS camera operator following Kelce, for certain.
“As a producer and director, he’s one of the main guys you want to see at the end of the game because he’s a major part of his dynasty if they win,” Gaudelli said. “So where he is, she will be. You don’t really have to go hunting too far. You’re going to be looking for number 87.”
One person who is watching all of this with total amusement is Ian Eagle, the CBS broadcaster who was the first NFL national broadcaster to acknowledge the Swift-Kelce connection. On a Kelce touchdown call during Kansas City’s 17-9 win over Jacksonville on Sept. 17, Eagle cheekily tossed in a “Kelce finds a blank space for the score” line, referencing a Swift song title.
“Kelce finds a blank space for the score.”
Ian Eagle sneaking a reference into this Travis Kelce touchdown call 👀
— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) September 17, 2023
“Back in September, there were some stories popping up linking Travis to Taylor, but it wasn’t getting major coverage at that point,” Eagle said. “When Kelce scored a touchdown in Jacksonville, I tossed in, ‘He finds a Blank Space for the score’ as a lark. I thought it was a cute throwaway line, not imagining for a moment it would blow up. I learned about the power of Swift in a hurry, and all of these months later the interest has grown exponentially with this Chiefs run. The NFL was already immense. But the relationship has somehow created even more buzz for the league. I’m just happy for those two crazy kids.”
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(Top photo of Taylor Swift and her boyfriend: Patrick Smith / Getty Images)