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NFL Network increasing Super Bowl coverage to 140 hours

11:51 AM, Jan 24, 2013   |    comments
Jan 21, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; A general view of a banner in the window of the Hyatt hotel in preparation for Super Bowl XLVII to be played between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens on February 3, 2013 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
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In case anybody still had doubts about this, let's end them right now: There can never be enough Super Bowl coverage.

Consider that the league's NFL Network is scheduled to announce Tuesday sweeping increases in its on-air Super Bowl TV tonnage.

That will include a 10 1/2-hour pregame show, which along with a 3 1/2-hour post-game show, means NFLN will have 14 hours of game-day coverage -- up two hours over last year. Contractually, NFLN must end its Super Bowl about an hour before kickoff, as CBS airs the game. (NFLN will just show stats on an otherwise blank screen during the game.)

But NFLN executive producer Eric Weinberger told USA TODAY Sports Sunday that the aptly-named First on the Field pregame show starting at 7 a.m. ET could still grow in future years: "Maybe there'll be a day when we go on at 6 in the morning."

NFLN is upping the ante on its saturation coverage from throughout the week. When the channel covered the 2004 Super Bowl, its first one after going on-air in November 2003, it had a total of just 11 hours of coverage and 100 people working on production. This year, it will have 140 hours -- up 41% from last year -- 425 people and 11 sets in New Orleans, up from nine on-site sets last year. And it will deploy 35 on-air staffers, up from 30 last year.

NFLN's expansion comes at a time when on-site Super Bowl coverage from various networks is also expanding dramatically. CBS, which has never used its CBS Sports Network for on-site Super Bowl coverage, will use that cable channel for more than 50 hours of live coverage from New Orleans, including having its game announcers on a CBSSN post-game show. The NBC Sports Network cable channel, after airing just a handful of hours from last year's Super Bowl when NBC broadcast the game, will have more than 20 live hours from New Orleans. And ESPN, which pioneered the idea of showing up at events it wasn't airing and staging hours of on-air yak, will have more than 120 hours of live TV and radio programming from New Orleans.

So what is there to cover that justifies all this air time?

"We've taken press conference and turned them into compelling coverage," Weinberger said.

NFLN, year-round, has made shows out of things no one had thought of as made-for-TV -- who knew that draft prospects doing standing broad jumps at the NFL Combine should be TV programming? -- and from the Super Bowl next month it will air, well, just about everything. Like the press conferences of the halftime entertainment. (This year, the singer is Beyonce Knowles.)

"Other than the (NFL) Commissioner's conference, that's the second most-attended press conference of the week," Weinberger said.

Steve Bornstein, Chief Executive Officer of NFLN since January 2003, says the biggest concern when the channel launched was "whether a 12-month per year NFL-focused service would be viable." Since then, the channel has gone from reaching 12 million cable/satellite TV households to 72 million. But while Bornstein didn't specify to USA TODAY Sports exactly what kind NFL programming can still be added to the channel, he said "we certainly think we haven't reached the apex of the arc. ... Anything that's football is of interest to us. Do I see us doing college football spring games? Potentially."

This season NFLN increased its Thursday prime-time games from eight games to 13, with ratings up 8% from a year ago to 4.6% U.S. households. With that in mind, could the NFL sell the TV rights to those games to another network?

"We're constantly exploring options," said Bornstein, who was ESPN's CEO before coming to NFLN. "Nothing has been determined except they'll be 13 games on the NFL Network next season."

In the near-term, the idea is to be a vacuum cleaner in New Orleans. Says Weinberger: "If someone is talking about the Super Bowl at the Super Bowl, we're not going to miss it."

Spice rack: HBO's latest Real Sports, debuting Tuesday (10 p.m. ET), will feature Houston Rockets first-round draft pick Royce White discussing why he hasn't yet played for the team -- in part because he has anxiety about traveling by air. The power forward, in what's billed as his first TV interview since he he was suspended this month for failing to meet the demands of his contracts, discusses his anxieties generally. On the show, White says if he were to play in the NBA without the "safety measures" needed for his mental health, "I would be risking my health. I would be risking my life. What comes along when mental health goes untreated. Alcohol abuse. Marijuana abuse. Suicidal behavior." ... NBC opened its NHL coverage Saturday with regionalized coverage of Pittsburgh-Philadelphia/Chicago-Los Angeles -- that was added to its lockout-adjusted TV schedule. As shown in various sports with seasons shortened due to labor squabbles, the pent-up viewer demand often leads to heightened TV ratings. That coverage drew a 2.0 overnight rating, translating to 2% of the TV households in the 56 urban markets measured for overnights. That might not sound like much. But it's the highest NHL regular-season overnight, excluding Winter Classic games, on any network since 2002. ... Fox's Troy Aikman Sunday said of Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez that he's "hoping he comes back" rather than retiring. But here's an easy prediction: If the future Hall of Famer does retire, he'll have his pick of TV jobs. ... Bizarre, but funny. Fox pregame comedian Rob Riggle Sunday had a skit in which he sort of played former Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan in a press conference. How's this for how far NFL TV pregame shows have come: Riggle's character, in a reference to Notre Dame's Manti Te'o: "Fake girlfriend? I've been there. And she was hot!"

Michael Hiestand, USA TODAY Sports

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