Mike Tirico recently wrapped up a very unique broadcasting experience for a very unique month at NBC. After flying out to Beijing to host the NBC Olympics primetime show, Tirico returned to the U.S. four days earlier than expected and continued hosting remotely, shifting gears to host the Super Bowl LVI pregame show on February 13, before finishing out NBC’s Winter Olympics coverage afterward.
The NBC broadcaster was a guest on the Sports Media Podcast with Richard Deitsch this week where he discussed his Olympic experience, or lack thereof, as well as what it might mean for him if Al Michaels leaves NBC.
When asked about what it was like to be in Beijing hosting Olympics coverage for NBC, Tirico made it clear that while he got the experience of working on the Winter Games, he did not come away with much of a feeling of what it’s like to be in China.
“We went over, I think I was on the ground there for 14 or 15 days,” said Tirico. “And there for the first five primetime shows that we did… To put it in one sentence: I would say that I feel like I went to the Olympics; I don’t feel like I went to China. And it’s because of the closed-loop system that they put in place. They were very stringent for zero COVID and the procedures and protocols that we all had to live with mirrored that desire for the country.
“For us, what did it mean? I could look outside my window and see a restaurant, see a McDonald’s, see a few things right below us across the street from the hotel. But we could not go there.
“It was very different. It was not free in any way. You could not go around and ask people what it was like. You couldn’t walk around to get a sense of the city. The joy of the Olympics is the world’s media together covering the athletes. But it’s also, “Hey, let’s go have a coffee in Beijing,” or, “Let’s have lunch in a restaurant there,” just to get a feel for the Games and how much they have become part of the country and how they’re consuming them. That opportunity just wasn’t available.”
While Tirico doesn’t say this, one wonders if the fact that he literally couldn’t leave the broadcasting area made it feel unessential to be there, leading to his early departure and lack of return after the Super Bowl.
NBC caught a lot of flak during the Winter Games over, amongst other things, the way they choose to cover issues beyond the Olympics in China. Tirico says that he thinks NBC did s fair job highlighting human rights issues and other concerns about China while also leaving room for the athletes and competitions that many viewers tune in for.
“We are there to cover the Olympics,” said Tirico. “You have to make choices at some point. So do you show the live Olympics, or do you spend another 10 minutes on political affairs? Somebody might say, “Well, I think you should spend 10 more minutes on political affairs.” Well, that person is not a snowboarding fan who’s watching the biggest moment in that sport for four years at that point. You’re never going to satisfy everyone with the amount of coverage. I feel like we didn’t just do it in the opening ceremony and check a box. We spent a lengthy time the night before covering it, and as it happened during the opening ceremony, covered the moment of a member of the Uyghur population being one of the two to light the torch.
“I don’t think we ignored it after just checking the box, quote-unquote, at the start. At the end of the day, I feel like it was something that was present in our coverage at the most appropriate times during the 17-18 days.”
While Tirico and NBC wait for the next Olympics in 2024, the much more pressing issue for them is what will happen if Al Michaels leaves for Amazon. That move would put Sunday Night Football in serious need of a new lead commentator and all signs point to Tirico, who formerly called Monday Night Football for ESPN, as the most likely candidate.
As far as whether or not Tirico knows what’s going to happen, he says “I haven’t been told anything yet.” However, he also makes it abundantly clear that if the job opens up, he wants it.
“I’ve done a decade of prime-time NFL. I’ve done 200 NFL games. It was part of the reason I came to NBC. So I would hope so at this point, right?
“If I am the person that follows Al, that would be a lifetime opportunity for me. It would be a thrill. But I’m going to wait to see how this all sorts out. I’m sure that announcement will come from somebody at some point in a higher bit of authority than I am. But of course, it’s something I would be excited to be a part of. I’ve enjoyed doing five games each of the last two years with Cris (Collinsworth). That’s been a great experience for me as well.”
While Tirico has been doing spot duty on NFL games as well as hosting Notre Dame games for NBC, he says that being a studio host has helped make him an even more complete broadcaster than had he just been focused on calling games this entire time.
“I’ve been a studio host, and I’ve been a play-by-play guy very fortunate to do very high-level events. I think each one makes you better,” said Tirico. “I have a real understanding of what Dan Hicks or Terry Gannon were going to be doing in alpine (skiing) or in figure skating at these Olympics because of my time as a play-by-play guy. As the studio host, I feel I can augment Brandon Glass and Rachel Thompson, who have been the (NBC) researchers the last couple of years with me on the prime-time Olympics show. Having lived through all these play-by-play experiences and now living in the studio, I feel like it’s made me a more complete broadcaster. I took these five or six years of not doing a week-to-week game to get better.”
You can listen to the full interview here.