Thirty-four-year-old Annapolis native and resident Charlie Dammeyer is a prime example of what can be accomplished by a young person who finds an industry he loves, takes any work he can get and keeps pushing.
It was television broadcast production that Dammeyer found fascinating, and he kept working at his chosen craft until he was named coordinating director with NBC Sports. From his perch inside a mobile production truck, he observes a large bank of video screens and selects the images that best tell that event’s story for the viewers.
He’s had an interesting start to 2018. As lead director of the NHL on NBC, on New Year’s Day in New York, he worked the NHL Winter Classic; then the NHL All-Star Game, from Tampa; then last month, Dammeyer worked the NHL Stadium Series game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, which was won by the home-standing Washington Capitals.
Those assignments were in addition to working his eighth Olympics, this time the Winter Games from PyeongChang, South Korea. The Emmy Award-winner also directed last season’s Stanley Cup Finals, NASCAR broadcasts and previously worked in various roles on Sunday Night Football, as well as five Super Bowls.
The former Annapolis High School quarterback and University of Maryland College Park grad started his career at age 15 as a runner during Fox Sports NFL broadcasts. After progressing to computer statistician, in 2004 he left Fox for NBC Sports, where he became a production assistant and worked on the 2004 Summer Olympics, in Athens. He’s been with NBC since.
How did you get into broadcasting?
The father of a friend of my sister worked as a statistician for Fox Sports. That connection resulted in my introduction to other Fox Sports employees, including an associate director named Chuck McDonald (now lead producer for the Fox Sports college football package). He hired me in 1999, at age 15, to be a gofer at FedEx Field during Washington Redskins games.
Who were your main mentors?
Chuck was one, and that first job led to work as a specialty statistician in the graphics mobile unit on various NFL games in Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York. Once I entered college, Chuck hired me to work with the production crew at Fox, where I was a computer statistician, tracking plays and building graphics for the shows. At that point, I also worked with Producer Bob Stenner and Director Sandy Grossman, both legends in the industry.
In spring 2004, I was introduced to Sam Flood, now the executive producer and president, production, for NBC Sports, which led to my working with the network on graphics at the 2004 Summer Olympics.
My first full-time job at NBC came in 2005. Shortly thereafter, NBC secured the rights to Sunday Night Football, where I worked for Executive Producer Fred Gaudelli, who is demanding, and is a tremendous producer and teacher, as well; Director Drew Esocoff, who I learned a lot from; and Director Pierre Moossa, the former lead associate director, who taught me a great deal about live sports TV.
How do you set up for a typical sports event?
That depends. My primary role is serving as coordinating director, and I work primarily for the NHL on NBC. In hockey, as the playoffs progress, the production levels rise. Early in the tournament, you often don’t know where you’ll be until just before a game, and for such special events, setup takes much longer. We were able to go to Navy-Marine Corps Stadium to do a survey for the Caps’ game last August.
But for NASCAR coverage, for instance, you only have a week to prepare for the weekly races. We can address specific needs weeks in advance in those cases, because the dates are set; however, for the hockey playoffs, the dates and teams typically aren’t set in stone, so that makes planning more challenging.
Then we have a group that strictly works on the Olympics, and they’re already working on Tokyo 2020, and beyond. During the recent winter games, I directed alpine skiing. To prepare, I was over there a year early, for two days, in February 2017. But know that there are whole groups from NBC who will be in Tokyo multiple times before the Olympics; as they will for the next winter games, in Beijing in 2022.
What are the particulars about directing a hockey telecast?
I try to not step on the game and let our announcers, along with our production elements, tell great stories. When there’s a lull or a break, that’s the time to interject; you can’t script live events. That’s part of why I like working in sports. You don’t know what’s going happen, and that’s the point about live TV. You have to react.
NHL on NBC uses up to 15 cameras for a typical national telecast, but used 40 cameras at the recent Capitals game in Annapolis and used 50 cameras for the recent NHL All-Star Game. What was the difference in your approach?
In the case of the game in Annapolis, some cameras were the NBC cameras and others were shared with Rogers Sportsnet (the Canadian broadcaster) which, in that case, served as the pool broadcaster, which shares broadcast feeds for the big games. The theory is, the more cameras you have shooting different aspects of the game, the better replay angles we’ll have.
One of the robotic cameras used in the game, for instance, was controlled by Rogers, but I had access to it. It added a new dimension to the normal complement of cameras for a regular season national telecast.
What’s the difference in the technical setup of a typical NHL on NBC Sunday/Wednesday game of the week, as opposed to an outdoor game?
We had a couple of days to set up at USNA because that stadium was built in the late 1950s, so it’s not designed to accommodate fiber connections. That meant everything had to be hardwired back to the truck.
Plus, it also adds set-up days as you add extra equipment, as we did for the Annapolis game. Navy-Marine Corps Stadium has been extensively renovated in recent years, but it still is not designed to handle major TV events.
The broadcaster’s booths in NHL arenas, such as Washington, D.C.’s Capital One Arena, can be set up almost as high as the rafters, so why did you position play-by-play announcer Mike “Doc” Emrick and color analyst Mike Milbury at rink level during the game in Annapolis?
Doc and Mike called the game at the right blue line, at ice level, as they do at all of the outdoor games, due to the even greater distance of the press box in a football (or baseball) stadium; we positioned behind-the-glass reporter Pierre McGuire between the benches, as usual.
I’d be remiss not to mention how much those three, and regular color analyst Eddie Olczyk (who didn’t call the Annapolis game due to receiving cancer treatment) helped me as I got involved with the hockey telecasts. I didn’t play hockey when I was growing up, and I wouldn’t be here without what those guys have taught me. I’m still learning from them.
Also know that I travel upwards of 175 days at year and have two children with my wife, Caitlin, who also has a full-time job. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without her support.
You used the sky cam at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium since it was an outdoor game. Do you foresee being able to employ a similar camera from inside an arena?
That’s an area where I’d like to continue to explore. We experimented with what’s called a JitaCam (or a jib in the air, similar to a small crane) camera at the all-star game, and it went well. I’d like to provide that unique angle for the bigger events, such as the Stanley Cup Finals.
Will we see anything new with NHL broadcasts during the playoffs?
Nothing drastically different. When we get to the Stanley Cup Finals, I like to add a 4K camera to help with definitive replays, as well as high speed cameras, to slow down what is a very fast sport. We also added three high speed hand-held cameras at ice level for last year’s finals, which are very good when viewing deflections of the puck, for instance. We’re looking to do likewise this year.
Did broadcasting the Olympic games from South Korea present special technical challenges?
Not at all. Technically, the games were a huge success. What was happening at the venues and how they translated on the air was transparent to me from the director’s chair. That says a lot about our Olympic technical and advance teams.
We were able to broadcast in remote locations halfway across the world, on top of mountains and from my standpoint in the control room/TV truck in Korea. I was very happy with the experience.
What’s your take on sports being delivered via various platforms?
Today, people often consume sports and TV on phones, iPads and tablets, so streaming TV broadcasts is here.
Watching traditional big screen TVs is still good for big events and big movies, for instance, but society has become quite mobile, and that means more people will be consuming their media that way. When I can’t watch at home, which I prefer, I’m on my iPad. And that’s how people live today. And that’s a good thing.
What else would you like to do?
I’d love to direct the Super Bowl. That’s the biggest broadcast event on U.S. television — nothing else is even close. I’m in this to do big shows, so that would be the ultimate for me.
I’m young and I started young, so I’ve had some great teachers. You learn different things from different people, producers and directors, so I’ve been taking in the bits and pieces they’ve offered me. While we all want to do a perfect show, I think, in live sports TV, that doesn’t exist. Just like when a sports team wins a game, there are always things to improve on.
I like to take strategic chances and try new things, if that will make the show better. If you keep doing the same show over and over, it’ll never get better.