Last year, 8.8 million viewers saw NBC's coverage of the Preakness. That's the kind of big-tent mass audience that makes the race one of Baltimore's showcase events. And that doesn't count the hundreds of thousands who will watch pre- and post-race coverage on the NBC Sports Network cable channel.
But how Baltimore is seen by all those eyeballs largely depends on how NBC Sports chooses to cover the race and related events starting Saturday at 2:30 p.m on NBC Sports Network. NBC's network coverage of the race starts at 4:30 p.m. and runs until 6:30 p.m., with a closing half hour from 6:30 to 7 on NBC Sports Network.
Rob Hyland is the producer in charge of the 170-member NBC Sports team in town this weekend. That crew includes co-hosts Tom Hammond and Gary Stevens, analyst Randy Moss, contributing analysts/handicappers Mike Battaglia and Bob Neumeier and reporters Donna Brothers, Kenny Rice and Jay Privman. Baltimore native Larry Collmus is the race caller. (Bob Costas will not be at the Preakness this year, because he is attending his daughter's graduation, according to NBC Sports.)
I talked to Hyland about his team's plans for covering the race.
In terms of the race itself, can you give me a sense of your coverage strategies?
In terms of the production mantra, we really want viewers to understand how I'll Have Another won the Kentucky Derby and who his biggest challengers are. So, for the common viewer, the one who only watches a few horse races a year, we are going to make sure they understand all the challenges the Kentucky Derby winner will be confronted with — and the stories associated with the field of 11 horses.
Now, that is a challenge, because NBC Sports is a medium that needs to attract a mass audience. So, how do you cut a race like this in terms of appealing both to serious horse racing fans and the general audience?
We never want to ignore the hard core racing audience, but we know they're going to watch regardless. For the Triple Crown, the viewers who are tuning in are doing so for a variety of reasons. For the Kentucky Derby, they're tuning in to watch the spectacle and to watch that race. For the Preakness, it's to see how the Kentucky Derby winner does. And for the Belmont, it just depends on the year.
But, yeah, it's a delicate balance between making sure you're not dumbing down the obvious points of the sport too much, but also making sure, as I always tell my announcers, making sure my nextdoor neighbor understands what we're trying to tell them. My nextdoor neighbor before the Kentucky Derby asked me, "Hey Rob, if a Kentucky Derby horse doesn't win, why don't they just come back next year?"
Hey Rob, what if I'm your nextdoor neighbor?
It's reserved for three-year-olds, David.