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Sideline reporters may reshape TV at games without fans

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NBC “Sunday Night Football” sideline reporter, Michele Tafoya, has long held an idea of having her own camera. If she sees something on the bench, she could videotape it and pair it with a report.

The SNF crew picks up most things, she said, but this could be another way to upgrade the essence of TV, further matching pictures to words to show the clearest view possible.

“I think it could be really fun to use for some of those smaller moments,” said Tafoya, who envisions using a smartphone or similarly small contraption.

With sports slowly trickling back amid COVID-19, the future role of sideline reporters is paradoxical. With the potential limiting of personnel at stadiums, networks may have to make choices about who is at venues. At first glance, you might think that sideline reporters wouldn’t make the cut.

However, none other than Tafoya’s NBC colleague Al Michaels and TNT’s Marv Albert pretty much told The Post recently that sideline reporters are essential workers for these broadcasts. While it is possible that play-by-players and analysts won’t be at some events, the sidelines may still have reporters.

In talking with Tafoya, ESPN’s Doris Burke — who doubles as an analyst — and YES’ Meredith Marakovits, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but there is room for opportunity. None of the three had any apprehension about being at the events, though no plans are yet definitive.

On NASCAR, Fox returned with one pit reporter during its first start in May, but added a second for Week 2. In golf, Jim Nantz is on site in the 18th tower at the first PGA Tour event back, while his CBS analysts are not. However, CBS has two course reporters.

ABC
Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors is interviewed by Doris Burke.Getty Images

In Orlando, Fla., where the NBA plans to resume in late July, there is a chance that play-by-players and analysts are present on a limited basis or not at all, but national sideline reporters have a greater likelihood of being on site.

“I think there could be increased value in a sideline reporter if they are able to be in the venue,” said Burke, who had the coronavirus but has recovered.

In baseball, if it is indeed played, games will be at stadiums, where the dugout reporters could be on site, at least for home games. Marakovits said it would be weird to do reports without fans, but she wants to be on site.

“Personally, I would love to be at the stadium,” Marakovits said.

Meredith Marakovits
Meredith MarakovitsYES

With fans currently not at any events, TV sports and league executives have to figure out how to make watching as compelling as ever. NBC Sports plans to have piped-in noise for its Premier League coverage. Fox Sports is looking into using virtual fans for baseball and football.

Sideline reporters could have an evolution. The XFL created more access opportunities with in-game sideline interviews. If fan attendance is limited, the NFL and other sports have an opportunity to bring its viewers closer to the action with sideline reporters as a conduit.

The role of the sideline reporters will first and foremost be based on safety, the amount of people leagues allow at the venues and then the capability to be near the players.

If travel is condensed, then it is possible that someone such as Marakovits could drive to, say, Baltimore or Boston to work some games, though, it is still to be determined if that will be allowed. Even games at Yankee Stadium aren’t guaranteed, but it would make sense to have a reporter on hand, if there is media access.

In the condensing world of sports media, the sideline reporter role might grow. Tafoya Cam could be something.

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