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Researcher reaps rewards

NBC researcher John Howe (right) interviews Canadian Beach Volleyball leader Steve Anderson

Long Beach, Calif., July 23, 2014 - With this week’s FIVB World Tour event in the United States for the only time this season, the US$1-million ASICS World Series of Beach Volleyball is attracting more than fans and the usual group of print and electronic media that are attracted to an international sport event has features the planet’s best players.

With the NBC Sports Group and Universal Sports Network presenting 17 hours of coverage in the United States action here Friday, Saturday and Sunday from in the southern California port city on Alamitos Beach, the network will also be working behind the scenes gathering information for the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games.

John Howe, who started working for NBC in 2011 and worked behind the scenes at the London 2012 Summer and Sochi 2014 Winter Games, arrived here Monday and will spend the week talking with the players, coaches and officials participating in the 11th women’s and 10th men’s event on the 2014 FIVB World Tour calendar.

“The greatest part of my job is watching the Olympics happen, seeing stories you've written about for months play out," said Howe, who played high school football at Los Angeles' Harvard-Westlake before going to college in New England.  “With Beach Volleyball being one of the Olympics’ hottest and most watched events, the network needs to make sure its coverage is more than who won a match or a medal.  The network must make sure they have background information about everyone participating to provide the best possible coverage of the competition.”

NBC has held the American broadcasting rights of the Summer Olympics since the 1988 games and agreed in 2011 to a $4.38-billion contract with the International Olympic Committee to broadcast the Olympics through the 2020 games.  This past May, NBC agreed to a $7.75-billion contract extension to air the games through 2032 Olympics.

With past, present and future investments in the Olympics, NBC continues to enhance its coverage of the Summer Games insuring that coverage extends beyond facts and figures on American competitors, coaches and officials.

“We try and talk to just about everyone that we can prior to the Olympics,” said the 25-year old Howe, who joined NBC after graduating from Amherst College in 2011 where he majored in English and Spanish.  “While we certainly pay close attention to the Americans, there are so many great athletes and stories from abroad that we love to discover as well.  There are few other events like the Olympics, where the journey to the Games can be just as meaningful as a gold medal.  Not all the U.S. or international athletes that we speak to will win a medal, but we hope to share as many of their amazing stories as we can.”

For those like Howe that fill an important “behind the scenes” role, the assignment has many obstacles to overcome from possible language barriers with foreign athletes to gathering facts and figures where information does not exist.  And Howe’s NBC research duties is not only for Beach Volleyball.

“There are currently two of us researchers at the moment, but we’ll take on more as we get closer to the Games,” said Howe, who was born in New York and grew up in southern California.  “I have already attended a track and field event this year and will be headed to swimming’s U.S. National Championships in just a few weeks in Irvine.  We research all the Olympic sports, but I’ll have a better sense of which sports I will personally focus on in the next couple of months.”

When asked why does NBC Sports spend so much time researching the sport, players and all the individuals involved, Howe said the network “cares passionately about the Olympics and we have a high standard for our presentation of each sport.  Since the spotlight is on these sports and athletes every four years, we want to make sure that we highlight the fantastic competition and all the great stories at the Games.”

The attendance at events like the ASICS World Series of Beach Volleyball is the attractive side a researcher’s job, but there is a lot of work that goes on beyond watching the competition and gathering information on-site.  When asked about how is the information archived and distributed, Howe said NBC has “an internal database of information that we have kept throughout the years.  We archive information and biographies by sport and then publish what we call ‘sport manuals’ for each sport prior to the Olympics.  These manuals are distributed internally throughout NBC Olympics and are primarily used by the production teams responsible for those sports.

After spending Tuesday at Alamitos Beach, Howe said this was his “first Beach Volleyball event, and I already love it.  I could get used to the beach being my office.  I did not know what to expect from the qualification phase on Tuesday, but Sinjin Smith offered some sage advice early in the day.  He pointed out how important it is for teams to reach the main draw and collect points this year so that they can be in the main draw next season, when Olympic qualification begins.  You could really see the passion and excitement on the team’s faces when they won to advance to the main draw. That was special to see.”

As for any useful information gathered Tuesday, Howe said he had “a great first day.  I learned how the Canadian team is shaping its program in order to earn medals in Rio; Poland’s Michal Kadziola told me about how he and his partner have been playing together since high school; and Tri Bourne told me that I could find the world’s best chocolate milk in Berlin. Great stories come in all shapes and sizes.

In looking ahead to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Howe said he “is very excited.  With Brazil’s love of volleyball, I think beach and indoor volleyball in 2016 will be really special.  Having beach volleyball on Copacabana Beach will truly be a sight to see.”

After interviewing one of the foreign players Wednesday, Howe said “the Olympic research position is an incredible job.  The very first Olympic researcher was Dick Ebersol and there are many former researchers throughout the industry, who have made significant impacts.  It’s a privilege to be part of a team with such a rich heritage and one that is so valued at our company.”

With this week’s event continuing here Wednesday with the opening two rounds of women’s pool play and one round of men’s group competition, the television coverage in the United States of the FIVB World Tour event on the NBC, NBCSN, Universal Sports networks begins Friday at 3 p.m. (Eastern time) on NBCSN, and continues through the weekend on NBC, NBCSN and Universal Sports Network.  The ASICS World Series of Beach Volleyball will culminate with the women’s gold medal match, live Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

Olympic gold medalist and veteran play-by-play commentator Chris Marlowe will call the action from Alamitos Beach. Marlowe will be joined by beach volleyball Olympian and three-time All-American Kevin Wong, who will serve as an analyst.  Julie Donaldson will report from the sideline.  Here is the schedule with times (eastern) and networks subject to change.

Friday, July 25
• Women’s Round of 24, NBCSN, 3 p.m.
• Men’s Round of 16, NBCSN, 4 p.m.
• Men’s Quarterfinal, Universal Sports Network, 8 p.m.
Saturday, July 26
• Women’s Quarterfinals, Universal Sports Network, 2 p.m.
• Men’s Semifinal No. 1, Universal Sports Network, 3 p.m.
• Women’s Semifinal No. 1, NBC, 4:30 p.m.
• Men’s Semifinal No. 2, Universal Sports Network 9 p.m.
• Women’s Semifinal No. 2, Universal Sports Network 10 p.m.
• Women’s and Men’s Semifinal, Encore NBCSN, 11 p.m.
Saturday, July 26
• Women’s Bronze Medal Match, Universal Sports Network, 1 p.m.
• Men’s Bronze Medal Match, Universal Sports Network, 2 p.m.
• Women’s Gold Medal Match, NBC, 3:30 p.m.
• Women’s Gold Medal Match, Encore Universal Sports Network, 8:30 p.m.
• Men’s Gold Medal Match, Universal Sports Network, 9:30 p.m.
• Women’s Gold Medal Match, Encore NBCSN, 8 p.m.

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