State College native retires after leading NBC’s Olympic coverage
For the past few years, NBC Olympic’s broadcast has ended with the anthem “Remember the Titans” playing over a montage of the highs and lows of the games. For viewers, it’s a tribute to the athletes, their perseverance and their accomplishments.
For David Mazza, it’s a signal that his production team has been through other Olympics – feeling the same emotions, ups and downs, of leading NBC’s coverage of the biggest and most most complex in the world.
Mazza, a State College native, has served as Senior Vice President and Technical Director of NBC Sports and NBC Olympics since 2012 and Director of Engineering since 1996. Now, after more than 40 years of behind-the-scenes work, he’s gearing up to retire.
The Beijing 2022 Olympics was the broadcast industry veteran’s last experience leading the show, a fitting conclusion to a career he describes as “an interesting, challenging and hugely rewarding journey”.
The road to the Olympics
Building on his childhood experiences at Park Forest Elementary School’s AV Club, Mazza made his professional debut at State College Area High School, where he interned with Penn State’s WPSX-TV working with video equipment. and sound.
In tenth grade, he began helping with coverage of Penn State football games. One weekend, the technical director fell ill and Mazza was asked to step in – a leap that catalyzed his career in the broadcasting industry.
From then on, he continued to channel his passion for the application of electronics with his interest in the entertainment industry, freelancing for almost 20 years for various networks and covering events such as Wimbledon, the Super Bowl , the Stanley Cup and the MTV Video Music Awards. . He eventually got his foot in the door with ABC, where he worked as technical director at the rowing and canoe venue for his first Olympics, the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles.
In 1994, he took a job at NBC overseeing the engineering of the Atlanta Games, moving his wife Taylor, also a State College native, and their two young children from Massachusetts to Connecticut for what was supposed to be a contract. two years – until he was offered a full-time position after the event’s closing ceremony.
Since then he has received 24 Emmy Awards for Television Excellence, the 2006 GE Edison Award for Technical Innovation, the 2013 Television & Film Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2018 he was inducted into the Sports Video Group’s Sports Broadcasting Hall. of Fame.
At NBC, Mazza has pioneered innovative, transportable broadcast equipment systems, full HD coverage, and guided other technological improvements over the past two decades – continuing to adapt and evolve with the progress of broadcasting and live streaming.
He and his team are credited with the design and construction of the NBC Sports Group International Broadcast Center in Stamford, CT, which now houses NBC Sports Group, NBC Sports Network, NBC Olympics, NBC Digital and management teams with the NBC Regional Sports Network.
With a career trajectory that has taken him around the world, Mazza said one of the things he loves about his job is that there is never a dull day.
“Every Olympics we thought, ‘This is the hardest thing we’ve ever done,’ and then two years later it got harder,” Mazza said. “Every country is different, the requirements for entering the country are different, the cultures are obviously different – and figuring out how to navigate the tremendous growth in NBC’s coverage plans has always been a new challenge.”
The last of his Olympic torches
After working on 17 Olympics, Mazza said Tokyo and Beijing have been the toughest due to the ripple effect of the pandemic and the quick turnaround time — just six months compared to the usual two years — since Tokyo 2020 Summer Games delayed.
When viewers watched the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, they probably didn’t realize how far the images and audio had traveled to arrive on their screen.
With scenes of sports matches traveling through fiber optic cables under the Pacific Ocean to the United States where advertisers added commentary and then back to China where the final mixing of the audio took place, Mazza said the whole process was three times round trip under the Pacific spanning about 20,000 miles in just under three-quarters of a second.
It was Mazza’s first Olympics where he was not on site in the host city. Just days before the closing ceremony in Tokyo, Mazza said the decision had been made to move the prime-time control room to Stamford instead of Beijing, instructing his team to quickly hijack gear preparing to go abroad.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, NBC was only able to send a crew of around 600 people on location in China — down from the usual 1,800 — with the rest of the production based in Stamford. A major hurdle was the belated decision a few weeks before the games not to send venue commentators to Beijing and to have them announce from Stamford, or in some cases, their homes via a remote commentary system.
“It’s rewarding to do all these things well, but when they don’t work it’s kind of terrifying,” Mazza said. “We usually try to approach the game with two or three save levels. With the pandemic, we had to start with plan D and go down from there. »
Seventeen Olympic flames later
Looking back on his career, Mazza pointed out that even games that promised to be hot, sticky and tough turned out to be really enjoyable – like Athens, the first Summer Games since 9/11, where Mazza expected to do facing huge and miserable security issues. weather conditions, but instead with incredible memories for life.
He fondly remembers the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, where he and his family spent four months and were able to fully integrate into the culture, including enrolling their daughter in kindergarten.
Although he has described his work as ‘consumptive’, he has also given his children a life rich in unique experiences and cultural enrichment. Today, at 30 and 33, her children can say they have participated in 10 Olympic Games. His wife was also at 10 and his parents were at six.
Mazza’s parents, Maralyn and the late Paul Mazza Jr., founded the South Hills School of Business and Technology at State College. Her mother was principal of the school for more than 30 years and now Mazza’s brother, Paul, is the president. He says his parents were supportive of the wide range of interests shown by their six children and he inherited their strong work ethic.
Maralyn Mazza, 94, said she couldn’t be more proud of all her son had achieved, adding that he had learned it all on his own and took the initiative to build a career early on successful.
“I’ve always attributed his ability to rise through the ranks to the fact that he’s so good with people,” Maralyn Mazza said. “The people who work for him feel so valued and come back every year to do all the hard work again.”
David Mazza simply sums up the power of the Olympics and the emotions they evoke – his display of international cooperation and extraordinary sportsmanship is a ‘symbol of hope’.
“For those of us who work on games, we see their ability to unite people from different countries and from difficult cultures,” he said. “Hopefully we won’t have to fight to reach an amicable agreement between the countries.”
Now, as he passes the torch to younger generations, he said he is excited about the new time he will have to rekindle relationships, spend more time with his wife and family and enjoy traveling without the pressure. extra of the most watched sporting event. in the world.
“I will definitely miss the people and the team effort to come together and get something far bigger than any of us to work in another country, but there are a lot of things I yearned for when I was too busy or too tired of the matches I’m looking forward to,” he said.
This story was originally published February 28, 2022 5:00 a.m.