Maybe you don’t know David Neal by name, but you know his work.
As a producer at NBC, he won an Emmy for the opening montage of the 1988 World Series Game 2 between the Dodgers and A’s, interweaving Kirk Gibson’s game-winning homer in the opener the night before with the climax to the movie “The Natural.”
Naturally, Neal’s appointment this week by Fox Sports as its executive producer in charge of four upcoming World Cup soccer tournaments is based in a large part on his expertise overseeing big-time events in the 24 years since that night.
Fox has broadcast, cable and digital coverage in the U.S. for the FIFA men’s 2018 World Cup in Russia as well as 2022 in Qatar. The network gets its first leap into coverage with the women’s World Cup in 2015 set for Canada, as well as the 2019 event, which has yet to determine a home site.
Neal, who grew up in Woodland Hills, graduated from Taft High and USC and lives in Santa Monica these days, has 30 years in the bank and 34 Emmy awards at NBC Sports as an executive producer as well as the executive vice president of NBC Olympics.
He produced nine Olympics in total, going back to 1988, plus four NBA Finals, two World Series and a Super Bowl pregame show.
Add to that his last two years serving as the head of his own production company, where he had a consulting deal with Miami-based Univision and a makeover of their Deportes Network cable channel earlier this year, which emphasizes soccer content.
That included Neal helping to coordinate coverage of the CONCACAF Gold Cup at the Rose Bowl with the U.S.-Mexico final in June, 2011, which drew 11 million viewers.
“I got a quick and deep emersion from a very interesting point of view – in Spanish, where there’s an avid a group following the sport as you’d ever have,” said Neal.
Neal said he also incorporated a SkyCam in the coverage as well as computer-generated 3D axis graphics, things Univision had not tried before.
It’s not unlike the Olympic events that Neal has been involved with.
“I remember my first Olympics at NBC going into the world broadcasters meeting – this is two years in advance,” said Neal. “You’re coming into things as the American point of view, this 300-pound gorilla. But you also see how important the event is to the 30 or 40 other rights holders. They all had issues they wanted addressed.
“I learned that a big, international event really requires skill and diplomacy. We have to negotiate in an environment where everyone wants something different. It’s a much different skill set. I expect dealing with the IOC will be similar to that at FIFA.”
Fox Sports Media Group executive producer John Entz says the network is “incredibly fortunate to have David Neal, the consummate television professional, join us to lead our World Cup coverage . Very few producers have the requisite experience that would qualify them to assume this responsibility, but clearly David does.”
The way Neal says he can put Fox’s mark on these events starts with how the network already has Fox Soccer Channel in place.
“Not only is this the right time, but it’s the right network,” said Neal. “From afar, for so many years, I’ve admired how David (Hill) and now Eric (Shanks) operated on such a unique platform (in charge of Fox Sports). It’s not just a ‘Fox attitude’ but a willingness to take chances and innovate.
“The timing comes as U.S. women’s soccer just won the gold medal in London and we’re fortunate for the first event afterward happening in Canada, where there’s a new growing rivalry.
“There are so many moving parts, as I learned with the Olympics, that if you’re not prepared for this years ahead of time, there’s very little chance of succeeding. The women’s tournament in Canada will have six venues, from Vancouver to New Brunswick, so you’ve got to plot a broadcast center, find over-the-air talent, and all that.
“Someone one asked me what was the thing I worried about most in covering the Olympics. I worry about everything. If you get complacent, then you’re sunk.”