Simply the Best: Steve Crawley on a new year of NRL on Fox League

• Matty Johns, The Professor, Ultra HD and more to come from Fox League in 2020

Ahead of the new NRL season, head of television at Fox Sports Steve Crawley spoke with Mediaweek about what sets the NRL coverage apart, what to expect this year, and what he is looking forward to and dreading the most about the new year of footy.

Read more: It’s still game on: Steve Crawley on News Corp’s Olympic coverage

Two of the main products produced by Fox Sports are the NRL and AFL coverage, Crawley said. He noted the NRL coverage is a bit more fun, but that it also comes down to talent.

“You can’t photocopy Matty Johns because he is the most naturally gifted television talents that I’ve seen in my 30 years of TV.”

Speaking of Johns, Crawley says that when he first started his broadcast career he did characters like Reg Reagan on Thursday night and then tried talking serious footy and it didn’t sit right, but now he has honed it into a skill that Fox Sports must utilise.

“I rang Joe Bromham (Fox League executive producer) and said that we better have Matty calling some games this year because he reads it so well and it’s stunning to hear him talk rugby league. It’s not just his cheekiness and natural entertaining streak we want to capitalise on, we also want to tap into his football mind and pass that onto our audience.”

When asked what the secret formula is for discovering great on-air talent like Johns, Crawley said it is like picking anything in life whether it be a dog, a horse, a partner in life or an on-air talent.

“The first thing that you’ve got to look for is a worker. It doesn’t matter how much ability you’ve got, if you don’t work hard then you won’t make it.

“The next thing you want to do is find out if a person is a dickhead or not because if they are a dickhead then you’re wasting your time.

“The third thing is how much improvement do they have in them and do they want to improve.”

Crawley doesn’t want to be compared to Channel Nine, but is aware that Fox Sports needs to produce a high level of product to earn people’s money.

“What I try to do is create points of difference for the viewer to justify them paying for the content. This includes being innovative and providing things like the best commentators, no ad breaks in play, doing it all in HD and a lot of it in Ultra HD.”

When asked if we will be seeing more Ultra HD this year he says that is not very likely but that it does not stop them from offering the best quality picture.

“It’s really expensive so I don’t know about doing more but it’s the case of picking the right matches to do and we are committed long term to deliver the best picture and we are pretty proud of that.

“I always have two screens to compare our coverage to the free to air broadcast whether it is AFL, NRL, or cricket, so I look at every picture humanly possible and I am very proud of the quality of our picture.”

With a new NRL season around the corner, Crawley said that he has a lot to look forward to from the round three game between South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Sydney Roosters, Fox Sport’s improving commentary team, The Matty Johns Show, and Cameron Smith’s final year as a player.

Although he says the better question may be what is he not looking forward to?

“The Professor has a new show The Narrow World of Sports covering both NRL and AFL and I wish I had nothing to do with that, but I do. You find yourself hiding under the couch when he comes on worried that he is going to get us in trouble.”

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