CBS Sports chief Sean McManus: Super Bowl blackout was ‘surreal’

It's lights out at the Super Bowl.
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The first thought that went through CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus’ mind when the lights went out during Sunday’s Super Bowl telecast was whether this was a network problem or a Superdome problem.

“It was a surreal situation,” McManus said in an interview Monday. Since he was in a production truck, McManus initially wasn’t sure whether only CBS had lost power or if something bigger had happened. “We lost all communication to announcers and had to call (play-by-play announcer) Jim Nantz on his cellphone.”

After several tense moments McManus was able to breathe a slight sigh of relief. CBS had not lost power -- a part of the Superdome had. That meant, most importantly, that the game had also stopped. If only CBS had lost power but the game was going on that would have been a disaster of epic proportions for the network.


“If this had been in the CBS compound that would have been a bigger problem,” he said in an understatement.

Still, numerous CBS cameras were out and the network scrambled to fire up its back-up generator and put its pre-game set back together so the CBS Sports Super Bowl on-air team could get back on camera to fill time while the National Football League tried to figure out how to get the lights back on.

McManus acknowledged that the network should have done a better job of communicating with viewers about what was going on at the Superdome when the lights went out. The problem, he explained, was that CBS itself was trying to find out what had happened. It was not a case of knowing something and not disclosing it.

“We were asking everybody at every position what was happening and the fact of the matter is we just didn’t know,” he said. Actually, McManus said, he still has not gotten an explanation on what caused the failure. Still, if he had it to do over again he would have pushed harder to get an NFL representative on camera.

The blackout may have been a blessing in disguise. At the time play was stopped early in the third quarter, the Baltimore Ravens had taken a 22-point lead over the San Francisco 49ers and McManus was worried it was going to be a blow out. When play resumed though, the 49ers were reinvigorated and quickly scored two touchdowns to make a game of it.

According to Nielsen, 108.4 million people tuned in to watch the Super Bowl. While that was about 3 million people short of last year’s all-time rating -- when the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots -- it is still a very strong number. The blackout not only woke up the 49ers, it may have also kept viewers from losing interest because everyone was curious about when the lights would go back on.



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Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.