At CBS, Jim Rikhoff is Super Bowl’s Most Experienced Rookie

CBS Super Bowl 53 Mike Arnold,
John Paul Filo/ Courtesy of CBS Sports

You’d think Jim Rikhoff would plan a special breakfast or lunch for Sunday, something that will fortify him the whole day. After all, he’s about to lead the media industry’s biggest broadcast of the year.

All he wants to have is a few Twizzlers at the ready. “Just red – I’m a purist,” he notes in an interview. “It keeps me going.”

Rikhoff will want some of the candy at the ready when he serves as lead producer of CBS’ broadast of Super Bowl LIII this Sunday. This will mark his first time in the role after working football and other sports for the network since joining it as a researcher in 1985 after his college graduation.

His tenure as a producer on various sports broadcasts has offered a different sort of education. One lesson he’s learned is that the team behind the camera needs to be ready for anything – but not too ready. “One rule to myself is ‘Don’t do the game you prepared for. Do the game that unfolds in the field,’” he says.

A lot of people at CBS are depending on him and his hundreds of staffers and dozens of cameras to pull off the broadcast without any glitches. The annual Super Bowl telecast has become the most-watched event in TV history, and lures more than 100 million people each year. For CBS Corp., it’s an opportunity to lend a promotional halo to everything in which the company is involved, whether it be Margaret Brennan’s “Face the Nation” or Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show.”

It’s also a day when millions of dollars in advertising are at stake. “It’s always important. At the end of the day, you have to pay the bills,” Rikhoff says. “That is magnified tenfold in the Super Bowl.” A separate producer is on hand to monitor each commercial break and make sure all obligations are satisfied.

Rikhoff’s team will have some dazzling gizmos to deploy on their mission. The network plans to utilize a wireless handheld camera that can show augmented reality graphics set against unique field-level views; multiple 8K and 4K cameras; more than 25 cameras in each end zone; and 14 cameras embedded in pylons on each side of the field.

The producer likes having all of the technology at the ready, but says the core of the game will hinge on how his team uses the old standbys. “You have all the extra stuff, all those angles when it’s out of bounds or out of the end zones. One angle might get used only once, but it might be the deciding angle of the game,” he says. Even so, “75% of your game is your core coverage,” or the staffers and cameras set up in the usual places.

Rikhoff is credited for working with CBS Sports announcer Tony Romo, one of the most quickly accepted players-turned-analysts in recent years. When Romo came on board just two years ago, Rikhoff met with him. “We rehearsed different games, old games, took the audio off, did a lot of trial and error, until we found his voice,” the producer recalls.  “He’s experienced and talks about the games in ways that most people understand,” says Rikhoff. “It really feels authentic. I try to stay out of his way and give him as much leeway as I can.”

When he’s overseeing Sunday’s production, Rikhoff will try to remind himself to stay with the game, not to get too ahead of things. “I kind of try to imagine every series like a little movie, approach it in that way. You have got to stay in the moment, You build on it. You have a lot of good little moments.”

Chances are Rikoff will need something other than Twizzlers after the crew wraps CBS’ post-game show.


(Above, pictured: CBS Sports lead producer Jim Rikhoff meeting with Jim Nantz and lead director Mike Arnold)