For three weeks this summer, sportscaster Todd Harris will cover one of the most storied events in world sport. Then he’ll head to San Francisco to man NBC’s play-by-play position for its coverage of the America’s Cup. The Tour de France and the Cup may not hold the same cache with North American viewers as the Super Bowl or the World Series, but on a global level, it’s hard to think of two better-known sporting events. And Harris will play a large part in bringing both to the U.S. audience.
Over the course of a 22-year career in broadcasting, which also includes stints at ABC and ESPN, Harris has made a name for himself as a versatile announcer. He’s covered everything from freestyle skiing to ultimate fighting. “It would probably be easier for me to tell you what sports I’ve not announced,” says the 47-year-old Harris. “The only [major] sport I haven’t announced is hockey.”
He has a strong broadcasting background in racing—cars and motorcycles—and the Cup’s combination of man and racing machine intrigued him. “NBC Sports came to me and asked if I could be interested, and I said, ‘Yes. I’d be honored,’” he says. “I didn’t know sailing per se, but I’ve been intrigued by it. I’ve followed Ted Turner and Dennis Conner, not to mention the Kiwis. And it’s the oldest trophy in sport. You don’t have to be a sailing aficionado to appreciate that.”
Joining Harris on the NBC team will be longtime Cup commentator Gary Jobson and potential new recruit Ken Read.
“I always say I’m an air-traffic controller,” says Harris of his on-air role. “I get us to commercial, get us to replays, and I ask the questions that the common viewer or the novice sailor would ask.”
Russell Coutts and Larry Ellison have gone all-in to try to make the America’s Cup a mainstream television property. Harris believes all the tools are in place to do just that. “The boats are almost cartoonish,” he says. “If a viewer flips on the channel and sees an AC72 flying by, I’m guessing 90 percent of the time they’re going to stick around.”
Once the initial hook is set, Harris says they have the tools to sink it deep, even when the viewer knows next to nothing about sailing. “It’s amazing how we can take you onboard, how we can hear what they’re talking about. Stan Honey has given us more toys for broadcasting than in any other sport.”
But, he cautions, it could go for naught if Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate—unlikely in San Francisco Bay—or the racing isn’t close—more likely given the history of first-time America’s Cup classes.