by Sami Hulings, Centre County Gazette
From a young age, David Mazza wanted to understand how electronics worked.
“He was always into things,” says his mother, Maralyn Mazza, president of South Hills School of Business and Technology. “He was always taking things apart and putting them together as a little boy.”
She and her husband, the late S. Paul Mazza Jr., founders of the business and technology school, supported this interest, even allowing David and his late older brother Tommy to stay up all night to learn how to run the family’s Radio Shack Model 1 computer.
Little did they know, this early love of learning how things worked, combined with their encouragement, would put David on track to become the senior vice president and chief technology officer for NBC Sports Group and NBC Olympics.
Now directing NBC’s coverage of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, David began his audiovisual career at Park Forest Elementary School as a member of the AV Club. According to his mother, many of David’s first interactions with audio and visual equipment came under the direction of Mr. Robert Williams, director of the State College Area School District audiovisual department.
“If people from a room would call for a certain piece of equipment, he (Mr. Williams) would send David over to take it,” she says.
This experience allowed David’s love of electronics to blossom. Maralyn Mazza says as a child, he even built his own computer.
“He was programming it and he knew everything he could know about it.”
Once he reached high school, Mazza received a production assistant internship with WPSX-TV at Penn State. There, he gained experience with cameras, audio equipment and stage management and served as a runner for Penn State football television broadcasts.
“He got involved with sports right away,” Maralyn Mazza says.
Mazza then attended college for a short period, but explained to his parents that he felt it was wasting his time. Instead, he could learn things faster on his own.
“He would go to any kind of a seminar or training session or anything that he would hear about or find people that would teach him,” his mother says. “He just kept learning. He was highly technically-organized.”
David’s love for sports and electronics gave him his first experience in the T.V. industry, working as a timer at ski races across Europe for Omega Timing.
From there, Mazza began freelancing for various organizations throughout the 1980s. Projects included Wimbledon championships, Olympic coverage, HBO boxing championships, NHL Stanley Cup Playoff coverage and MTV’s Video Music Awards.
In 1994, Mazza was offered a fulltime director of engineering position with NBC to cover the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. What he and his family believed to be a two-year assignment would become a 20-year career.
“NBC got interested in him because they found this kid who was traveling around the world doing different sports who was so talented,” Maralyn Mazza says of her son.
David’s expertise, innovativeness and ingenuity were exactly what NBC needed, as it had decided to become the network known for hosting the Olympics. Since the Olympics were expensive to cover, it was necessary to re-think how broadcasts would be done.
David’s brother Paul Mazza described the Atlanta games as a traditional sports broadcasting effort, meaning NBC built everything it needed to broadcast the games. At the end of the games, NBC would tear it all down, a costly, someone wasteful endeavor.
“At that time, they weren’t thinking ‘how do we make use of this energy, this work and this labor in subsequent games?’ because this was their first into the series,” he says.
As director of engineering, David was instrumental in the technical design, building and operations of NBC’s International Broadcast Center (IBC), initially used at the Atlanta Olympics. This also involved developing new technology and systems for the ‘Virtual IBC,’ which would allow parts of the broadcast centers to be located in different locations.
“He has done very innovative things,” Maralyn Mazza says. Because of his innovation, NBC can now transport and re-use the IBC. “They’re not wasting money. They’re not wasting materials. They are able to re-use things.”
Mazza’s innovation once again came into play in the 2006 Torino and 2008 Beijing games with the development of the complex ‘@home effort,’ after NBC was asked to scale back the amount of workers it sent to host cities.
“Essentially, it said ‘how can we get people to work state-side and still provide the coverage and the quality that we had from having them onsite?'” Paul Mazza says.
The @home effort now allows some of the engineering and production talent needed to coverage the Olympics to stay in the United States. Paul Mazza says for some events, some announcers are actually in the United States completing ‘off-tube announcing,’ or watching the feed from the games and providing commentary.
In addition to his Olympic engineering and production duties, David Mazza was also enlisted to design and build the new home for the NBC Sports Group in Stamford, CT.
The headquarters needed to combine and house all of the NBC Sports Group, NBC Sports Network, NBC Olympics, NBC Digital and the NBC Regional Sports Network management teams.
The new state-of-the-art 300,000 square foot facility opened in December 2012. Paul Mazza will work on Sochi coverage from this building.
David Mazza’s innovation, creativity and ingenuity has earned him many awards including 22 Emmys for Olympics coverage, cable’s Monitor Award, ACE and BDA Awards for Graphics Compositing and the GE Edison Award for technical innovation.
On April 8, 2014, Mazza will be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the New York Festivals International Television & Film Awards. The award recognizes industry leaders whose accomplishments and contributions have made a lasting impression in the field.
At just 56, Mazza has accomplished and contributed a great deal to his industry.
“I have no trouble believing he deserves it,” his mother says. “I was just impressed that someone as young as his is was able to get it.”
Maralyn Mazza attributes his continued success to his ability to get along with others, something she believes he learned from his late father.
“It’s one of his big base strengths,” she says. “I see the respect that the men with which he works with have for him. There isn’t a question of the most minute significance that he can’t answer. He has to have a split-second response if something goes wrong over there. The whole world is watching.”
Paul Mazza agrees, saying his brother does well because of his ability to draw the best out of his team and his willingness to sacrifice himself so his team will be successful.
“He is all about making it possible, providing the resources to the folks underneath him so they can excel and they can be effective and successful in the efforts they have been tasked with,” he says. “They are always improving and perfecting their game and sharpening their skills. That’s what he encourages. That’s what he does to himself and that’s what he exhibits to others.”