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Recent grad takes NBC to Super Bowl, Olympics

Eric Say didn’t dream of the Super Bowl or the Olympics while growing up in Spearfish. 

Eric Say

Home-schooled through high school by parents Gary and Diane, Say had a casual interest in sports. However, a week from the start of college he had yet to pick a college or major. He saw graphic design in the South Dakota State University catalog and thought, “that looks like fun.”

For Say, it was his ticket to work with NBC Universal on the Super Bowl and spend seven weeks at the Olympic Village.

That’s quite an achievement for a 29-year-old man who graduated from SDSU’s graphic design program in 2009. “Things just fell into line perfectly,” said Say, who was hired by NBC in November 2011 after working for Daktronics for five years.

“Daktronics … really helped me out. They prepared me for what I need to work at a network,” Say said.

At Daktronics, he started out as a student doing the “most basic stuff, resizing animations others had done, populating graphics others had done,” Say said. As a full-time employee, Say was promoted to art director, working with pro properties. 

Working with in-stadium sports graphics at the Brookings-based, national firm opened doors, he said.

Opening doors with boldness

So did a little boldness on a college field trip to New York City. “I had seen NBC’s work on air. I got into contact with Dave Barton (senior designer for NBC Sports) and asked for a tour. I had a great time. It looked like a cool place to work, so I kept in contact with him,” Say said.

Then in October 2011, while posting an ad for Daktronics, he saw a posting about an opening with NBC Universal.

Say said he was under-qualified in terms of experience, but his portfolio of graphic creations was strong and he had a relationship with Barton. “Your portfolio is the biggest factor in the graphics field,” Say said, adding, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

So on Friday, Nov. 4, he quit at Daktronics, and began working at NBC Universal the next Monday.

Welcome to the Big Apple

His office is in downtown New York City — 30 Rockefeller Plaza. He lives in Queens. Quite a contrast to the quiet Black Hills or tame Brookings. “The first two weeks I was totally cultured shocked,” says Say, who coped by “putting all my time into graphics.”

He arrived when NBC was rebranding its graphics and preparing images in advance of the Super Bowl Feb. 5.

Next up was preparation for the Olympics, and NBC was behind on that preparation work because of time spent on network rebranding and the Super Bowl, Say said.

“They just shoved you right into the deep end. They didn’t give us (new hires) any time to get acclimated, which worked out to be a great opportunity for me.  Because of the situation they were in, they gave me opportunities I wouldn’t normally have.  I went crazy with the first two projects (rebranding and the Super Bowl).

“That’ s why I was able to make the team (of eight graphic designers) that went to the Olympics,” Say said.

Working at Olympic Village

NBC graphic

The crew arrived in London July 2 and left Aug. 20. While some graphics are prepared months in advance, there is also daily work and the ever-present rush jobs.

“There’s literally someone running down the hallway with a tape that needs to become a graphic on TV in two minutes,” he recalled.

Graphics were created for eight NBC Universal properties — NBC, NBC Sports Network, Bravo, Telemundo, CNBC, MSNBC and the Soccer and Basketball channels.

While work was created for all the sports, “we pretty much focused on the headline sports for the studio shows,” Say said. So that meant updating plenty of Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt graphics as well as explanations of Oscar Pistorius’ carbon fiber prosthetics.

The NBC crew was situated in the International Broadcasting Center in the center of the Olympic Village.

His 12-hour work shifts didn’t always end at 9 p.m. and there were no days off. “It was a very exhausting experience” without much opportunity to be a tourist. But he was able to use comp tickets at the opening ceremony, Michael Phelps’ last event, and some track and field and water polo action.

“You definitely felt the energy of the Olympics. It was the only thing that made the grueling hours and deadlines doable,” Say said.

Hooked on New York City

Back in the States, he went to work on “Sunday Night Football.” Say works strictly in sports, and “football is the prime time show,” said Say, who said he has been hooked by the fast pace of New York City. “I think I’m here to stay.” He did come back to South Dakota for a visit in September.

His SDSU instructors aren’t surprised by Say’s success.

Professor Tim Steele said, “Eric was a wonderful student. He did everything we asked of him — from pulling all-nighters to embracing new concepts and exploring outcomes that were uncommon. I am positive his sheer dedication of time and commitment to making designs that were beyond what was expected has propelled him to his current position.”

Assistant Professor Cable Hardin said Say was in his first animation and design media class in 2009.

What he saw there of Say undoubtedly helped him achieve at the Olympics. Say had “a genuine ‘can do’ attitude that made my arrival at SDSU a real treat.  He was always smiling and had an irrepressible sense of humor —even when things got tough or he was presented with challenges.” 

There was no shortage of them in London or New York, but “I felt capable of meeting those challenges,” Say said.