Sochi presents logistical issues for NBC's Winter Olympics production

John Fritsche, NBC's senior VP for Olympic Operations John Fritsche, NBC's senior VP for Olympic Operations and a 27-year resident of Plainview, shown at the International Broadcast Center in Sochi, Russia for the Winter Olympics. Photo Credit: NBC / Paul Drinkwater

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Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept. ...

Building Olympic facilities in time for the Sochi Games has proved to be a bit of a challenge for Russian officials, but they are not the only ones who have faced daunting logistics in the isolated resort city.

NBC, which owns the U.S. television rights for the big event, had to construct its own infrastructure, and the vast majority of its material and personnel came from halfway around the globe.

Enter John Fritsche, the network's senior VP for Olympic Operations and a 27-year resident of Plainview, who is charged with somehow making it all work.

In an interview from Sochi last month, he said this has been the most complicated undertaking of a career at NBC that began in 1979 and has taken him all over the world on assignments for both the news and sports divisions.

"One of the things logistically challenging about Russia and Sochi is that from a marketplace point of view there is no Home Depot here, no Costco here, no city industrial base or any kind of base to draw from," he said.

"We have to bring everything we need, as much as we can, and then bring it back to the States."

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Production costs for NBC reportedly will exceed $100 million, and it's not difficult to understand why, given that Sochi is "a little off the beaten path," as Fritsche understated, compared to, say, Vancouver.

Humans can fly into Moscow, then take a 21/2-hour flight to Sochi. But much of the material gets routed through Istanbul, then across the Black Sea by boat and into the Olympic site.

"We have a lot of great people who work for me who are far more expert at this than I am," Fritsche said. "They take a look at this sort of stuff and have a true passion for the Games and say, 'How can I overcome this challenge?' . . . It's a great logistics success story."

Fritsche, 59, more or less moved to Russia in early December and after a Christmas break returned for good on Jan. 2. As the weeks have gone by, network personnel have continued to pour into town, for a final total of more than 2,500.

The flip side of the difficulty reaching Sochi is that once on location the main venues are more compact than usual.

"Once you get here it makes getting around and getting things done within the Olympic footprint much easier -- same for the mountains," Fritsche said. "Once you're here and have your ducks in a row, it should be fairly easy to operate in."

My conversation with Fritsche was in mid-January, so given the reports of not-quite-finished hotels from arriving journalists I checked in with him again this week for a brief update. (He's busy!)

"Given the location, we've faced some unique logistical challenges, but at each turn the Russian organizing committee has helped us resolve them, one by one," he said by email.

"As in our country, it's a challenge to get permission to go on rooftops for the installation of equipment, such as antennas. But the organizing committee has provided their full support and cooperation to allow us to install the equipment we need to bring the dramatic images from Sochi back home to the U.S."

Fritsche is to leave town around March 6, and the last NBC employee will be around until mid-April. Then all concerned can start planning for the schlep to Brazil in 2016.

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That one should seem comparatively easy after this one.

"I can't tell you how much where [Sochi] is in the world has added to our challenge," Fritsche said in January. "It's not a major city. We haven't had an Olympics like this in quite a while."

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