Having a ball at the Super Bowl

Alum logs long days in front of camera to bring sights and sounds of greatest show on turf to millions

Jon Schaeffer

UND alum Jon Schaeffer prepares to deliver a live-shot to Nexstar Media Group TV stations across the country from the site of Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis. Image courtesy of Jon Schaeffer.

In just a few years since graduating from UND, Jon Schaeffer has made an exciting career out of taking people where they can’t typically go.

This week, Schaeffer has taken his show on the road to Minneapolis and Super Bowl LII.

Schaeffer works as the sports director at Local 5 in West Des Moines, Iowa, the area’s ABC affiliate. But when planning ramped-up for Super Bowl media coverage, he found himself right in the thick of it – on a national level.

He was one of about a dozen journalists handpicked by the Nexstar Media Group, the Irving, Texas-based conglomerate that owns Local 5 and more than 160 other TV stations across the country, to provide live coverage of Super Bowl week in Minnesota and to develop story packages about the iconic event for Nexstar’s local stations.

“I’m the morning live-shot reporter with another colleague from Arkansas,” Schaeffer said. “We’re set up from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m., doing live shots for about 30-40 stations across the country.”

Jon Schaeffer and Studio One at UND

Schaeffer (front left) poses for a photo with the “Studio One” news and production teams at the UND Television Center. There, Schaeffer worked as a sports reporter and anchor and assistant news director before graduating from UND in 2012. Image courtesy of Jon Schaeffer.

Taking the plunge

The rest of the day, he’s chasing Super Bowl human interest stories that are taped and shipped to Nexstar markets for air. He’s their up-close-and-personal eyes and ears for all things Super Bowl.

Schaeffer said the markets he’s broadcasting to range in size but include high-population centers such as Norfolk, Va., Tampa, Fla., and San Francisco.

A native of Iowa who spent time as a sportscaster in Bismarck, Schaeffer likes doing Super Bowl stories that illustrate Upper Midwest quirkiness, especially for those in fair-weather markets.

“We took our viewers to a polar plunge yesterday – the people in Tampa have no idea what a polar plunge is,” Schaeffer laughed.

Schaeffer hit the ground running just in time for Super Bowl Media Day with the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots ahead of Sunday’s championship clash.

For Schaeffer, a day during Super Bowl week can get revved up as early 3:30 a.m., and last well into early the next morning. He’s not a caffeinated beverage guy, so he’s been sustaining himself on fruit snacks and beef jerky.

“It’s been a lot fun, but I’m not going to lie – it’s been a lot of work,” said Schaeffer, between assignments on Wednesday. “Sometimes I can sneak in a three-hour catnap.”

Biggest of stages

Schaeffer’s not a novice when it comes to covering big-time events. With two FBS-level programs in his home state – Iowa and Iowa State—and plenty of mid to high-major college basketball programs, Schaeffer has spent time on big stages.

Still, college bowl games and NCAA Big Dance appearances pale in comparison to the greatest show on turf.

“This is my first Super Bowl and nothing I’ve seen to this point even compares,” Schaeffer said. “I’m just trying to soak it all in when I can.”

A highlight, so far, was seeing NFL players in person amid the throngs of journalists during media day. It could get a bit intimidating.

“I mean, when you’re talking to guys like (New England Patriots linebacker) James Harrison … he’s a big dude, and if you ask him the wrong question, things could go really bad in a hurry,” Schaeffer joked.

Schaeffer also has rubbed elbows with the greats of his business – people he watched while growing up, like former ESPN Sports Center host and sports commentator Dan Patrick.

“You’re in awe a little bit but you’ve got to remain totally professional,” he said.

Jon Schaeffer

Schaeffer was part of the local news crew at KXMB-TV in Bismarck that made international headlines in 2013 for letting “legendary” faux anchorman Ron Burgundy (a.k.a. Mark Twain Prize-winning comedian Will Ferrell) crash its news desk for a publicity stunt. Image courtesy of Jon Schaeffer.

Kind of a big deal

But that was, by no means, Schaeffer’s first brush with greatness – sort of.

Schaeffer was part of the four-person local news crew at KXMB-TV in Bismarck that made international headlines in 2013 for letting “legendary” faux anchorman Ron Burgundy (a.k.a. Mark Twain Prize-winning comedian Will Ferrell) crash its news desk for a publicity stunt to promote the release of Ferrell’s new movie, “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.”

Schaeffer, at the time, did sports for KXMB. That evening, with no public heads-up, Ferrell, as his alter ego Ron Burgundy, took the co-anchor spot and read actual local news reports with real-life anchor Amber Schatz. The gag turned out to be a big deal and had social media abuzz for the next 24 hours.

“That certainly would have to be the highlight of my career,” Schaeffer recalled. “It’ll be very difficult to top that moment.”

Schaeffer visits with longtime former UND Television Center employees, Barry Brode (left) and Marv Leier at the UND Television Center studio recently. Image courtesy of Jon Schaeffer.

Schaeffer visits with mentors and longtime former UND Television Center employees, Barry Brode (left) and Marv Leier, at the UND Television Center studio recently. Image courtesy of Jon Schaeffer

Change of plans

Schaeffer originally came to UND with aspirations to be a pilot.

“I got about midway through before I realized it probably want not the right career path for me,” he said.

Schaeffer, the son of an Iowa radio man, eventually found his new calling in the Communication Program at UND as well as the UND Television Center.

He credits his time at the Television Center and working with Barry Brode and Monte Koshel, two longtime professionals who worked at the center, for his success so far.

“They were just good all-around people – some of the best I’ve ever encountered,” Schaeffer said.

At the Television Center, Schaeffer worked as a sports reporter and anchor and assistant news director.

“We quickly noticed (Jon) was a natural leader,” said Brode, former director of the Television Center. “He was the type of leader that created an environment where people could excel. He was an inspiration to all of us and I am very proud of his accomplishments as a professional. To be covering the Super Bowl is quite an achievement.”

While at the Television Center, Schaeffer received a “Recognition of Excellence” after he was nominated by fellow students for going above and beyond in teamwork, professionalism, communication and work quality.  He graduated from UND in 2012.

“I’ve just always pushed myself to be as good as I possible could,” Schaeffer says, “and the rest his history, I guess.”