Reliant Stadium will be buzzing for the first Monday Night game in Texans' history.
Monday Night Football is six months away from returning to Houston for the first time since 1994, but the wheels already are in motion on the production surrounding the game.
This week, officials from ESPN visited Reliant Stadium for a site survey in preparation for the first MNF game in Texans history on Dec. 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
ESPN requires a staff of approximately 350 people to put on each Monday Night game and set up a studio in the stadium itself. In ESPN's third season to broadcast MNF, Houston is one of six NFL cities – along with Green Bay, Cleveland, Chicago, Foxboro and Nashville - where the network will host the show for the first time.
As MNF studio's senior coordinating producer, Stephanie Druley explained on the recent visit that a crew of 15 ESPN security, operations and productions personnel are traveling to each of those stadiums to plan a broadcast layout, meet stadium contacts and decide how to set up on game day.
"We will have people here starting on Friday the week before the game who will get ready," Druley said. "We'll ready the stadium. We need a set that's inside the stadium, which makes us different than other networks doing games, so that's why we come out in the summer and sort of look at all the stadiums."
Druley, who grew up in Conroe and went to the University of Texas, could tell that Reliant Stadium was built with primetime football in mind.
"It's great in terms of its newness," she said. "There's so much space, and when the building was built, obviously a lot of thought was put into the television production side because there's power everywhere and there's fiber everywhere.
"It makes our job really easy. There's a lot of space for us to park our trucks. There's a lot of space for us to set up a newsroom, which we do on the week of the game, so it's terrific."
ESPN's staff of 350 for the game includes production workers, a crew for the 30-plus cameras to be used during the game and, of course, the on-air talent. Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski and Tony Kornheiser will call the game from the booth. Stuart Scott, Steve Young and Emmitt Smith will man the in-house studio on the field level, and Michelle Tafoya and Suzie Kolber will report from the sidelines before the game.
A nationwide viewing audience will see plenty of Houston in the lead-up to the game. Coverage from Reliant Stadium begins on Sunday night prior to the Dec. 1 game with Scott and Jaworski filming content for SportsCenter.
On the day of the game, ESPN will air a report every 20 minutes from the stadium beginning at 3 p.m. ET. The pregame show starts from the stadium 90 minutes before kickoff, and coverage will continue through the midnight hour in the form of postgame content for SportsCenter.
"We sort of live here for three days," Druley said.
The average TV audience for MNF ranges from eight to 11 million viewers, depending on the game, Druley said. With the anticipation leading up to the first-ever Monday nighter at Reliant Stadium, she expects that those tuning in on Dec. 1 will be treated to an especially frenzied environment.
"I think it'll make it unique in terms of the atmosphere," Druley said. "I'm sure the city will be really excited and the fans and the atmosphere in the stadium will be huge."
During MNF's broadcast, Druley anticipates perhaps highlighting the Battle Red Day theme and also drawing back on the Oilers' history because of the many Monday Night memories the team created in the city.
The Texans' 4-1 home record against Jacksonville in the last five years and the emerging rivalry between the two teams also makes the game intriguing to the MNF crew and the prospective viewing audience.
"It makes it a big deal," Druley said. "It's such a tough division that the Texans are in and so any matchup within the division is huge, I think. You know, we'll see what happens in November in terms of where they are in the standings and what the game means. Hopefully, it'll mean a lot."