NFL, Fox Sports descend on London with help of CTV OB for first-ever NFL UK telecast

By Ken Kerschbaumer

It’s an NFL roadtrip unlike any other. On Oct. 28 the New York Giants will play the Miami Dolphins in London’s Wembley Stadium, bringing a new type of football to one of England’s most hallowed sporting venues. And it also brings a new type of challenge to Fox Sports as it will be unlike any other NFL B-game in history.

“The biggest challenge is dealing with all of the formats and standards,” says Michael Davies, Fox Sports director of field operations. “With the mixture of formats on site it’s almost like a museum of all the formats in existence.”

Fox Sports will be the “host broadcaster” even though they’ll be thousands of miles from home base in Los Angeles. While Fox shoots the game at 720p/50 Hz Sky Television will shoot side-by-side at 1080i/50.

While American football and “Global” football may share a name the camera positions needs for a telecast are as different as the actual games. UK football announcers don’t sit at midfield and, as such, there is no press box located at midfield. NFL hired HOK to build a special gantry in Wembley Stadium that will have the broadcast booth, instant replay booth, and two coaches booths (it will also house the three main cameras used for the telecast). Sky Television, meanwhile, will use the traditional UK football booth on the equivalent of the 45 degree angle.

CTV OB is providing its OB9 production truck and MVT3 tape truck for Fox Sports coverage. “It’s terrific and has all the comforts of home,” adds Davies. Twelve Sony 1500 cameras will be used for the broadcast along with a GVG Kalypso Duo HD/SD switcher, Calrec Alpha audio console, EVS servers for replay, and Chyron graphics. Even Sportvision will be on hand for a special version of the First and Ten line that can operate at 50 frames per second. Chyron graphics will also be created at 50 Hz. NTSC Digital Beta and PAL Digital Beta decks will also be available.

From a transmission standpoint Fox Sports will encode on site with RTM, provider of the encoding gear. All content will be sent back to Fox Sports in Los Angeles at 720p/50Hz where it will then be converted to 59.94 Hz. A Pro-Bel CIFER standards converter will handle conversion duties.

For Davies and the crew it’s been a learning experience. For example, Chapman carts, a staple in U.S. football telecasts, don’t exist in Europe. “As far as I could tell they aren’t in Europe so we had to ship one from Los Angeles,” he adds. Sportvision also needed to modify CTV OB’s Canon lenses so they could read camera data.

“We’re leaning pretty hard on the facility provider to do the legwork for us in England,” says Davies. Most of the Fox crew (a total of 75 people, including local London hires, will be involved in the telecast) will head overseas next Wednesday and begin work on Friday, Oct. 26. If all goes as planned (the game sold out in less than an hour) expect the NFL to turn this one-off experiment into a regularly scheduled event.