Super Bowl Report: Fox Sports Puts Final Touches on Prep for Big Game

Dealing with the cold weather has been a challenge for everyone involved in setting up for Super Bowl XLV. Earlier in the week, a combination of bitter cold and fierce winds wreaked havoc on setup plans, damaging outdoor TV sets and tents for pre-game festivities.

Ice has been a constant concern all week. Roads and parking lots around the city have been a slick mess, with the city of Dallas slow to deploy the rock salt and sand that can make a difference in returning roads to normal. And then there are the other issues, such as production-team members who flew in from the Pro Bowl in Hawaii and found themselves needing to run to the store for suitable clothes when temperatures dipped into the teens on Wednesday and Thursday.

Fox Sports SVP of Field Operations Jerry Steinberg

“We had some damage to the outdoor sets,” says Jerry Steinberg, SVP of field operations for Fox Sports, “but you get in the mindset that this is the Super Bowl and there are no obstacles.”

Says VP of Technical Operations Michael Davies, “When you expect the cold weather, you can bake it in at ground level. But here, we have had to activate plans that we were just thinking about, like heaters. And working in the cold slows things down.”

Despite those challenges, however, Fox Sports is in great shape for Sunday’s big game.

“We have been in a steady rhythm since we got here,” says Steinberg. “This is all about planning, and what Mike [Davies] has done is be organized so there isn’t a wire or connector that is not on a piece of paper and in the master plan.”

Building on What Worked

Davies says Fox Sports is bringing back many of the things that worked in 2008, when it broadcast Super Bowl XLII from University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona. A rather aggressive setup schedule was one item that returned: the Game Creek production trucks didn’t show up until this past weekend and were up and running by Wednesday (the infrastructure team that handled the fiber connections arrived on Jan. 25, two days after the NFC Championship game in Chicago).

The Game Creek fleet on hand in Dallas

Although plenty of items were duplicated from 2008, the production team and its partners didn’t simply dust off the XLII playbook.

“We used it as a starting point, but we also wanted to make every decision again,” Davies says. “We asked everyone to not say, ‘That is the way we did it last time.’ In the end, we had a lot of the same conclusions, but there are some things that have changed.”

All-Star Production Team
Planning is only part of the reason for the success in battling the elements. Just as important is the quality of the production personnel and freelancers who are working the game.

Fox Sports VP of Technical Operations Mike Davies

“We were able to pick our all-star team from people who work for Fox all the time, whether it’s on the NFL regular-season A, B, or C games,” says Davies. “So they are part of our family and the best in bunch. Plus, they are familiar with the way we do things.”

The core of Sunday’s game production, as it was in 2008, will be Game Creek’s Fox A, B, C, and D units, trucks that Steinberg says are still ahead of their time: “The fiber interconnects between the A and B units allow us to get from here to the Daytona 500 and be on the air by Thursday.”

For Sunday’s game, the A, B, and C units will function pretty much as they do during a typical NFL broadcast, with A and B handling production, audio, tape, and engineering while C handles Sportvision and sideline carts. But the D unit has been reconfigured from handling audio submix to being a base for transmission, intercom, and other communication needs.

“It is largely the same infrastructure except we will use the Grass Valley Kayenne production switcher and the Grass Valley Kayak for tape release,” explains Davies.

Enhanced Role for Tape Release
For a show the size of the Super Bowl, the tape-release area plays a very important role. A typical big-game NFL broadcast has approximately 12 cameras so the director spends the entire season telling a story with only those cameras.

The Super Bowl, however, has upwards of 40 cameras. So, instead of directors’ having to direct a game by looking at all 40 cameras, a producer in the tape-release area will evaluate many of the special shots and use the Kayak to deliver the best shots to the front bench in the A unit. And with 18 EVS servers, there are plenty of sources to choose from.

“You can’t have a production team go from having 13 or 14 cameras and then have 50,” adds Steinberg. “You need to ramp up during the playoffs so that the director, technical director, producer, and tape-release director can get used to that number of sources.”

To Capture the Action
The camera complement comprises 20 Sony HDC-1500 cameras, six Sony 3300 Super SloMo cameras, a Sony HDC P1 camera roaming the sidelines with RF transmission, two Inertia Unlimited high-speed cameras, and 13 HL40 Ikegami robotic cameras. All the manned cameras are equipped with Canon 100x lenses.

“Canon stepped up and helped us fill the gaps to make all the lenses 100x,” says Davies. “That gives uniformity to the glass and allows all of the cameras to get closer, and being able to get closer is always better.”

The robotic cameras are a necessity for getting shots of the teams walking through the long tunnels under the stadium, and four each will be placed near the AFC and NFC tunnels. Robotic pan-bar systems with Canon 42x lenses will also be placed behind each end zone and get shots down the sidelines. “They will hang off the façade instead of having to kill a seat,” Davies notes.

Replays Make the Difference
The interesting challenge of the Super Bowl is that, as much as fans and viewers may remember the live moments, it is actually the replays that make the difference in the telecast. Three years ago, the Inertia xMo camera located at the reverse 50-yard line captured New York Giants’ receiver David Tyree’s amazing catch, and a crucial two-point conversion replay from last year’s CBS broadcast is burned into the brains of all New Orleans Saints fans.

“We really strive to maintain the picture quality in the replays, and all of the low-end-zone replays will be captured using Sony 3300 cameras,” says Davies. A new Inertia Unlimited xMo camera will be used on the sideline cart and on the reverse 50.

“Much of the game is replays, so clarity of the replays is really important,” Davies  says. “So we will be shooting at 180, even upwards of 400 frames per second.”

The mix of people, equipment, and technology will be even more tightly integrated in the final days leading up to Super Bowl XLV. Rehearsals will be held, faxes will be checked, the temperatures will warm, and the ice will melt.

“Our job is to be mechanics and make sure the tools work and the production team has the best tools and technology they can use,” says Steinberg. “We are telling stories.”

Coming soon: Inside the Pre-Game Challenge

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