CFL, TSN To Test Live Mics on Field, in Locker Rooms

Canadian football fans will get an earful when they tune into today’s pregame CFL match between the Toronto Argonauts and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on TSN. For the first time, the network will use live microphones on players and coaches during a CFL game. With starting and backup quarterbacks and both coaches wearing lavalier mics and wireless beltpacks, fans will be able to hear play calls from the huddle, pregame pep talks, half-time strategy discussions, and general grunts and groans as they happen live on the field.

The show’s audio will be on a 10-second delay, with Paul Graham, VP/executive producer of live events at TSN, monitoring the audio from the broadcast truck. A league representative will be beside him but in an advisory role rather than a censorial one. In the NFL, the league has complete control of on-field audio.

(The near-live delay also caused TSN to revert to stereo instead of its usual 5.1 surround for CFL games. “It works better with our delay system,” Graham says,)

“We sat down with the league four or five months ago and said, how do we take it to the next step in terms of more access for the fans and viewers,” he recalls. “We are always looking to bring fans as close to the action as possible. The league and teams have been incredibly supportive and worked with us to give fans even more access inside the game.”

This game will be an experiment that could establish this degree of expanded audio coverage as a new baseline for season-play broadcasts, according to Graham. TSN expects to continue it into the league’s 19-week regular season, which runs from late June to early November, but will limit its use to games played in the summer, before the intensity increases as teams close in on the Grey Cup championship.

“We’ve miked players and coaches before but never this many in a game and never left them hot throughout the game,” Graham says.

The lavaliere microphones will take viewers deep into the huddle, where they’ll hear playbook calls and what he describes as “almost another language,” which TSN commentators Rod Black and Duane Forde will decipher on the fly. Later this season, camera-mounted microphones will be allowed in the dressing room during the coaches’ pregame speeches, four minutes of the teams’ halftime self-analysis of the game, and postgame coach speeches, all on a taped-to-air-later basis. Graham hopes that some of the audio will create its own mini-narratives.

“We’re hoping that we might see some strategy by a quarterback and receiver as they’re talking and their arms are moving around and then see them connect on the field for touchdowns as a result,” Graham says. “That would really build a storyline.”

Audio for CFL games has historically been at a bit of disadvantage, given the league’s substantially wider playing field — 65 yards versus 53.5 yards for regulation NFL fields — which makes it more difficult for parabolic microphones to capture sideline audio. The CFL uses 20-yard-deep end zones, which are 10-15 yards deeper than U.S. football end zones. Graham says such disadvantages to the audio are part of what prompted the discussions with the league about expanding broadcast audio.

Creating a good atmosphere around the more immersive audio is critical to making it a success, he adds.

“We need to have all the teams on board for this, because we can’t do it with some and not others,” he points out. “We need an atmosphere of trust. So we’re going into this as an experiment and to keep it in perspective and to have some fun with it. We’re not expecting anything super serious. But it could lead to some amazing sound in the future.”


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