BSI Meets RF Challenges Head On for NBC’s Triple Crown

With the surprising victory of Ruler on Ice over Stay Thirsty in the Belmont Stakes, Broadcast Sports, Inc. (BSI) wrapped their work on the 2011 Triple Crown for NBC Sports Group. BSI has been integral to the coverage of the Belmont Stakes since 2004, and has provided RF cameras and microphones for the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes since 2006. The 2011 Triple Crown marks the first time BSI has covered all three events, and the first time since 2005 that all three races were broadcast on one network.

Horse racing presents unique challenges within a difficult environment; there are multiple stories to be told, extending across a large venue. Extensive coverage of the Triple Crown would not be possible within a traditional single receive point infrastructure. Instead, BSI utilized small-footprint RF over fiber sites throughout the venue, which provide diversity reception at each site and carry the appropriate spectrum back to the mobile unit over fiber.

“About 50% of the broadcast is RF and dependent on getting those RF signals back, reliably, all the time,” said Clay Underwood, technology development manager for BSI. “You’ve got to be able to get through the tunnel, out to the track, in the paddock area, behind the grandstands, all over the track, in the barn area…. It’s a broad range of coverage, and trying to set up a receive mesh network that will accommodate all those different areas, and have robust and reliable signals coming back, is the hardest part.”

BSI captured the victory of Animal Kingdom in the 137th Kentucky Derby using four RF Handheld Cameras, two Steadicams, multiple wireless microphones, and an RF link at the starting gate.  The Steadicams used LINK TX and Sony P1 technology, which reduced the overall weight of the camera systems.

Using a similar setup for both the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, BSI provided full coverage using four RF Handheld Cameras, an RF Steadicam, multiple wireless microphones, an RF Link from the starting gate, and the new BSI Mini TX, which makes the lightweight Steadicam even lighter.

As Animal Kingdom, Shackleford, and Ruler on Ice triumphantly crossed the finish lines of their respective races, jockeys John Velazquez, Jesus Castanon, and Jose Valdiva, Jr., were met by NBC’s Donna Brothers for the traditional post-race interview. They were also met by a decidedly non-traditional piece of equipment: the Helmet Camera.

“NBC came [to us] and said, ‘We’d like to do a unique perspective on Donna Brothers,’” said Underwood. “Because she does the post-race interview on horseback, they wanted to be closer to the action, rather than [use] a long camera lens shooting across the track.”

At the request of NBC, BSI repackaged the miniature technology they normally use in auto racing into something that could be worn by Brothers.

“The helmet-mounted wireless camera system is a great example of something we love to do,” said Mark Polla, BSI’s sales and marketing manager, “taking our existing technology and expertise and working with the Production team to adapt it in order to provide a unique angle to a story being told — in this case, literally!”

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