TSN Puts CFL Fans Inside the Huddle, Locker Room

Stateside professional football may be fraught with peril as the NFL lockout enters its fourth month, but the Canadian Football League is alive and well on TSN. Coming off the most watched season in league history, the CFL opened its 2011 campaign Thursday night on TSN with the BC Lions at the Montreal Alouettes. The Montreal victory was the first of 77 CFL games that TSN will produce this season, up from 72 last year.

“For several years now we’ve really had a good amount of gear for our telecasts: 10 manned cameras and several unmanned cameras. ” says Paul Graham, VP/executive producer of live events at TSN. “But this year we are going to try to bring fans even closer to the game with a few more [added elements].”

Among these elements will be on-field RF cameras, in-locker-room cameras and mics, the LiberoVision 3D highlights system, and potentially (although not officially) live mics for players and coaches during games.

RF Takes the Field
Each week, TSN’s marquee game(s) will feature RF handheld cameras on the field, capturing the action inside the huddle and post-touchdowns celebrations in the end zone. TSN utilized on-field RF cams during last year’s Western Final and Grey Cup telecasts, but this will mark their first appearance in regular season games.

Before the snap, the camera operator will get as close to the huddle as possible, usually just inside the hash marks. Once the referee blows the whistle for the play to begin, the operator will sprint off the field.

“It gives you some extra pictures that you don’t normally see,” says Graham. “The league has been very helpful with that and the teams actually like it because we are not cutting through their benches with a bunch of cables.”

Inside the Locker Room
For the first time, the CFL has also granted TSN deeper access to team locker rooms, allowing the network to shoot pregame speeches from both coaches, the first four minutes of halftime, and the postgame speech from the winning coach. This content will be integrated into the telecast as well as posted on TSN.ca.

“Looking inside a CFL locker room is obviously very unique for our viewers,” says Graham. “That added access will be a key component to our coverage this year. Another thing that will try to bring [viewers] inside the game.”

LiberoVision Offers Deeper Highlights
This year, TSN has also added the Libero Highlight system from LiberoVision (owned by Vizrt) to its coverage. The system provides realistic 3D replays and enables TSN to move the viewer‘s perspective to areas not covered by the in-stadium cameras, such as over-the-shoulder of the quarterback.

Based on the existing TSN cameras, Libero Highlight combines multiple images from TSN cameras angles to generate seamless 3D highlights that allow the viewer to view replays from multiple viewpoints. An interactive telestration and annotation system also allows TSN analysts to virtually move players around the field and illustrate their point via pointer and circle graphics. The system will be utilized during TSN’s pre-game, halftime, and post-game shows.

No Green light Yet for Live Mics Sequel
TSN broke new ground this preseason, outfitting players and coaches with live microphones during a Toronto Argonauts-Winnipeg Blue Bombers matchup. Starting and backup quarterbacks and both coaches wore lavalier mics and wireless beltpacks, with as many as four mics being monitored at once.

While Graham says fan feedback (via Twitter) regarding the live mics was about 95% positive, there are no official plans to deploy live mics on the field for a regular season game as of now.

“Overall I think the experiment went very well,” he says. “There were obviously some learning curves on our end and on the teams’ end. But that was the whole purpose – to just give it a try and see what we could learn from it. Hopefully at some point down the road we can come back and look at it again or at least a hybrid of that situation.”

CableCam To Make Regular Season Debut?
This year’s Grey Cup will be held at the newly renovated BC Place Stadium in Vancouver. On Sept. 30, the stadium will reopen for the Lions’ game against the Edmonton Eskimos.

TSN plans to use the game as a warm-up for the Grey Cup, deploying all the bells and whistles usually reserved for the postseason, such as CableCam.

“The Grey Cup is hosted there and we’re going to use CableCam for the Grey Cup, so it would be a nice dry run if we can work it out,” says Graham. “It’s safe to say that will be the first time in Canadian television history that a CableCam has been used for a CFL regular season game. It’s pretty much been reserved for the Grey Cup up to this point.”

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