WNBA Gets More Sound on the Court

The WNBA championship series went fast, the Minnesota Lynx taking down the Atlanta Dream in a three-game sweep that seemed over in the blink of an eye. Good thing the sound was expanded to help fill in what the eye might have missed.

WNBA head coaches wore microphones throughout the season for ESPN broadcasts; in postseason play, one official per game also was wired for sound. All used a Zaxcom TRX900 bodypack and Sennheiser MKE-2 mic capsule, provided by Bexel, the same combination ESPN uses on NBA games. However, the WNBA championships also had an additional advantage: instead of reserving on-court audio for replays, ESPN mixed field audio for the Atlanta-Minnesota contests in live, with a five-second delay.

“The WNBA championship games sounded fantastic. They really had an extra dimension,” says Kevin Cleary, ESPN’s senior technical audio producer, adding that the Zaxcom bodypack’s inclusion of active data encryption allowed the audio to be used in nearly real time. “Having that audio live makes a huge difference.”

Some additional microphone placements were particular to this series. ESPN A1 Devin Barnhart mixed from the new Game Creek Justice truck in Minneapolis and from Game Creek’s Intrepid in Atlanta. He notes that the Atlanta assistant coach, who was not wearing a microphone, went on court for team huddles. To catch that sound, a boom-mounted Sennheiser shotgun microphone was hovered over huddles.

Submixers Tim Parfaite and Mike Duke also wired the baskets with an additional Crown PCC 160 phase-coherent boundary mics that Barnhart says offered a wide pickup pattern to capture more of the court sound to the left and right of the basket.

The submixers also had a short-shotgun source on an RF handheld camera. That signal was split into two — one delayed, the other not. They used the delayed signal to align basket sound effects from the boundary microphone and the camera to eliminate a doubled rebound sound.

“That did a better job of covering the sound when it was close to the basket than the shotgun microphone we typically used,” says Barnhart, who has mixed WNBA games and championships for three years, as well as regular-season NBA matches. “There were more audio elements altogether for these games, so it was a thicker, more exciting sound overall.”

He also used a Dugan Sound Design Model E auto mixer for the announce talent. It applies real-time, voice-activated crossfading of multiple announce microphones.

“The arenas tend to be very loud, and some of the announcers are former athletes, so, between [their] getting excited on plays and the noise of the crowd, the Dugan was all about minimizing the ambient noise in the announcer mics and helping them to hear each other better,” Barnhart explains. “Automating the process manages the ambient noise more effectively.”

Cleary intends to keep using on-court audio for WNBA games. “It really gives you more game sound; you have something bigger to balance against the sound of the crowd,” he says. “I just wished this one would have gone longer.”

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