Seattle Loud: NFC Championship Game Reflects Differing Venue Philosophies

The NFC Championship match-up between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers last weekend had people on the edge of their seats for more than one reason. Aside from Seattle’s come-from-behind win in a gripping fourth quarter, viewers might have found themselves leaning in to hear the on-field player audio, as fans in the stands at CenturyLink Field ramped up their notorious “12th-man” noise effect during Green Bay possessions — of which there were many in the first half. As a result, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers went to a silent count to set up plays.

A1 for the game was Fred Aldous, who is also Fox Sports’ audio consultant and senior mixer, and he says the nuanced relationship between the broadcast audio and the stadium sound is underscored now that some fans are empowered by the force of their own SPL.

“Seattle is actually a great place to mix,” he says, somewhat counter-intuitively. “That’s because the crowd is so loud that it actually creates a nice foundation for the mix,” he explains. “Also, I don’t have to fight with the PA in Seattle, because the PA doesn’t compete with the crowd, which makes it easier for me to build a mix that keeps the viewers in the game.”

Aldous refers to a philosophical difference between stadium-management styles. Some styles tend to let the bowl sound develop organically, as in Seattle and in Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium, where the crowds tend to lead the show. They contrast with venues like Dallas’s AT&T Stadium, where a $40 million Mitsubishi videoboard stretching nearly from one 20-yard-line marker to the other seems to encourage a louder PA system, making it difficult for Aldous to get a comfortable balance between on-air announcers and stadium crowd sound.

He notes that Dallas Cowboys’ FOH mixer Gary French has “been directed to make the sound as big as the video screens, to make it more of a rock show than a sporting event. It makes it harder for me to dig for the crowd by itself. I have to compete with the music and the announcers in the PA system there. That’s not the case in Seattle.”

Still, the Seahawks’ fans present the A1 with a challenge and, at the same time, reveal the different fan cultures in the NFL. Aldous notes that, as loud as Seattle’s “12th man” got when Green Bay had the ball, you could have heard a pin drop at Lambeau Field when the Packers had the ball during the Division Playoff win over the Cowboys the week before. In fact, the audio was so clear that Rodgers’ now-famous “New York bozo” dummy play call — a reference, some speculate, to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was sitting with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones at the game — was as intelligible as it was ambiguous.

During the Seahawks-Packers game, player microphones were placed on the centers, which Aldous and other A1s regard as optimal for the clearest quarterback audio, versus mics lodged in the padding of the guards’ uniforms. (The choice belongs to each team.) In the first half, when Green Bay dominated, the crowd may have been progressively more muted as the points piled up, making the audio more accessible, and they also left plenty of room for the mics to pick up Seahawks’ quarterback Russell Wilson’s cadences. But, by the fourth quarter, the crowd was once again roaring, and Rodgers was reduced to silent calls.

It’s a condition that Aldous says he’s seeing more and more as partisan crowds become more consciously and strategically vociferous. He recalls mixing the Super Bowl last year and Fox Sports execs commenting that they couldn’t hear Peyton Manning call his signature “Omaha” plays. “I told them it was because Manning went to a silent count,” Aldous says. “I can put up a microphone, but I can’t make him speak.”

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