NFL Media’s Scouting Combine Production Bigger Than Ever in Indy
The final seconds of Super Bowl XLIX ticked off the clock less than three weeks ago, but the 2015 NFL offseason is already full speed ahead, as the NFL Scouting Combine kicks off this week in Indianapolis. Over the past decade, NFL Media has transformed the Combine from an offseason afterthought into one of the most talked-about events on the NFL calendar. That continues this week at Lucas Oil Stadium, where NFL Network, NFL.com, NFL Now, and NFL Mobile have erected a massive multipronged production to deliver more than 45 hours of live Combine coverage.
“From our production team to our operations team and all the folks in between, it’s quick turnaround [from Super Bowl], and people are running on adrenaline,” says Dave Shaw, VP, operations and engineering, NFL Media. “But we still put everything we have towards this production, just as if it were the Super Bowl. It is definitely a lot for a handful of people to turn around, but it always seems to come out great.”
Among the highlights for NFL Media’s 11th Combine production will be a record number of production trucks, a 26-person roster of on-air talent, the addition of new comparative-analytics technology and new virtual graphics, and a RailCam demo on the 40-yard dash.
A Packed Compound in Indy
NFL Media has rolled out a total of six production trucks and two support units to produce the multiplatform Combine coverage this week. Game Creek Video’s Pride trucks (A and B units) will handle the workouts and drills, Game Creek Glory (A and B) will service the onsite studio set for live Combine coverage and NFL Total Access, and — new to the party this year — IMS Productions’ HD5 (A and B) will serve as home to NFL Digital Media’s production for NFL.com, NFL Now, and NFL Mobile.
“On the NFL Network side, we will be using Pride for the live skills portion, and Glory will handle all the packaging and sets,” says Shaw. “We have two ways to cover [the Combine]: the traditional coverage of the event on the skills side and thenpackages from the sets. We are doing an overall analysis and building things together to better tell the story simultaneously with the live coverage.”
Director Brian Hennessey and producer Chris Wertz along with director Steve Beim and producer Mike Titleman will be at the front bench in their respective NFL Network trucks.
NFL Network has rolled out a total of 29 cameras, including three Robovision robotic cameras to cover all coach/GM press conferences (on NFL Now), a Cablecam aerial system (which is set lower than for traditional game coverage), two NAC Ikegami Hi-Motion II ultra-slo-mos (one RF handheld and one cabled handheld) provided by Fletcher Chicago. NFL Digital Media has deployed an additional 10 cameras for its coverage.
40-Yard Dash: Railcam Audition, 10-Yard-Cut–Time Graphic
Although it will not make its way into the coverage this year, Shaw and company will demo the first-ever use of a Railcam system to cover the 40-yard dash.
“It won’t be available yet this year. We are setting up a test for the Combine and NFL people to see in hopes of expanding the coverage of the 40-yard dash,” says Shaw. “There are some real logistics concerns with adding a Railcam and the interruption it might have on the athletes, coaches, and timing people. We can’t interfere in any way. But we are going to try to demo it, and, if it works, hopefully, we will have it for the future.”
One element that will make its debut on-air this year during the 40-yard–dash coverage will be a virtual 10-yard-cut—time graphic. The RCS Vizrt graphics generator will take in the data output from the tracking system supplied by the NFL Combine staff and create a virtual graphic displaying each player’s 10-yard-cut time.
“It’s important, especially for running backs and linemen, to see how quick they get off and what their burst is in the first 10 yards,” says Shaw. “Even though it’s not official — we will still get the official time after — we have never gotten to see that graphically before, so we’re very excited about it.”
Back for its seventh year at the Combine, Sportvision’s Simulcam technology applies background-recognition and camera-matching technology to overlay the image of one prospect’s dash on top of another (as well as host Rich Eisen’s annual 40-yard dash in his suit and Under Armour shoes). This provides the viewer with an in-depth visual comparison of the athletes competing.
Touchscreens Added to the Mix
NFL Network’s main set will once again be located on the plaza level and, for the first time, will feature an 82-in. touchscreen powered by Reality Check Systems (RCS) and Vizrt graphics software.
NFL Network will also use a new RCS system to determine how draft prospects measure up against established NFL players and will display the results graphically. NFL Media and RCS developed a workflow for transforming player attributes and performance data into comparative-analytics graphics that illustrate which NFL players most closely resemble draft players — from physical characteristics to performance. Through a unique algorithm, NFL Media’s coverage of the Combine will generate the NFL player with the statistics that best match the prospect and then display the results as graphics.
NFL Ups the Digital Ante
NFL Media’s digital properties will once again provide coverage for the hard-core fan at the Combine, delivering NFL Scouting Combine Live on NFL.com, NFL Now, and NFL Mobile. The live stream will feature three sets strewn across Lucas Oil Stadium and cover drills/workouts, player interviews, and onsite analysis (player comparisons, mock drafts, team needs, etc.).
NFL Digital Media will also deploy a social-media–focused set (shared with NFL Network) on the plaza that will feature a Reality Check-powered 55-in. touchscreen of its own. With Molly Qerim serving as the primary social-media talent, NFL.com will use real-time monitoring, analysis and trending tools, offering fans the opportunity to be part of a social community by answering poll questions, following social-media conversations, and submitting questions to NFL Media analysts.
For the first time, NFL.com’s Combine coverage features updated video-on-demand packages of the top prospects, including bench presses, 40-yard dashes, and positional drills.
“We love the Scouting Combine for the same reason many of the viewers do: it’s a fresh start for everybody,” says Shaw. “This is the transition from the end of the season and the Super Bowl to the beginning of our steps to the draft. It’s the day of hope for all teams. We are doing all we can to start evaluating for ourselves who these new talents are going to be and how we can cover them in the future.”
NFL Network’s coverage of the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine begins Wednesday Feb. 18 from Lucas Oil Stadium.