NBC Sports Aims To Give Boxing a Primetime Look

The sport of boxing returned to broadcast TV on Saturday night in a big way with the first of 20 Premier Boxing Champions fights that will be seen on NBC between now and the end of the year. This weekend’s first fight featured some technical innovation, and viewers can expect more in the coming months.

“We all know this is boxing and the competition is in a 400-sq.-ft. ring, so our task is not to reinvent actual coverage but enhance it by using the roots of NBC Sports, which is to first be storytellers,” says Matt Celli, coordinating director, NBC Boxing. “How can we bring boxing back to primetime and give it a primetime look and feel?”

The massive LED lighting truss high above the ring for NBC Sports’ Premier Boxing Champions fights

The massive LED lighting truss high above the ring for NBC Sports’ Premier Boxing Champions fights

NEP Broadcasting remote-production trucks will be at the center of the 20-week schedule with NEP SS21 A and B units covering the biggest, A-level fights with 24 cameras (plus a blimp shot) and lesser fights produced by 17 or 18 cameras out of NCP11. There is also an advanced-technology unit on hand for the next-generation broadcast enhancements.

Celli says the team feels a huge responsibility to the sport and the legacy of boxing, a legacy that began with over-the-air broadcasters’ putting the sport of boxing front and center for decades.

“Our whole mandate for the past year,” he adds, “has been how [to] push the boundaries and get closer to the action with more information and more camera angles.”

One step was to marry the in-house presentation with the broadcast presentation so that fans at home and in the arena can have a very similar experience. A zoned audio system in the arena allows a large amount of flexibility when it comes to creating the audio experience inside the arena. At home, viewers are treated to a 5.1 surround sound experience.

That is one of the reasons that the set, ring, and lighting rig require 18 tractor-trailers to carry it all, making the boxing series more like a rock-and-roll show, according to Craig Bernstein, director of technical remote operations, NBC Sports: “It’s a massive footprint.”

The stage and lighting design was done with the assistance of Michael Marto, president/CEO, Executive Visions, and Bruce Rodgers, founder/president, Tribe, the scenic-design company behind recent Super Bowl halftime shows and more.

“For lighting, we want the viewer to turn on the TV and have an ‘oh wow’ moment,” says Celli. “It has a signature lighting package that is unique and has a multi-tiered lighting truss system with Viper, Laser, and Sharpie LED lights.”

The high-impact lighting system has benefits on the camera side as well. For example, three Inertia Unlimited X-Mo super-slow-motion camera systems cover the action, and, thanks to the light levels, they will be able to shoot at frame rates above 2,000 fps.

Inertia Unlimited is providing another innovation with the use of two Mattcams, robotic X-Mo units mounted flush with the top of the canvas on opposite sides of the ring to provide a dramatic view of the action.

Says Celli, “We feel it will give a unique perspective to the boxers as they are battling and also when a boxer is knocked out.”

To give the broadcast a Skycam feel, NBC Sports is deploying an 80-ft.-long JitaCam, which has a 30-ft. retractable boom and can be moved via remote control up and down the 80-ft. track.

Another enhancement is the Round-a-Bout 360-degree camera system., which has 32 remote-controlled cameras mounted in the lighting truss above the ring, and two video servers, enabling a replay operator to quickly turn around replay looks that can track around the entire ring and also stop and zoom.

“We’ll never miss a punch or flurry,” Bernstein explains. “What separates it from other systems is, there is almost zero latency for rendering.”

The launch of the series is the result of NBC’s own flurry of activity, which it pulled off while gearing up for the Super Bowl and, in a few months, for the return of NASCAR to NBC.

“It’s exciting to have boxing back in primetime,” adds Bernstein. “There is a special buzz to a fight night, especially in Vegas.”

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