Fox Sports Director Rich Russo Is Ready for Anything at NFC Championship Game
Panthers’, Cardinals’ different styles of play promise opportunities for the unexpected
Sunday’s NFC Championship Game (6 p.m. ET, Fox) is one of the biggest live productions that Fox Sports will present all year. And yet Rich Russo, who will direct his seventh NFC title game with Fox, is as cool as a cucumber.
It’s a non-Super Bowl year for Fox — the network is on tape for next year’s Super Bowl LI in Houston — so this is as big a game as it gets for his team this season, but Russo is a seasoned vet who works some of the biggest games on the NFL schedule week in and week out.
“I think the preparation is the same,” says Russo, who will direct the game alongside producing partner Richie Zyontz. “In a Super Bowl year, we would be adding more equipment leading up to the Super Bowl. In a year like this, we are fortunate enough to still do the big games every week, and, as you get later in the year, it gets bigger and bigger.”
Fox’s production and technology deployment in Charlotte, NC, for Sunday is a significant step up from a regular-season broadcast. The network will send out 27 cameras, 21 of which will be used for game coverage (the others are robotic cameras used for POVs, beauty shots, booth minis, etc.). The Sony HDC-4300 units that Fox has made core to so many of its productions over the past year will shoot at 8X speeds; two Inertia Unlimited X-Mos will pull in extreme, cinematic replays; and the new Skycam Wildcat system will patrol the skies pulling in aerials.
Included in the arsenal will be what Fox calls the “4K Flex” system (also provided by Inertia Unlimited), which captures images at a high frame rate and — thanks to AJA TruZoom — allows the production team to zoom in, crop, and extract an HD-quality replay. Russo has been a big fan of how far 4K has come as a storytelling enhancement.
“Being able to blow up a picture and see if a guy’s feet are in bounds is huge,” he points out, adding, “I think the speed of turning that around into a replay has really been effective. The quality has gotten better and better.”
Sunday’s game also marks the finale of Fox’s first NFL season with its new top-of-the-line production truck, Game Creek Video’s Encore. Actually three 53-ft. trailers, it provides nearly 2,400 sq. ft. of production space when the sides are expanded: 720 sq. ft. in the A unit, 905 sq. ft. in B, and 675 sq. ft. in C. At its core is an Evertz IP-based router, which gives a significant amount of signal flexibility and opened the door for Fox to integrate the Sony HDC-4300 cameras.
“It’s a lot more spacious,” laughs Russo. “It’s not necessarily that bigger is better, but I think, as you add more sources into the main unit than we have in the past, that becomes very beneficial. The truck engineers are terrific.”
As for the game itself, Russo is prepared for the unexpected with two very different styles — in the Arizona Cardinals and the Carolina Panthers — squaring off. The Panthers’ Cam Newton is a dynamic and versatile quarterback who can throw a laser but also has the athleticism to scramble out of the pocket and make a run. The Cardinals, behind veteran Carson Palmer, have a more traditional, huddle-up offense.
“We’ve seen a lot of hurry-up offenses, and you always have to be prepared for that going into a game,” says Russo. “Carolina will get to the line pretty quickly, but they won’t play as fast as maybe a Philly or a Green Bay. Arizona doesn’t really play much hurry-up, so maybe that gives us time to do more things in between plays.”