Stanley Cup Playoffs A ‘Labor of Love’ for NBC Sports Production Team
Comcast RSNs to help out early, productions to grow with each round
The puck drops on the Stanley Cup Playoffs Wednesday night and, with a field of all American-based teams set to battle for Lord Stanley’s Cup, NBC Sports has its production plans in place to bring hockey fans up to as many as 105 games and more than 260 hours of linear programming over the next two months.
The sheer breadth of the event — especially in the opening round — poses its challenges for NBC Sports Group, including the coordination of a rotation of six NEP mobile units and working alongside — and in collaboration with — regional sports networks that own in-market exclusive rights to games in the first round.
NBC is fortunate enough to have four teams (Chicago Blackhawks, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, and San Jose Sharks) in the postseason that are covered throughout the regular season by a Comcast SportsNet regional sports network (part of NBC Sports’ family of regional networks). Those networks’ productions will be relied upon to provide national coverage at points throughout the opening round. In the case of the Sharks, Comcast SportsNet Bay Area’s local production will be aired nationally on NBCSN or another NBCUniversal channel for the entirety of the series.
“It’s been something we’ve been trying to do more overall as a company, and our RSNs do a hell of a job producing games,” says John McGuinness, senior producer for NBC Sports’ NHL coverage. “There’s really no drop off in the coverage.”
In the first round, NBC plans to deploy four hard cameras and two handhelds, while working with the RSNs on site to leverage robotic cameras. NBC does not deploy net cameras of its own in the first round, but has access to a camera that the NHL has standard in nets around the league for goal review.
The star of the camera complement is the Sony HDC-4300, which has worked center-ice coverage for many marquee games throughout the regular season. The camera shoots at 6x speed and is accompanied by a Sony 3300 on the reverse angle that shoots at 3x speed.
In the opening rounds, the arena can get awfully crowded with broadcasters. In some instances, as many as four unique broadcasters could be offering live coverage of a game (when international broadcasters are thrown into the mix). Crewing becomes a chief challenge as a result.
“A lot of our locals are sticking with the home [RSN] show because that’s where their bread is buttered throughout the regular season,” says James Stuart, a director for NBC’s hockey coverage. “We may be in Chicago six times, but those guys are doing 76 games with the home show. So sometimes, we might have to travel in more of the team than we’d like.”
The NHL is also planning to implement a new system of 12 review cameras around the playing surface, including new GoPros on each of the blue lines to monitor offside calls. NBC has been granted access by the NHL to its replay review center in Toronto, where the league will pull back the curtain on the angles being reviewed and what reviewed calls are made.
As the Stanley Cup Playoffs progress, productions will continue to grow in size. In the second round, an additional hard camera will join the show and at the conference finals one I-MOVIX X10 UHD camera will be added along with an accompanying Evertz DreamCatcher. The editorial decision will be made based upon team matchups where that system will be deployed.
NBC Sports Group kicks off its Stanley Cup Playoff coverage Wednesday with a Game 1 tripleheader, beginning at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN, when the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Detroit Red Wings. Coverage continues at 8 p.m. ET on USA Network, when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the New York Rangers, and shifts west at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, when the Chicago Blackhawks visit the St. Louis Blues.
It’s the beginning of the long marathon that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the NBC team wouldn’t have it any other way.
“For us, this is a labor of love,” says McGuinness. “Like the players, this is the time of the year that we really look forward to. We’re really psyched to get this going. An exciting time for all of us.”