Inside the NFL Draft Compound: Game Creek, NEP Roll Out Army of Trucks in Grant Park
This year’s NFL Draft production compound was as big as ever at Chicago’s Grant Park — totaling 11 mobile units combined for NFL Media and ESPN (plus RF trucks from AVS and BSI, respectively). This year’s new compound provided much more space and a closer proximity to both networks’ Selection Square studio sets but also meant that trucks were more than 6,000 ft. away (and across Michigan Ave.) from the Auditorium Theatre, where the first two nights of the Draft took place.
NFL Media once again relied on its trusty Game Creek Video Pride and Glory mobile units, along with an HFI (Husney Farrell Inc.) support unit for QC and transmission. Meanwhile, ESPN rolled out NEP’s EN-1 unit (five trucks in all), which serves as home to Monday Night Football throughout the NFL season. Below is a deeper look at the two companies’ efforts in the 2016 NFL Draft production compound.
Game Creek Returns for the NFL Draft
Game Creek Video once again provided production facilities for NFL Media with its Pride and Glory units (both with A and B units). Glory served as home to NFL Network’s primary Draft telecast, while Pride handled the shoulder-programming productions originating out of NFL Network’s Selection Square studio. Game Creek also borrowed a 1M/E panel on Pride’s switcher and a Calrec Artemis Light audio console in Pride to produce NFL Network’s Red Carpet Show prior to the Draft on Thursday night.
“At first, I think we were definitely nervous about being as far away from the theater as we are; 6,000 ft. of fiber can be a little daunting when you start lining it all up and hoping it’s going to go well, but we’re actually batting 1000 on that, which is kind of incredible,” said Game Creek Video Project Manager George Bailey. “But moving the compound out here gave us a lot more room to work with. Last year, it was definitely a logistical challenge. So, in that sense, I think we’re in much better shape this year.”
For Game Creek, the biggest change from the 2015 Draft was communications, which are very complex to manage across the various trucks and shows in Chicago and back to NFL Media’s broadcast center in Culver City, CA. This year, instead of trunking, Bailey and company opted to tri-bus two RTS ADAM frames and two ADAM-M frames between Glory and Pride to create one large 768-port system that was also integrated with Riedel IPX-8 IP intercoms tied to the Culver IP network.
“Trying to anticipate the amount of point-to-point communication between sites and the various shows poses an incredible challenge in a scenario where needs change along with the Draft picks,” Bailey explained. “With the various trucks, shows, and sites and Culver City, a trunked system would need to be actively managed throughout the event to avoid [overloading] the system. Trunking has a much smaller ceiling due to physical slot limitations in this configuration. Tearing apart a frame to accommodate enough trunked ports means we would be taking away from internal infrastructure.
“Now that we are tri-bus, the need for managing trunks, killing talk keys, and so on, goes away,” he continued. “It also frees up all of the internal ADAM MADI cards to be used for router-fed booth kits, listen ports, etc., which are heavily used as well for this show. Now any port can talk to any other as easily as you can in a standalone, single-unit situation.”
NEP Illustrates Versatility, Power of EN1
For the third consecutive year, NEP provided its formidable EN-1 mobile unit as the home for ESPN’s NFL Draft production. The quartet of Monday Night Football trucks (plus an E-truck support unit) served as the hub for both ESPN’s primary Draft show and onsite shoulder programing produced from its studio set in Selection Square.
The Draft has evolved into a massive production, necessitating the full power of EN1’s four trucks. Although the unit had been working NBA Playoffs on ABC in a two-truck (A and B) configuration, EN1’s versatility allowed the NEP engineering team to park the trucks in Chicago on Friday and have them up and running in four-truck mode shortly after. After the Draft, EN1 shifted back to two-truck mode for this week’s NBA Conference Semifinals and will go back to four trucks for the Eastern Conference Finals and NBA Finals.
“The great thing about EN1 is the flexibility and the workstations that are designed in the trucks,” said Michael Pean, senior account manager, NEP Broadcasting. “It’s very flexible to one day have graphics in one spot and then an EVS operator in that same spot the next day. [For example], we had EVS [replay operators] in the B unit a week ago, and now all the operators are in the C unit for the Draft, just like we do for Monday Night Football and other large shows. It’s great to have that flexibility and be able to do a variety of shows big and small.”
EN1’s A unit served as the control room for ESPN’s primary Draft show inside the Auditorium Theatre on Days 1 and 2, while the D unit served the Grant Park studio shows outside. On Day 3, as the coverage transitioned entirely to the outside set at Selection Square, the A unit took over as the main control room for ESPN’s telecast.
“That’s the beauty of the whole EN1 idea: all the signals are available everywhere, so it’s not a big process to move everything to the A control room on Saturday,” said Bruce Hogenboom, engineer in charge, EN1. “We don’t suddenly have to repatch switchers or anything. It’s all available everywhere, so it’s very easy to switch what control room is controlling what cameras and things like that.”
Pean added, “You also have to hand it to Bruce and all our engineers going out week to week [on EN1]. They went right from an NBA game to here, where they reconfigured the truck and worked with the [ESPN] production and operations teams to get the show built. Technology aside, those guys work hard and very long hours to get the show on the air.”
NEP’s Rhythm mobile unit was also on hand to support C3 Presents, which produced the onsite videoboard shows at the Auditorium Theatre and Selection Square, as well as drove the sprawling Draft Town fan-activation area in Grant Park.