Audio for NHL All-Star Events Aims To Heat Up the Crowd

For ‘tournament’ and skills competition, the focus will be on entertainment

Hockey moves fast to start with. When it comes to the NHL All-Star Game (on NBC Sports Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET from the Staples Center Arena, Los Angeles), it’ll seem even faster. More correctly dubbed the All-Star tournament, it will feature three 20-minute games. Star players from each division make up the four teams: Pacific, Central, Atlantic, and Metropolitan. The four teams square off in the first two games; the winners of those play each other in the third. It’s all over pretty quickly, but NBC Sports A1 Tim Dunn will also have to move fast on the faders, since he’ll be working the entire game’s audio, announcers and effects alone.

cut“We’ll have a few more microphones out on the ice, from the one or two extra handheld cameras that will be out there. I use GPIs [general-purpose interfaces] from the switcher to help control [the audio from those],” he explains, referring to triggers connected to the audio router.

Dunn will have those and a slew of other mics, including 10 Crown PCC boundary mics on the boards and omni transducers inside the goals shooting more or less over the goalies’ shoulders. They’ll pick up the clatter of sticks and pads as players converge on the nets; they may also pick up a heated word or two, something Dunn tries to anticipate on the faders, since there’s no delay.

“You try to think ahead,” he explains. “You just have to focus when they get in close and they start to have a ‘conversation.’”

Dunn will get a warm-up in the form of the NHL All-Star Skills Competition (Saturday at 7:00 p.m., also on NBC Sports), a heavily branded evening of ice artistry that includes the Gatorade NHL Skills Challenge Relay, the DraftKings NHL Accuracy Shooting, the Bridgestone NHL Fastest Skater, and the Oscar Mayer NHL Hardest Shot. Dunn, who will be working out of NEP’s ND6 truck, notes that the Skills show has more of an emphasis on entertainment, with the arena’s JBL Vertec PA system pumping music along with announcements.

“There’s much more use of the house PA than you’d have in a typical hockey game,” he says. “It can be a challenge trying to get the balance just right.”

That’s compounded by the size of the Staples’ interior, where the Grammy Awards will take place two weeks later.

Dunn says striking the balance between effects and the crowd lies partly in placement of ambient microphones — mostly Sennheiser MKH-416 short shotguns — close enough to capture the scale of the crowd reactions with an appropriate roar but not so close as to allow individual voices to be picked out on the air. “The cuts can happen so fast that you can’t keep up, even with someone submixing.”

Karl Malone, director, sound design, NBC Sports and Olympics, likes how the All-Star event lets them get more of the fans in the stands into the broadcast. “There is a lot more crowd interaction, so all these elements that are out of the ordinary in a standard hockey game help us increase the entertainment level of the broadcast audio,” he says. “The new game format of 10-minute halves also keeps it exciting.”

Players may be able to be wired for sound this week, but they won’t be heard for some time. According to a source at Quantum5X, which supplies RF transmitters designed for sports applications for the NHL and the NBA, a dozen of its newest PlayerMic transmitters will be used by NHL Studios for both the Skills competition and the All-Star Game. This audio will be used for postproduced content.

Dunn won’t know until game day whether the league and the players association will agree to putting RF mics on players. He recalls that, for last year’s game, IFB was used on players to try to get two-way communications between goalies and the director. In that case, it was the noise inside Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, not policy, that prevented that sound’s use most of the time.

“This show is a challenge to get right,” he says. But, when he gets all the parts where he wants them, he adds, “It feels great.”

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