With Lifetime, Go90 Deals in Full Swing, NWSL Kicks Live-Game Productions Up a Notch
All NWSL games are being produced live: 25 national telecasts on Lifetime, 98 streamed on Verizon’s Go90
The 2017 season marks a major turning point for the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). Both the quality and quantity of its live game coverage have taken a significant step up in the league’s fifth year of existence. Creating a weekly sports TV franchise from scratch while also producing every single match for the first time ever is no small task, but it marks a major step forward as the NWSL looks to grow its profile on the U.S. sports landscape.
For the first time, NWSL has a weekly TV window throughout the season, courtesy of a three-year deal with A&E Networks for Lifetime to carry the NWSL Game of the Week each Saturday afternoon. In addition, every single match not included in the Lifetime deal is being streamed on Verizon’s Go90 platform in the U.S.
“We had 72 days between the [Lifetime announcement] and the April 15 kickoff to get everything in place, so it was a very fast turnaround, but it’s been amazing so far,” says soccer-production veteran Michael Cohen, who is serving as executive producer for the Lifetime broadcasts and consultant on the digital-media productions. “This is the best women’s soccer league in the world, and we want the production level to match that. We want to people to see this like it’s equal to any other sporting event that they see — male or female. And that’s how we’re treating it.”
While Lifetime’s 25 NWSL Game of the Week telecasts are being produced in a traditional fashion with a mobile unit onsite, the 98 Go90 live streams are at-home productions that send camera feeds from the stadium to a central control room at Vista Worldlink’s production facility in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
Inside the Lifetime NWSL Game of the Week Productions
The Lifetime NWSL Game of the Week productions deploy an NEP mobile unit, 12 cameras (six with long lenses, two with wide-angle lenses, and four handhelds), and two six-channel EVS replay systems. Vista is also handling the below-the-line package for these productions. In terms of transmission, the primary program feed is delivered via fiber to Encompass Digital Media’s facility with C-band satellite backups to Vista and Encompass.
Cohen brought in Big Studios to design the animation package (for both the Go90 and Lifetime shows), Nektor Productions designed the in-game graphics package, and Massive Music provided the music package.
“We really worked to create a [graphics package] with a Lifetime sensibility and a unique look for sports,” says Cohen. “They have an extremely talented creative team, and Big Studios has a lot of experience in sports. It was a collaborative effort between the creative directors at Lifetime, who knew the Lifetime sensibility, and Big Studios, who knew big-event sports graphics and animation. It was a complete collaboration from start to finish and from design to execution.”
The Game of the Week features a 30-minute onsite pregame show (starting at 3:30 p.m. ET) and halftime show hosted by Dalen Cuff and analyst Aly Wagner (who also calls the game in the booth with play-by-play voice Jenn Hildreth). The pregame show opens with a 15-second “special live presentation of the NWSL” animation created by Big Studios before going to a field-level set at the stadium.
“The atmosphere in some of these stadiums is amazing and we wanted to capture the in-stadium experience from start to finish, so we located our pregame show at field level where you can see the fan base behind,” says Cohen. “The [pregame] show will have game-specific coverage as well as big-picture news around the league and the bigger stories outside of the game. At halftime, we’re starting to produce week-in-review segments like play of the week, goal of the week, and save of the week to give a 360 angle on the league.”
Cohen, a veteran of nine Olympics productions, and his team are putting extra emphasis on telling the stories of the athletes and exposing fans to the players through Olympics-like profile features and interviews during the pregame show.
The NWSL telecasts also embrace Lifetime’s “Fempire” initiative, which promotes “creating content for women, by women, about women.”
“We’re constantly telling the stories of these women and also being consistent with the Fempire initiative and methodologies at Lifetime,” says Cohen. “We want that message to extend throughout. Our main feature every week takes a day-in-the-life look at their lives or focuses on overcoming their challenges and all their achievements.”
In addition to Cuff, Hildreth, and Wagner, women’s-soccer legends Kate Markgraf and Julie Foudy will make guest appearances throughout the season. Other members of the crew include producer Dana Rubin; Creative Director Amanda Dulkinys; Feature Producer Krista Saponara; Operations and Crewing Manager Emerald Chin; Graphics Operators Michelle Shanks, Nicole Trimner, and Amy Burmahl; Caroline Ceigersmidt handling audio; and Beth Ely and Annika Gill Torgusen managing clock and score.
Inside the Go90 At-Home Productions With Vista
All non-Lifetime NWSL games this season are being produced remotely at Vista’s newly overhauled at-home–production facility and distributed via Verizon’s Go90 streaming service.
Each game features feature four manned cameras (two with 55X lenses and two with 20X lenses) onsite — all backhauled to the Fort Lauderdale facility, where all graphics, replays, and other elements are integrated in one of Vista’s REMI (remote integration) production-control rooms (PCRs). Each of Vista’s seven PCRs features Ross Carbonite switchers and Xpression graphics, as well as full audio and replay capabilities. All commentary is recorded in Fort Lauderdale from off-tube booths at Vista’s facility.
Vista has extended its proprietary IP transmission network and provided its proprietary portable broadcast units (PBUs) to all 10 NWSL venues. The network uses IP for the first mile from each stadium and a closed fiber network (via Tata Communications) for the long-haul backhaul to Fort Lauderdale. In addition, an IP Bridge has been created for communications so directors can communicate to onsite camera operators in real time.
“[The at-home productions] have gone very well. Vista has really have done an amazing job,” says Cohen. “They had the experience from doing this already for the USL, and their expertise and quality have been tremendous.”
In addition, Vista provides, real-time data-linking of statistics and sophisticated HLS multi-bitrate streaming and digitally archives all content in various formats and codecs for archival, real-time sub clipping, and VOD consumption
“It’s great for the league now to be able to have every game produced, so we can do a melt after each game with highlights that can be archived,” says Cohen. “In fact, in Week 1, a SportsCenter Top 10 highlight came from a [streaming-only] game. That clearly wouldn’t have happened in previous years when the game wasn’t streamed.”