In Lead-Up to Madden NFL 18 Club Championship, SMT Powers Competitions at Team Facilities

Video Production Services unit helped produce events for the Cardinals, Bills, Jaguars

With the Madden NFL 18 Club Championship Finals in full swing this week and the recent announcement of a new TV and streaming deal with Disney/ESPN, EA’s Madden NFL Championship Series is squarely in the esports spotlight. The series has been moving toward this moment for months, with 11 NFL teams hosting events in which fans competed to advance to the Finals in Minneapolis this week. In its first foray into competitive gaming, SMT’s Video Production Services (VPS) group produced events for the Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills, and Jacksonville Jaguars throughout the end of 2017.

“SMT’s experience with supporting top football shows like the Super Bowl and Sunday Night Football makes us uniquely positioned to attract Madden gamers to the NFL through the medium they are most attracted to: esports,” says C.J. Bottitta, executive director, VPS, SMT. “With a worldwide fan audience now estimated at 280 million, approaching that of the NFL, SMT is excited to enter the growing market of competitive gaming.”

Although the level of services SMT provided varied from show to show, the base complement for all three productions comprised a full technical team of broadcast specialists operating six cameras, multiple replay machines, and a telestration system. SMT kept pace with the Madden’s lightning-quick style of play for the three-hour shows streamed on EASports YouTube channel, Twitch.TV/Madden, and the EA Sports’ Facebook page. In addition, SMT’s Creative Studio customized EA’s promotional trailer with team-specific elements for each of the three events.

“We started doing [Madden events] with teams last year, and there has been an evolution from wanting a [small-scale] podcast-level environment to almost a broadcast-level show,” says Bottitta. “What I loved about the three teams this year was how passionate and excited they were to be doing this. Teams were handling events very differently, but all of them had great people to work with and did a wonderful job.”

Inside the Production: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ
The Cardinals’ Madden NFL 18 Club Championship took place on took place on Saturday Nov. 11, soon after the team’s Thursday Night Football home game against the Seahawks, creating a quick turnaround for SMT and the team’s production staff. SMT provided the producer (Bottitta), director, tech manager, and lead camera operator and advised on what should be added for the production.

“We primarily provided leadership for the Cardinals,” says Bottitta. “They have a fantastic facility, so we reviewed with their tech group what they had and what they needed to add for [a competitive-gaming production] like this. They have a fantastic control room, and they used the crew that they normally use except for the producer, director, tech manager, and lead cameraman, which we provided.”

Inside the Production: New Era Field, Buffalo, NY
In Buffalo, SMT provided a similar level of services for the Bills’ event on Saturday Dec. 2, the day before the team faced off against the New England Patriots. SMT worked with the Bills to manage other shows using the team’s studio at New Era Field: a simulcast radio show, pre/postgame show for the Buffalo Sabres, and Bills GameDay on Sunday.

SMT once again used the team’s crew primarily but provided its own producer, director, tech manager, and camera ops and added a stage manager.

“Buffalo was on a real-time crunch,” says Bottitta, “so they told us the studio they wanted to use, the schedule of the studio, and asked us what was reasonable to expect. We guided them through what would make the most sense, so we could get in there, have a rehearsal and set day and then do the show while also allowing them to still do their normal duties.”

Inside the Production: Daily’s Place Amphitheater, Jacksonville, FL
SMT ramped up its role at the Jaguars’ event, which took place the morning of a home game against the Seahawks on Dec. 10. Since it was a game day, the Jaguars crew was occupied handling the in-venue production, so SMT essentially handled the entire Madden production at Daily’s Place Amphitheater, which is connected to EverBank Field. Since the two events were happening concurrently, the Jaguars provided SMT access to their router, allowing live camera views of warmups to be integrated into the Madden show throughout.

“The Jaguars [production] was the most unique of the three because it was on game day,” Bottitta explains. “They wanted to host it on the morning of what ended up being a very meaningful December football game for the Jaguars for the first time in a long time. Since the game-day crew was obviously busy, we did the whole show. We were taking Seattle and Jacksonville warming up on the field as bump-ins and bump-outs for our show, which was great and really captured the energy of the game.”

The Broadcast Mentality: Madden NFL Coverage Continues To Evolve
As the Madden NFL Club Championship grows (all 32 NFL franchises were involved for the first time this year, with prize money totaling $400,000 at this week’s Championship), the property has made an effort to boost its production value for live streams. Bottitta believes that SMT’s experience on A-level NFL productions, including Sunday Night Football and this weekend’s Super Bowl LII, was integral in the league’s selecting SMT: “I think that made a big difference: knowing that we weren’t just a group that’s doing one more esports tournament; this is a group that does professional sports production.”

He adds that VPS aims to leverage this broadcast-level expertise by bringing in such tools as replay systems and telestrators, which would be standard on an NFL telecast.

“We tried to bring a [broadcast] philosophy to these shows and want to make it more consumable for the viewers,” he says. “We brought telestrators and replay to all of the [productions], and that was not the norm when EA launched [the Club Championship] last year. I did that not only because SMT has a very portable, very easy-to-implement telestrator system but because it really adds to the show. If you went to a game and didn’t see replays or the key camera angles, you’d be in shock. So that became a big part of our production plan.”

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