Live From the NFL Draft: Vendors Unite To Serve ESPN, NFL Media, Stadium Shows

Azzurro, BSI, CAT Entertainment Services, Filmwerks, Fletcher, Illumination Dynamics, and VWSE Productions were onsite

An army of technology vendors and service providers was on hand at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX, last week to help support ESPN’s and NFL Media’s massive productions, as well as the in-venue videoboard and NFL Fan Experience productions. Here is a look at what some of these vendors provided at this year’s Draft. Also, check out SVG’s coverage of truck providers Game Creek Video and NEP at the Draft.

Azzurro Provides TeamCams for NFL Media, Pop Up Studio for ESPN
Azzurro had a sizable presence for both ESPN and NFL Network.

NFL Media relied on five Azzurro TeamCam systems at the NFL Draft to send a variety of content to its broadcast center in Culver City, CA.

ESPN took the new Golic and Wingo morning radio/TV simulcast show on the road once again, leveraging Azzurro’s Pop Up Studio. For the show broadcasting live Thursday and Friday from a set just down the street from AT&T Stadium, Azzurro’s Pop Up Studio essentially served as a “truck in a suitcase” solution that allowed ESPN to produce the entire show without having to roll up a production truck. ESPN discretely transmitted the three PTZ cameras from the set to its Bristol, CT, broadcast facility via public internet. The cameras were all controlled and shaded in Bristol, where the show was integrated.

In addition, NFL Media relied on five Azzurro TeamCam systems to send content to its Culver City, CA, broadcast center for its news coverage and onsite NFL Digital operation. TeamCam systems were used for NFL Network’s news position in a stadium suite (delivering live hits throughout the week), for #NFLBlitz red-carpet coverage, podcasts produced at the stadium, draftee interviews for NFL Now Live streamed during the Draft, and beauty shots and additional content.

Azzurro Director, Operations, John Bonaccorso notes that NFL Media “had eight TeamCams at Super Bowl and they also use them for training camps, private events, a lot of other events. Everything is built-in, so you can carry this on a plane, throw it in the overhead, and you’re ready to go.”

BSI Runs the RF Show in Arlington
The NFL Draft is traditionally heavy on wireless cameras, and, this year, BSI, via its One Off 2 truck, provided all RF cameras and microphones and RF coordination for both ESPN and NFL Media.

The NFL Draft is always an RF-heavy event, and BSI was once again on hand to provide all wireless camera and microphones.

NFL Network deployed six BSI RF cameras: three RF handhelds, two Steadicams, and a jib, while NFL Digital had a dedicated RF handheld and a RF Sony F55 4K camera. BSI also supplied four wireless mics for NFL Media and multiple return vision monitors for talent and IFB and PL comms.

For ESPN, BSI provided two RF handheld cameras, two Steadicams, and RF functionality for the network’s outdoor SupraCam two-point aerial system and the new DigiBoom gimbal-stabilized camera rig. ESPN also used three BSI wireless mics and multiple return monitors for talent and IFB and PL comms.

“We’ve put the three sites out here — one here at our truck, one over on a lift in the corner, and one right in the red-carpet area — which gives us a really good sort of triangulation of the whole area,” said Clay Underwood, director of business development, BSI, during the event. “All of our cameras, wireless microphones, and return video can just roam throughout that whole area unbroken.”

CAT Entertainment Services Powers Compound, NFL Draft Experience
CES supplied power for ESPN’s portion of the compound (NEP EN1 and Game Creek Video Maverick), as well as for C3 Presents (NEP ND7), which produced the onsite event. In addition, CES powered the various activations at the NFL Draft Experience outside AT&T Stadium.

LD Morrison and one of four 500-kW generators provided by Cat Entertainment Services for ESPN

CES had four 500-kW generators running in parallel to power ESPN’s production truck and a pair of 500-kW systems for sets and staging inside the stadium.

“This the first Draft I have done in 10 years, and it’s amazing to see how much it has grown,” said CES tech LD Morrison. It’s not just a twin-pack [generator] show anymore. It’s bigger than the Super Bowl. We do a lot of big shows that are similar to this in size, but the way this one’s laid out is very different. It’s compartmentalized to a certain extent, which makes it unique for sure.”

Filmwerks Rolls Out Climate-Controlled Exterior Set For NFL Network
Filmwerks built NFL Network’s 40- x 40-ft. enclosed, climate-controlled exterior set, introducing a front glass system that could be opened or closed depending on the weather. It was able to open and close in five minutes.

Filmwerks’s NFL Network exterior set had windows that could open and close in just five minutes. They were closed on a rainy Wednesday and open during beautiful weather throughout the Draft.

Filmwerks also provided NFL Network’s broadcast power, which was all backed up by an onsite UPS system. A UPS also supported the network’s exterior set.

“Working with the NFL Network, C3 [Presents], and the stadium was an excellent experience,” said David Fioravanti, ‎director, Specialty Structures Division, Filmwerks.

With business continuing to grow, Filmwerks is opening a fully operational West Coast office with staff, structures, power, and field sets this year. “We are very excited about stepping up our presence on the West Coast,” he notes.

Fletcher Deploys Trio of Robos for ESPN
Fletcher was back at the Draft, providing a trio of robotic cameras for ESPN. All three 1080p systems featured Sony HDC-P1R cameras with 13X lenses. They were deployed outside atop a 120-ft. scissor lift for a beauty shot, in the green room showing players as they waited to be drafted, and on the stage looking back toward the crowd to capture the iconic “Hat Walk.”

Fletcher Sports had two operators on hand to control three robotic cameras for ESPN at the NFL Draft.

Fletcher robo operator Steve Webster explained, “The Hat Walk [camera] picks up the players as they come up from the green room and pick up the hat [of the team that just selected them] from the table there, and then it gives us a reverse shot of the stage and the crowd.”

The Hat Walk system, he added, had much better lighting than last year’s, when it was located in a dark stairwell in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Illumination Dynamics Lights Up ESPN Sets
Illumination Dynamics supplied power and lighting for ESPN’s exterior sets and lighting for the interior set and for the Red Carpet Show prior to Round 1.

Lighting for “College GameDay,” which broadcasted from the NFL Draft for the first time, was supplied by Illumination Dynamics.

ID rolled out two 48-ft. trailers full of lighting to serve the various shows. ESPN’s interior set featured a full, intelligent moving-light package. The main set, GameDay set, and demo field set were equipped with HMI and LED lighting. Although ID had powered ESPNs sets at several Drafts in the past, this marked the first year the company also provided lighting.

“The only big challenge this year inside is, we’ve got the translucent roof,” said Rich Williams, director, broadcast services, Illumination Dynamics. “So we’ll have changes from any ambient daylight coming in early until we go into nighttime. And the sun doesn’t set until around 8:10, after the Draft has already started. So the last part of the show will look like a theater show pretty much, but there will be a lot of ambient light in there early on. So you have to account for that. Instead of just using regular theater lighting, we did bring in some high-powered moving lights so that we could combat the lighting needs inside.”

VWSE Productions in AT&T Stadium Control Room
As is the case at nearly every major sports event in the U.S., Van Wagner Sports & Entertainment Productions was on hand, producing the in-venue videoboard show. Although hosting the Draft at an NFL Stadium for the first time changed the workflows of every broadcaster and vendor onsite, few were affected by the change more than VWSE.

VWSE’s (from left) Brian Scott, Bob Becker, and Nate McCoart inside the AT&T Stadium control room

“Anytime you bring something like this into a stadium, you’ve got more production pieces to play with, and [AT&T Stadium] is different from anywhere else on earth: it has all the bells and whistles you can imagine,” noted VWSE Executive Producer Brian Scott. “That means more [displays] to program for, which has made our lives a more difficult, for sure, but also more fun.”

In addition to feeding the massive centerhung videoboard and permanent displays throughout the Cowboys’ home (as well as the outdoor LED displays at the NFL Fan Experience), VWSE produced all content for the temporary displays integrated into the stage on the field, which totaled 26 million pixels of 5-mm LED.

“It is, by far, the largest [LED screen] we’ve done and one of the largest stage screens that anybody had done. And that doesn’t even count the center-hung or the permanent venue screens, so it’s quite a bit of LED,” said Nate McCoart, producer/editor/designer, VWSE Productions. “There were roughly 15-20 iterations of the set design before we ended up with this. We worked with the set designer Chris Bast, with the league reps, and with the production company C3 [Presents], as well as with NFL Network and ESPN. It’s a really big group effort to pitch ideas back and forth to come up with the concept.”

He noted that the files necessary to populate these massive displays are enormous, sometime taking multiple days to render. VWSE had five full-time designer/editors running dual workstations onsite so that they could render on one machine while producing content on the other.

“We’re very fortunate,” said VWSE Productions EVP Bob Becker, “because we have already worked here so often — between Final Fours and CFP Championships and other events — that we know the people and we know the room really well. It’s a great place to work, and the staff onsite here is amazing, so we lean on them a lot.”

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