CFL Goes All-In on Player Audio for TSN Broadcasts
Approach to wiring athletes is slightly different from NFL’s
The Canadian Football League was a bit late to the game when it comes to wiring players for audio — the NFL started miking its players in 2011 — but, now that the CFL has greenlighted the technique for this season, it’s doing it in a big way. During a run of 18 weekly games from June 29 through Oct. 26 — nearly the league’s entire 21-week season — both coaches and quarterbacks will be miked for selected games through a total of six wireless channels.
That differs from the NFL’s practice, which has been to place microphones on opposing guards or the offensive centers, an approach intended to capture cadences and the sounds of impact. The CFL’s approach catches those sounds as well as other verbal ambience. For instance, as reported by Sporting News, during the game on June 29 between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Winnipeg defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat disputed a holding-penalty call on him. However, head coach Mike O’Shea is heard replying, “You had the jersey, Jackson. It’s on the replay.”
The feature, which the CFL is calling “Live Mic,” places Q5X QT-5100 PlayerMics on both teams’ quarterbacks, backup quarterbacks, and head coaches. The mics and transmitters were supplied to broadcaster TSN (which shares the feed with ESPN2) by Burlington, ON-based RF Wireless Systems, with support from vendor Toronto-based Silent Sound Productions.
The signal path for the player audio starts on the field, where a remote-controllable QT-5100 transmitter has been secured to a player’s back, with the lavalier microphone element run by a wire to the front of the uniform. The transmitted signal is sent to a receiver by a sideline audio console, from which an A2 sends the field-audio channels to the A1 aboard an onsite Dome Productions remote-production truck, where it’s mixed into the main-broadcast audio feed.
The main challenge for the process has been the field technicians’ learning curve controlling the transmitters, according to RF Wireless President Robb Bunn. “We and Silent Sound have been working with them,” he explains, “integrating functions like being able to turn mics off during breaks to conserve the batteries and adjust levels.”
On the shows, the player audio is live with a 10-second delay. However, that has still not been enough to block all the player profanity. After a few f-bombs got through on-air, one Twitter comment suggested that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers change their name to the “F-Bombers.” Before the start of the first and third quarters, the CFL issued a warning: “This program may contain coarse language that may offend some viewers.”
Q5X CEO Paul Johnson notes that the CFL first tried player microphones on four games during the 2016 season but didn’t continue with it the following year. “I’m not sure why that happened that way,” he says, “but it’s clear that the fans at home are reacting positively to being able to hear this audio from the field.”
The renewed and deeper dive into player audio this season seems to be paying dividends for the CFL and TSN: viewer engagement is deeper, and CFL ratings are up about 10%, a boost attributed to the live player audio.
“It’s been getting a great reaction, even in the east of Canada, where the CFL isn’t as big a thing as it is out west,” Johnson says. “There’s a lot of buzz around it, and it’s very cool to be a part of it.”
TSN is also deploying a new ref cam, which delivers a full referee experience to viewers. Used weekly, the ref cam shows viewers what the head ref sees, as well as replay footage and unique vantage points during reviews.
“The new production features being added to our CFL broadcasts provide viewers with an immersive experience that puts them in the middle of the action,” said Paul Graham, VP/executive producer, live events, TSN, in a press release. “We value the great cooperation of the CFL, CFLPA, and all nine teams in providing a viewing experience for Canadian football fans unlike anything they’ve seen before.”