Road Warriors 2018, Part 2: The Top Sports-Production Highlights of the Year

A review of some of the biggest events on the sports-production calendar

2018 was one of the most eventful years for sports production in recent memory, with the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics and 2018 FIFA World Cup capturing the nation’s attention over the summer and annual events like the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, Super Bowl, NFL Draft, and others breaking production records and test-driving new technologies and workflows. As if there weren’t enough going on stateside, this year’s Road Warriors features an expanded look at what went on across the Atlantic. Here’s is Part 2 of SVG’s look at some of the sports-production highlights from the past year (CLICK HERE for Part 1).

U.S. OPEN
Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, Shinnecock Hills, NY
June 14-17

The 2018 U.S. Open from Shinnecock Hills Golf Club gave the Fox Sports team challenges in production planning that led to innovations, the opportunity to refresh old workflows and core infrastructure, and a chance to chart some new directions for golf coverage.

The front-bench area in Game Creek Video’s Encore truck was at the center of Fox Sports’ U.S. Open coverage.

Game Creek Video’s Encore production unit was at the center of the coverage for Fox and FS1, with Game Creek Pride handling RF-video control and submix and providing a backup emergency control room. Pride’s B unit handled production control for one of the featured groups, Edit 4 supported all iso audio mixes, and Edit 2 was home to five edit bays with equipment and support provided by Creative Mobile Solutions Inc. (CMSI). There was also the 4K HDR show, which was produced out of Game Creek Maverick.

“All the Sony HDC-4300 cameras on the 7th through 18th greens are 4K HDR-native with a secondary output at 720p SDR,” noted Brad Cheney, VP, field operations and engineering, Fox Sports, during the tournament. There were also six Sony PXW- Z450’s for the featured holes and featured groups, the output of two of them delivered via 5G wireless.

In terms of numbers, Fox Sports had 474 technicians onsite, making use of 38 miles of 24-strand fiber-optic cable to produce the event captured by 106 cameras (including 21 wireless 1080p, 21 4K HDR units, six 4K HDR wireless units, three Inertia Unlimited X-Mo cameras shooting at 8,000 fps, a Sony HDC-4800 at 960 fps, and three Sony HDC-4300’s at 360 fps), and 218 microphones. Tons of data was passed around: 3 Gbps of internet data was managed, along with 83 Gbps of broadcast data, 144 TB of real-time storage, and 512 TB of nearline storage.

Each course provides its unique challenges. At Shinnecock Hills, they included the roads running through the course, not to mention the hilly terrain, which also had plenty of deep fescue. But, from a production standpoint, the biggest issue was the small space available for the compound.

One big step taken in preparation for the 2018 events was that the IP router in Encore was rebuilt from scratch. RF wireless coverage was provided by CP Communications. There were 26 wireless cameras on the course, along with 18 wireless parabolic mics and nine wireless mics for on-course talent. CP Communications also provided all the fiber on the course. — KK

CLICK HERE for SVG’s full coverage from the U.S. Open.

FIFA WORLD CUP
Russia
June 14 –July 15
Ever since launching in the early 1990s under the charismatic direction of President David Hill, Fox Sports has made a habit of shaking up and disrupting the sports-media business in the U.S. You could say it’s in their DNA. That tradition continued when, for the first time in network history, Fox Sports carried live English-language coverage of the 2018 FIFA World Cup for audiences in the U.S.

Fox Sports’ studio analysts in the network’s Red Square studio

Fox Sports rolled out an impressive production effort in Moscow and around the globe, broadcasting every match live across Fox, FS1, and Fox Sports Go. And, although the tournament itself lasted only a month, the effort, which involved the entire Fox Sports family, was years in the making.

The core World Cup efforts were centralized in Moscow, with Fox Sports teams at the IBC and the main studio at Red Square. But that was just the beginning: there were talent and technicians at each of the venues, as well as a large team in Los Angeles handling match control, editing, and other duties. The key was to leverage the work done by FIFA and HBS to provide comprehensive match coverage, technical infrastructure, and production services.

“At the end of the day, I think the product Fox Sports has put on with the help of HBS has been fantastic and second to none,” said Kevin Callahan, VP, World Cup operations, Fox Sports, during the event. “And that’s what it should be.”

At the center of the IBC operations was a production-control room that was focused on match coverage and prepped the signal before it was sent to Los Angeles, where the master-control team readied it for delivery to viewers. An important part of the ecosystem was 10-Gbps circuits between Moscow, Frankfurt, and Los Angeles, as well as 1-Gbps circuits between the venues. Those circuits allowed the Fox Sports team to embrace remote production and home-run productions, such as having the nighttime studio show from Red Square cut from Los Angeles.

With much of the creative team for World Cup Tonight in Los Angeles, the challenge for the technical team was to make the workflows as seamless as possible. That meant changing some workflows that had been used at the 2015 Women’s World Cup and the 2018 Confederations Cup. At those events, ingest and live-playback operations were combined. For the 2018 World Cup in Russia, those groups operated independently, and the ingest team had its own area within the IBC.

There were only two edit bays at the IBC with between nine and 17 bays in Los Angeles concurrently running Adobe After Effects and Premiere. The Telestream Lightspeed Live, Vantage media-processing platform, and Telestream cloud services were in use and allowed up to 60 simultaneous record channels in the IBC, with more than 25-55 TB of material uploaded every day to Amazon Web Services in Frankfurt via a 10-Gbps circuit. Once on the AWS service, the content was available to the team in Los Angeles. Also, three of the core feeds from FIFA were sent directly to Los Angeles via 220-Mbps streams.

The ingest team’s work also extended to the venues. CMSI provided remote–point-of-capture (RPOC) systems located within the Fox Sports remote kits. Those systems allowed any of the six Fox ENG crews roaming around Russia to plug a card into the system, call the team at the IBC, and have the team transfer the content from the card to the servers in the IBC. CMSI also oversaw the Fox Sports Assignment Desk’s use of LiveU bonded-cellular transmission systems.

Fox Sports also deployed 10 RTS intercom frames running OMNEO: one at the IBC, one at Red Square, one in Los Angeles, one at match control, and one in each of the six remote kits. The six were coupled with the RTS ROAMEO wireless intercom system for more flexibility, and, if necessary, the system could always revert to analog for backup.

NEP’s presence at the World Cup extended across a wide number of clients, and, at the IBC, Fox Sports U.S., Fox Sports Brazil, and Telemundo relied on the remote-production–services provider as the backbone of their technical facilities.

The NEP presence for Fox Sports was anchored in the IBC with an Imagine 450×650 IP3 router at the hub supporting a production-control room, audio room, EVS replay area, and ingest area. It also supported a technical-manager area for signal switching and managing the CenturyLink circuits that allowed the Fox Sports team at the IBC to connect to the studio at Red Square in Moscow and to Fox Sports in Los Angeles. — KK and BC

CLICK HERE for SVG’s full coverage from the FIFA World Cup.

MLB ALL-STAR GAME
Nationals Park, Washington, DC
July 17
With its biggest summer drawing to a close with the MLB All-Star Game, Fox certainly showed no sign of fatigue technologically. Not only did the network roll out a SkyCam system for actual game coverage for the first time in MLB history, but Fox also deployed its largest high-speed–camera complement (including all 12 primary game cameras), two C360 360-degree camera systems, and ActionStreamer POV-style HelmetCams on the bullpen catcher, first-base coach, and Minnesota Twins pitcher José Berríos.

Fox Sports had its largest high-speed–camera count ever at an MLB All-Star Game.

“People always used to say Fox owned the fall with NFL and MLB Postseason, but, this year, we owned May through July, too, with the U.S. Open, World Cup, and now All-Star,” said Brad Cheney, VP, field operations and engineering, Fox Sports. “The capabilities of our [operations] team here are just unsurpassed. For big events, we used to throw everything we had at it, and it was all hands on deck. That’s still the case, but now, when we have big events, everybody’s [scattered] across the globe. Yet we’re still figuring out ways to raise the bar with every show.”

Between game coverage and studio shows, Fox Sports deployed a total of 36 cameras (up from 33 in 2017) at Nationals Park, highlighted by its largest high-speed–camera complement yet for an All-Star Game. Building on the efforts of Fox-owned RSN YES Network, all 12 of Fox’s Sony HDC-4300 primary game cameras were licensed for high-speed: six at 6X slo-mo, six at 2X slo-mo. This was made possible by the ultra-robust infrastructure of Game Creek Video’s Encore mobile unit.

Fox also had two Phantom cameras running at roughly 2,000 fps (at low first and low third) provided by Inertia Unlimited and a pair of Sony P43 6X-slo-mo robos at low-home left and low-home right provided by Fletcher. Fletcher provided nine robos in all — including low-home Pan Bar robo systems that debuted at the 2017 World Series — and Inertia Unlimited provided a Marshall POV in both teams’ bullpen and batting cage.

CP Communications supplied a pair of wireless RF cameras: a Sony P1r mounted on a MōVI three-axis gimbal and a Sony HDC-2500 handheld. An aerial camera provided by AVS was used for beauty shots — no easy task in security-conscious Washington.

Inside the compound, a reshuffling of USGA golf events allowed Game Creek Video’s Encore mobile unit (A, B, and C units), home to Fox’s U.S. Open and NFL A-game productions, to make its first All-Star appearance.

The primary control room inside the Encore B unit handled the game production, and a second production area was created in the B unit to serve the onsite studio shows. — JD

CLICK HERE for SVG’s full coverage from the MLB All-Star festivities.

X GAMES MINNEAPOLIS
U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis
July 19-22
Anyone who works in sports-video production will tell you: the second year in a venue almost always goes more smoothly than the first. True to form, the team from ESPN and X Games production partner Echo Entertainment felt very much at home when X Games Minneapolis returned to U.S. Bank Stadium for the second year in a four-year deal. ESPN and ABC televised a combined 19 hours of live action-sports coverage, with an additional eight hours of exclusive coverage live-streamed to X Games’ Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter pages (U.S. only).

For the second year, U.S. Bank Stadium served as host of X Games Minneapolis.

ESPN and Echo had learned quite a few lessons in their first year at this venue: most notably, that they wanted to lay out and shoot the various courses in a different way. During the 2017 production, there were many points where, even with tens of thousands of fans in the stadium’s bowl, cameras were shooting with sightlines into empty seats.

“It’s a very big stadium,” noted Tim Reed, VP, X Games, ESPN, during the event. “One of the things we were trying to do was create more of an arena feel within Park, Street, and Moto to create a smaller environment. We didn’t want to be shooting into seats as much. Also, it gets people closer, so they can have that touch and feel of the actual event.”

That thought process also changed how ESPN and Echo approached camera deployment within the bowl of U.S. Bank Stadium. According to Echo Entertainment Technical Producer Pierce Williams, there were as many as 130 unique camera positions, with a total of 65 cameras ranging from full-fledged manned cameras to POVs, robos, and slo-mos.

Among the highlights were a couple of Grass Valley LDK’s set up as robos shooting down various ramps at 6X and a special proprietary RF-camera solution developed for X Games by RF partner BSI. On-board POVs could be affixed to a helmet, bike, etc., and were described as a “home run” by ESPN and Echo execs.

Logistically, behind the scenes, ESPN and Echo again worked with mobile-production–facilities provider Dome Productions. Three A units and a B unit from the Canadian firm were onsite. Echo was the main A-Venue truck; Pacific, the B-Venue truck. Thunder ran the host set onsite, and a B unit housed comms, MADI routers, robo ops, and more. — BC

CLICK HERE for SVG’s full coverage from the Summer X Games.

OVERWATCH LEAGUE GRAND FINALS
Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY
July 27-28
The inaugural Overwatch League season came to a close with the Grand Finals at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, and the Blizzard Entertainment production team lent it the “Blizzard polish.” With a sold-out crowd; millions streaming via Twitch, MLG.com, and OverwatchLeague.com; and live coverage on ESPN and Disney XD followed by a recap show on ABC (part of a recently announced rights deal), the tournament represented one of the largest esports events in North America to date and the culmination of a whirlwind first Overwatch League season.

The main Overwatch League Grand Finals control room at Barclays Center was inside NEP’s EN3 A unit.

“From a Blizzard Entertainment perspective, this is the largest standalone esports production that we’ve produced,” said Pete Emminger, senior director, global broadcast, Blizzard Entertainment, during the event. “BlizzCon as a whole project is bigger since we actually have five of our esports finals there, but, in terms of a standalone final, this is just massive. We have an internal term ‘adding the Blizzard polish,’ which basically means all of us are constantly driving to make every single [element] better for every single show. Everything we’re doing here is based on what we learned during Overwatch League Season 1, and, every week, our goal is to make it better than the last week. Our goal this week is to make [Grand Finals] the best show of the season.”

With an operation involving more than 100 crew members, Blizzard aimed to replicate its production workflow at Blizzard Arena in Burbank, CA. NEP’s EN3 mobile unit (A and B) served as home to the main production, with A housing the primary control room, audio, EVS replay, and camera shading while the B unit housed the edit, transmission, and IT teams.

In addition, NEP’s BT-1 auxiliary unit was fully customized by Blizzard to serve its observer-room needs. The show’s main control room inside EN3’s A unit handled the overall show, and the observer room produced the in-game Overwatch action, including live first-person POV, Free Cam, cinematic-style, and “bullet time” (following a bullet frame by frame) coverage.

The auxiliary unit was rolled out and integrated onsite to become a fully functional observer room. EN3 and the observer unit were fully integrated, with all the signal flows — a hybrid of HD-SDI broadcast feeds and DDI digital computer feeds — integrated through the same router. — JD

CLICK HERE for SVG’s full coverage of the Overwatch League Finals.

US OPEN
USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Flushing Meadows, NY
August 27–September 9
For ESPN, it simply doesn’t get bigger than US Open tennis. In the network’s fourth year as host broadcaster and sole domestic-rights holder — part of an 11-year rights deal — the technical and operations teams continued to evolve production workflows and add elements. Highlights this year included the debut of a Fletcher Tr-ACE/SimplyLive ViBox automated production system covering the nine outer courts and several new camera systems.

Inside ESPN’s Domestic Control Room in the NTC Broadcast Center

“This truly is the largest event that ESPN produces out of the thousands of events that we do all year,” said ESPN Director, Remote Operations, Dennis Cleary, “and it’s all done in a 3½-week span.”

For the first time, ESPN covered all 16 courts at the US Open, thanks to a new automated production system deployed on the nine outer courts. Having debuted at Wimbledon in June, the Fletcher Tr-ACE motion-detecting robotic camera system was deployed on each court (with four robos per court) and relied on SimplyLive’s ViBox for switching and replay and an SMT automated graphics system. With this workflow, one robotic-camera operator and one ViBox director/producer covered each of the nine courts.

New this year was a two-point aerial CineLine system (provided by Picture Factory) running between Louis Armstrong Stadium and Court 10, a run of roughly 1,000 ft. After a successful debut at Wimbledon in June and the Australian Open in January, Telstra Broadcast Services’ NetCam made its US Open debut. The Globecam HD 1080i/50 POV miniature robotic camera was deployed on each side of the net for singles matches at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Armstrong, and the Grandstand, providing viewers with a close-up look at the action on the court. In addition, both Intel’s Tru View 360-degree camera system and the SpiderCam four-point aerial system returned to Ashe.

The US Open production compound was almost unrecognizable from five years ago, prior to ESPN’s taking over as host broadcaster. What had been a caravan of production trucks became two permanent structures housing ESPN’s NTC broadcast center and production/operations offices, along with two ultra-organized stacks of temporary work pods housing the TOC, vendors, international broadcasters, and ESPN’s automated production operation for the outer courts. NEP’s NCP8 was on hand for ESPN’s ITV operation (serving AT&T/DirecTV’s US Open Mix Channel), and NEP’s Chromium and Nickel were home to the USTA’s world-feed production. — JD

CLICK HERE for SVG’s full coverage from the US Open.

ACROSS THE POND

The Open Championship
Carnoustie Golf Links, Angus, UK
July 19-22

Sky Sports used its Open Zone in new ways to get closer to both players and the public in its role as the UK live broadcaster from Carnoustie. On Thursday and Friday, Sky Sports The Open channel was on the air from 6:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Featured Group coverage of the 147th Championships was available each day via the red button and on the Sky Sports website. Viewers could also track players’ progress in Featured Hole coverage on the red button, with cameras focusing on the 8th, 9th, and 10th holes. Sky Sports had a team of 186 people onsite in Carnoustie for The Open, which included Sky production and technical staff and the team from OB provider Telegenic. — Fergal Ringrose

WIMBLEDON
All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon, UK
July 2-15

At 11:30 a.m. on Monday, July 2, coverage of the Wimbledon Championships went live from the AELTC, produced for the first time by a new host broadcaster. After more than 80 years under the BBC’s expert guidance, the host baton was passed to Wimbledon Broadcast Services (WBS), bringing production of the Championships in-house. Going live on that Monday was the culmination of two years of planning, preparation, and testing: a process that has allowed the AELTC to “take control” of the event coverage and provide international rightsholders with a better service as well as add some new twists, such as Ultra High Definition (UHD), a NetCam on both Centre Court and No.1 Court, and multicamera coverage of all 18 courts. — Will Strauss

FRENCH OPEN
Stade Roland-Garros, Paris
May 27–June 10
Tennis Channel was once again on hand in a big way at the French Open. The expanded coverage this year meant more than 300 hours of televised coverage for fans in the U.S. as well as 700 hours of court coverage via Tennis Channel Plus. The Fédération Française de Tennis (FFT) increased overall court coverage this year, and Tennis Channel made sure all of that additional coverage made it to viewers. Tennis Channel had approximately 175 crew members onsite, working across the grounds as well as in a main production-control room, an asset-management area, six announce booths, and a main set on Place des Mousquetaires. The production facilities were provided by VER for the fifth year. Centurylink provided fiber transport to the U.S. via 10-Gbps circuits. — KK

EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS
Berlin, Germany and Glasgow, UK
August 2-13
EBU was the broadcast partner (representing European public-service media) to the more than 40 European broadcasters taking coverage from the Championships, across 12 venues in Scotland and the Olympiastadion in Berlin over 11 days of competition. EBU’s operational arm, Eurovision Media Services (EMS), and its subsidiary Eurovision Production Coordination (EPC) served as both the host broadcaster (overseeing the overall production of the event) and provider of the international distribution of all signals, not to mention other broadcast services. The major-event production involved 220 cameras on the ground in Scotland and 80 in Berlin, with NEP supplying OB services including 11 trucks to the host in Scotland and Videohouse from Belgium with six OB vans in Germany. — FR

SILVERSTONE MOTOGP
Silverstone Circuit, Towcester, UK
August 26
MotoGP-rights holder Dorna Sports is evolving the motorbike-racing world’s technology and reach with some help from Tata Communications. Dorna Sports has been the exclusive commercial- and television-rights holder for the FIM Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix (MotoGP) since 1991. Tata distributed the motorcycle road-racing action from five continents to more than 80 media partners, reaching more than 200 million households, using its global superfast fiber and satellite network. This year, Dorna began doing more remote production through its partnership with Tata. However, despite all the technical expertise at Silverstone for the British Grand Prix, the track failed this year: for the first time since 1980, MotoGP’s organizers were forced to cancel a Grand Prix after heavy rainfall left the newly surfaced Silverstone circuit unfit for racing. — Heather McLean

RYDER CUP
Le Golf National, Guyancourt, France
September 28-30
Every other year, the Ryder Cup affords UK live broadcaster Sky Sports the opportunity to transform the way it covers big-time golf. And this year was big-time golf. The giant stand by the first tee at Le Golf National de Paris sat 6,500 people, compared with 1,668 at Hazeltine in 2016 and 2,134 at Gleneagles in 2014. The format concentrates the huge crowds at Le Golf National, with massive groups of people gathering around various greens out on the course anticipating those putting duels that are the lifeblood of the Ryder Cup. Sky had around 250 people onsite and efficiently leveraged the personnel at Sky’s network headquarters. NBC Sports and Turner Sports were also onsite. Turner leveraged CTV’s OB1 production unit, overseeing a remote production that involved sending 16 feeds to a control room in Atlanta. — FR

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