NFL Media Returns to Indy for Scouting Combine as ESPN, ABC Join the Party
NFL Live will air daily editions on ESPN, along with a two-hour special on ABC, from Lucas Oil Stadium
NFL Media makes its annual pilgrimage to Indianapolis this week for the NFL Scouting Combine, delivering more than 50 hours of coverage of the top prospects expected to be selected at the NFL Draft in April. This year, ESPN and ABC have joined in on the fun, producing daily editions of NFL Live from Lucas Oil Stadium and, for the first time, a two-hour NFL Live: NFL Scouting Combine special on ABC on Saturday.
“What’s great about the Combine is that it’s one of those intimate events where there’s just raw football talent on display,” says Dave Shaw, VP, production, NFL Media. “It’s also a great precursor to the Draft, and we are able to provide that inside scoop for fans. This year, it’s a little different because ESPN and ABC are here all week. The fact that the production has grown is only good for the NFL and our broadcast partners, so we’re working closely with them. Thankfully, there’s enough room here at the stadium and in the [truck] compound for all of us to be comfortable.”
A Packed Compound: NFL Media, ESPN, In-House Team Share Quarters
NFL Media has rolled out Game Creek Video’s Encore (A, B, and C units) and Pride (A and B units) to serve its NFL Network and NFL Digital productions. ESPN has brought in a Harb Production Services truck for its NFL Live show. In addition, because Lucas Oil Stadium’s in-house production facility is undergoing a renovation, its team has joined the crowd in the compound.
“We’re cramming all those trucks inside the compound at the stadium, but we’re very lucky that Lucas Oil has enough space [there],” says Shaw. “The fact that the Combine happens in Indianapolis each year provides a certain amount of consistency and stability, and we feel very comfortable here: it’s almost like we’re home. That makes it easier to deal with changes like this from year to year.”
NFL Media is producing primary coverage of all the on-field drills and providing a clean feed to ESPN/ABC. The ESPN production team is supplementing that with its own unilateral cameras, graphics, and commercial roll-ins/roll-outs.
Says Shaw, “We’re going to work closely with them so that they can get their feet wet during a rehearsal on Friday and then dive into covering this event, which our team has been doing for so many years. That way they can [develop a] rhythm as they get their first year under the belt.”
A Quintet of Sets: Coverage From Field and Concourse
NFL Media has deployed 36 on-air talent across four sets — two on the field, two on the concourse — at Lucas Oil Stadium. ESPN has erected its NFL Live set on the concourse level. NFL Media’s two on-field sets are being used primarily by NFL Digital and for podcast recordings.
“We’ve moved back our NFL Digital space a little bit too accommodate ESPN on the concourse level,” Shaw notes. “I think they’re going to be very happy, and we will, too.”
The NFL Digital live-streaming show and NFL Network’s Path to the Draft show (on Wednesday and Thursday) will be at-home productions handled out of a control room at NFL Media’s broadcast center in Culver City, CA.
“It made sense to do the Digital [production] out of Culver this year because we’re going to need the facility anyway,” Shaw explains. “We’ve got the transmission set up already, so it wasn’t [hard to] add a few more muxes. It not only gives us some cost savings in terms of traveling personnel but also creates familiarity with our team who produces those shows in Culver.”
In addition, NFL Media is once again deploying its Azzurro TeamCam system to provide live shots from the adjacent Indianapolis Convention Center, where the bench-press drill and press conferences are taking place. NFL Media is deploying six TeamCam systems, each featuring a single camera and transporting bidirectional HD signals via a public-internet connection — along with IFB, comms, and tally — between Indianapolis and Culver City.
In terms of transmission from Indy back to Culver City, NFL is utilizing four fiber circuits with 10 services on each to provide redundant services for 20 transmits over Level 3 and The Switch. Two additional fiber circuits with seven services on each are going back to Indy over Level 3 and The Switch. NFL Media is also leveraging data circuits for its six Azzurro TeamCam systems, as well as file transfer between Indy and Culver.
Tech Toys at the Combine: Skycam, AR Play Major Role
NFL Media has deployed a total of 38 cameras at Lucas Oil Stadium, including a Skycam, an RF Steadicam, a high-speed camera covering the 40-yard dash, and several robos provided by Robovision.
SMT is back, providing virtual graphics and graphics overlays at the 40-yard dash for visual comparison of prospects with others or with current NFL players’ own Combine performances.
In addition, NFL Network continues to increase its use of augmented reality throughout the broadcast.
“We added AR last year and got some very cool elements [into the telecast],” says Shaw. “We will bring it back this year and have [AR elements for] players by the numbers and player comparisons, several new animations, and graphics that dissect the drills themselves. The production team has a few things up their sleeve with augmented reality, and you’re going to see that at the Draft as well.”
Now in its 15th year covering the Combine, NFL Media has played a vital role in transforming it into a major media event. What was once a small gathering of NFL scouts and a handful of reporters has become one of the largest events on the NFL calendar, attracting more than 1,200 reporters and 3,000 fans per session to the stadium, and now ESPN/ABC are joining NFL Media to televise the event.
“It’s really amazing how this event has grown,” says Shaw. “What is most exciting about the Combine is, every year, there are going to be players that are going to stand out and our production team does an amazing job of researching who those guys are going to be. I think our production team — along with our technical and operations teams – have helped showcase the event in respect to the pure football analysis being done by the scouts and coaches. It’s really a one-of-a-kind event.”
NFL Media’s live coverage of on-field drills at the NFL Scouting Combine begins Friday, March 1 on NFL Network and NFL.com.