Live From the NFL Draft: ESPN, NFL Media Audio Teams Look To Capture Nashville Sound

Event on ESPN is bigger than Super Bowl — minus the football game

ESPN will deploy nearly 100 microphones as it covers the NFL Draft, taking place in Nashville April 25-27. Wired and wireless (via BSI) mics will feed to seven NEP remote-production trucks, including four MNF units and ND-1 for ABC’s event coverage, in the compound.

The NFL Draft has taken over Lower Broadway in Nashville.

Besides the Draft Main Stage at First Ave. S. and Broadway in downtown Music City, coverage will include free outdoor concerts by Tim McGraw, Dierks Bentley, and other A-list country artists. Nashville sources predict the event will draw upwards of 300,000 attendees, the biggest NFL Draft event ever.

“We started out at the theater in Madison Square Garden with just two mobile units, then moved to Radio City [Music Hall], then back to the Garden, then the Javits [in New York City], then Chicago, Philadelphia, and Dallas, and now Nashville,” says ESPN Senior Operations Manager Steve Carter, who has worked NFL Draft events since 2003 and now oversees the project for the network. “It just keeps getting bigger every year.”

Although each remote-production unit operates individually, with its own Calrec Hydra2 network running fiber trunks to various parts of the campus — which encompasses most of a 15-block piece of downtown Nashville and the Nissan Stadium across the Cumberland River — all the trucks are joined by a large RTS intercom system using MADI to connect them. The broadcast audio will be mixed by veteran A1 Joe Carpenter.

ESPN’s A1 Joe Carpenter at the console during the NFL Draft in Nashville

Joe Rainey, senior remote operations specialist, ESPN, says that under the hood it’s a combination of fiber and MADI that gets all the audio from each location to where it needs to go. “Everything is basically IP-networked; the only copper we’re using is within the compound,” he adds.

Although ESPN and ABC hosts will use a combination of handheld stick mics, headsets, and lavaliers, the vast majority of the microphones deployed will be capturing ambience around the venues.

“Microphones everywhere,” states Rainey. “Every camera will have a microphone, and each stage has a stereo microphone that basically makes the stereo-bed ambience for a particular set. Not unlike for a game, just more of it. Our philosophy is, everything you’re able to see, you want to be able to hear, so everywhere we have a point-of-view camera, generally, we also have a microphone.

“This is much more of an entertainment style for us,” he continues. “Mostly, we’ll have talking heads on different stages and sets, and the production will be bouncing all around. So we had to create a world where it’s relatively easy for production to say, ‘Hey, we just had an idea…’ Maybe that other set they want to go to isn’t natively connected to any of the three control rooms. So we had to create a way to flip our resources and have any stage work with any control room.”

Extensive Intercom Infrastructure
That, Rainey emphasizes, depends heavily on a comprehensive and flexible comms infrastructure.

“It’s about getting the right IFBs and mix-minuses into the talent’s ears, the right PL channels appearing in the right spots,” he says, noting that the trunked comms system will intelligently connect users on the system, including control rooms at ESPN’s main center in Bristol, CT, via a trunk master. “Comms is something we’re very, very good at.”

LD Systems is providing live sound for the event, including a large L-Acoustics PA system for the main stage, with separate systems for inside the massive tent at the end of Broadway and a second system for “street coverage” in front of it, according to LD Lead Audio Designer Thomas Ruffner. Although the only direct audio split from the main stage to the broadcast compound will be the podium microphone, he notes, the two network broadcast booths inside the huge main-stage tent structure requested that the PA system be aligned so as to avoid hitting the booths with any direct sound.

“We had to hang the interior PA system higher than usual to avoid direct sound on the broadcast booths and to keep the PA boxes out of the sightlines of the cameras,” he explains. “We treated the PA system as part of the production.”

Good Morning, Nashville
The event-type nature of the NFL Draft is underscored by the relocation of the NFL Network’s Good Morning Football (GMFB), the league network’s morning chat show. All four talents will be working from the famous Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, the music venue diagonally across the street from the Bridgestone Arena and five blocks from the production-truck compound.

NFL Network’s main audio room for the NFL Draft inside Game Creek Video’s Encore mobile unit

GMFB will be an at-home production. Show submixer Phil Adler will be working on a Calrec Artemis console from Game Creek’s Encore truck onsite, taking audio from the venue on a Hydra network over fiber and backhauling it to NFL Films’ production center in Mt. Laurel, NJ, where the on-air audio mix will take place. (Most NFL Network productions are produced in Culver City, CA. GMFB is produced at NFL Films in Mt. Laurel and is the only show that is backhauled there when it’s on the road.) Show A1 Mark Butler will be working from the same truck on a separate, Apollo console.

“The show here will be unique in that it’s not being [produced in] Culver City,” says Adler, who is working on his third GMFB road show. “They’re bringing live bands into the club for the show, so part of my job is to make sure the entire local mix — including the live music, which is being mixed by [locally based engineer] Tom Davis — doesn’t have any latency in the talents’ IFBs, as well as overall QC and making sure the signals are sent to New Jersey.”

A1 Phil Adler at the audio console during NFL Network’s Good Morning Football production at the Draft in Nashville

The GMFB talent — Nate Burleson, Kay Adams, Kyle Brandt, and Peter Schrager — will also be part of one of the first applications of Shure’s new TwinPlex head-worn wireless microphone since it was announced at NAB 2019 last week, six of which will be on the set using Sennheiser SK250 transmitters to match the production’s wireless infrastructure. Adler says head-worn mics are preferable on a show like this, where the talent is physically active, needs to be hands-free, but also requires that the microphones stay in place.

“The other major issue we’re trying to combat,” he adds, “is gain before feedback, given how small the venue is.”

Between the concerts, exhibits, immersive games, virtual-reality experiences, free player autograph sessions and, oh yes, the Draft itself, the 2019 NFL Draft in Nashville will constitute the largest festival footprint ever created by the NFL, including the Super Bowl.

“What sets this event apart is its sheer scale,” says Carter. “There’s never been one like it before.”

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