College Football Playoff Preview: Big Sound For The Big Games

ESPN mans the microphones for the CFP Semifinals and National Championship

ESPN is gearing up for the sound of the College Football Playoff. Semifinals take place on Dec. 28 at the Peach Bowl at State Farm/University of Phoenix Stadium (Glendale, AZ — LSU vs Oklahoma) and at the Fiesta Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta — Ohio State vs. Clemson), culminating in the CFP National Championship game Jan. 13 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.

ESPN will have a small but versatile crew on hand for the games. A1 Steve Kaura will mix the Peach Bowl, working without a submixer; he will also mix the Sounds of the Game segments during the Championship match. A1 Devin Barnhart will mix the Fiesta Bowl with Dan (Buda) Bernstein submixing, the same team that will mix and submix the Championship game, Barnhart working from Game Creek 79 and Bernstein from Game Creek Peacock, both on Calrec Apollo consoles.

“It’ll be a college football game, just much bigger” than regular season games, says Bernstein. “We’ll deploy microphones to cover the crowds and the bands and the field sounds, but well have more resources than we would during the season. There will be more cameras, so more microphones with most of those, and more point-of-view cameras with mics. We’ll need that for more coverage of the bands and other performers, and the halftime shows. The coverage is really more like an event than just a game.”

In fact, ESPN will deploy more than 50 cameras inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta and State Farm Stadium in Glendale. In another audio feature for the games, fans will be able to listen to the local radio broadcast of each of the four teams, with those audio feeds synced up with ESPN’s television presentation. This MegaCast feed is done in conjunction with Learfield IMG College, Clemson Tigers Network powered by JMI Sports, and LSU Sports Radio Network.

Barnhart, who will mix both the Fiesta Bowl and the Championship game, says the mix strategy will follow what they’ve been doing most of the season, adjusting for each venue’s needs, as well as the network’s expanded coverage. That will include two sideline reporters, ESPN Deportes, more RF cams, more hallway cams, ACC or SEC studio shows, and post game events.

“[For instance, if] our mic poles have to move because of a railing or other mounting issues or losing our hallways, and picking which mics we use depending on the shot,” he explains. “We have a great mixing plan that we used all season and are just going with that going in. We’ll make changes when we get on site when we see what we have to work with. The big difference is we just have more stuff to deal with.”

The venues may have their own acoustical characteristics, which also have to be taken into account.

“I have been to Glendale a few times for the CFB and for Monday Night Football, and it has some wild reflections from far-side walls that affect what you can get off the parab mics on the field,” Barnhart explains. “This is my first time doing football in the Superdome, but I have been there for the NBA All Star game a few years ago and never noticed any back reflections or echoes [at] floor level.”

The games will be mixed in 5.1 surround, which will help convey what Bernstein expects to be a noisy, enthusiastic crowd.

“The level of engagement is as high as we’ve ever seen,” he says of this year’s especially tumultuous college season, one that saw Alabama not make the finals for the first time in five years and the Baylor Bears coming within one touchdown of winning a conference championship for the first time in as many seasons. “What we’ve been doing is trying to cover and capture that and accentuating it.”