Road Warriors 2019, Part 1: The Top Sports-Production Highlights of the Year
Behind the Scenes at CFP Championship, Super Bowl LIII, NBA All-Star, NCAA Final Four, NFL Draft, Indy 500, and U.S. Open
Following on the heels of a year that saw both the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics Games and the 2018 FIFA World Cup, one might have expected the 2019 sports-production calendar to be a bit quieter. As this year draws to a close, it’s clear that that could not be farther from the truth. Broadcast networks and digital distribution platforms alike were busy from January on, upping the production ante on every event from the College Football Playoff National Championship Game to the Super Bowl to the Indianapolis 500 and more. In addition, 2019 saw the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team once again emerge victorious at the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Here is a look back at many of the events where SVG was onsite, including both traditional tournaments like the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four and the US Open, as well as esports tournaments like Overwatch League Finals and the ESL One New York. Read on and remember the new technologies and production workflows that were introduced this year, and – most importantly – the people behind the scenes who brought these productions and many more to life. Also check out PART 2 and PART 3 of Road Warriors.
Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, CA
At the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship, ESPN once again went all-in for the big game, deploying more than 310 cameras to cover all the action at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA, and providing 17 viewing options via the MegaCast over 11 TV and radio networks and via the ESPN app.
“The thing that makes this event is the volume and magnitude of what we put behind it but also the time frame,” said John LaChance, director, remote production operations, ESPN, prior to the January 7 game. “[There are] other marquee events, which stand alone, but, with the volume and viewer enhancements being done here in a 72-hour window to get everything installed, this event [is] in a unique classification. Trying to integrate everything into place was a herculean effort.”
The core of ESPN’s production efforts were done out of Game Creek Video’s 79 A and B units with Nitro A and B handling game submix, EVS overflow, 360 replay, robo ops, and tape release. ESPN’s team that created 17 MegaCast offerings was onsite, housed in Nitro and Game Creek’s Edit 3 and Edit 4 trailers and TVTruck.tv’s Sophie HD. Game Creek Video’s Yogi, meanwhile, was on hand for studio operations, and Maverick was also in the compound. All told, 70 transmission paths (50 outbound, 20 inbound) flowed through the compound, and 40 miles of fiber and cable was deployed to supplement what already exists at Levi’s Stadium.
Also on hand was Fletcher, which provided robotics; BSI, which handled wired pylons and RF audio and video; 3G, which was in charge of the line-to-gain PylonCam and the first-and-10–marker camera; Vicareo, with the Ref Cams; and CAT Entertainment, for UPS and power. SMT was on board for the 1st & Ten lines; PSSI, for uplink; Bexel, for RF audio and other gear; and Illumination Dynamics, for lighting. – Ken Kerschbaumer
Super Bowl LIII
Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA
Super Bowl LIII is in the books and, for the production team at CBS Sports, it was the culmination of years of work, site visits, and planning. As usual, it was a massive effort and provided plenty of innovation, including a one-of-a-kind show open that featured an impressive technical undertaking.
Out in the truck compound, NEP’s SSCBS A, B, C, and D units were at the center of the effort. The A unit housed game production, game graphics, and goalpost–robo-camera operation. The B unit had game audio and IPG distribution headend; the C unit housed the majority of EVS game replay operators, ChyronHego operations, and SMT first-down-line operations. The D unit, meanwhile, handled tease edits.
Game Creek Video’s Encore A unit was on hand for additional game video, pre/postgame audio and video, and 8K operations; the B unit handled pre/postproduction, graphics, and C360 operations. The C unit was home to pre/post EVS, the Sony server operators who worked with the Fletcher-provided HDC-4800 4K cameras, and 8K operators.
F&F Productions’ GTX17 handled tape-release production, backup production, additional game EVS, and additional game video, and GTX18B was home to comms, Pico replay operators, a second pylon operator, augmented-reality operations, and EA Sports.
Game Creek Edit 3, 4, and B-5 also played key roles. Edit 3 handled ingests, game and pre/post editing, color tease, game After Effects operations, and MAM. Edit 4 housed pre/post After Effects, pre/post Duets, and graphics management. And B-5 was home to pan-bar robotic operations and all other Fletcher robos except for those on the goalposts, which were handled in NEP SSCBS A.
NEP’s TX/ESU trailer was onsite for router distribution, transmission control, and distribution to the world feed, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, halftime show, and all other outside vendors. And the AVS RF truck managed all RF cameras for game and pre/post as well as camera-feed distribution to SSCBS B, Encore A, and video-paint control in those trucks. – KK
Spectrum Center, Charlotte, NC
The 2019 NBA All-Star Game in Charlotte, NC, ushered in the use of Skycam as a production tool deployed to cover game action. It was used first on Friday for the Rising Stars game at the Spectrum Center and then during last night’s Skills Challenge. For the main event, Skycam coverage was not only integrated into the main broadcast on TNT but was also available as the main camera in an alternative broadcast available on TBS.
“People are enjoying the unique angles Skycam gives,” said Chris Brown, director of technical operations, Turner Sports (pictured here along with Senior Technical Manager Pete Rintelman) . “It’s similar to what it brought to football coverage in that you can have a sense of the space between players.”
Skycam deployment began with the answer to a key question: how can it be used but not be distracting to players or, more important, actually get hit by a basketball in play? Helping to answer those concerns was the use of shot data from Second Spectrum, which tracks the height of every shot taken during NBA games. As long as the Skycam stays above that height (approximately 28 ft.), it should steer clear of any balls in flight.
Also new this year was the use of NEP’s EN1 as the production unit for the All-Star Game. NEP refurbished the EN1 C unit, and the layout allowed the Turner production team to consolidate replay and super-slo-mo operations; in previous All-Star events, they needed to be split apart.
Game coverage relied on approximately 40 cameras, with the major addition of a robotic camera on a large crane behind the basket. An important part of the weekend was the use of RF cameras, and AVS was on hand with two RF Steadicams and two RF handheld cameras.
NEP’s SS16 was used for the halftime show. NCPX returned for All-Star Saturday and was also used to produce the live alternative broadcast that aired on TBS (the main broadcast, produced out of EN1, was seen on TNT). – KK
NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four
U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN
The 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four in Minneapolis was another massive video operation with two full production compounds (one inside the bowels of U.S. Bank Stadium and another outside in a parking lot), more than 50 cameras in the bowl of the stadium, and more than 400 CBS staffers alone on site to pull everything together.
“It’s our typical Final Four circus that rolls into town,” said Patty Power, EVP of Operations and Engineering for CBS Sports, during the tournament. “It’s all working as it should be. Everything is solid.”
While there wasn’t much that’s “new” technologically, there were still plenty of fun production staples that have become expected at an event like this, including a SkyCam and RailCam, a robotic camera that slides on a track on the floor along the near sideline. There’s also been a new set of robos installed on the baskets behind the glass of the backboards to add an extra, unique look.
Thirty five cameras in the stadium worked the game coverage while another 13 were dedicated to studio programming. CBS and Turner had two different sets, each in the student sections behind each of the baskets that served as home for pregame and halftime coverage throughout Saturday and Monday evening.
The biggest challenges of this year’s venue were lighting and finding the right camera angles in such a massive bowl for basketball. A lot of work went into the blacking out of open glass features of the stadium, including on the roof and along the front entrance gates. Last year’s Final Four at the Alamodome served as a much more intimate atmosphere for basketball, in comparison, so much of the prep in the days leading up to tip off this year have been dedicated to calibrating cameras and juggling positions to get the most ideal angles for a basketball television broadcast in a non-basketball facility.
Down inside the main production compound, Game Creek Video’s 79 was the primary game support vehicle, while NEP’s Supershooter 22 ran studio shoulder programming. – Brandon Costa
Lower Broadway, Nashville, TN
In its 40th consecutive year covering the event, ESPN assembled its largest NFL Draft production to date in Nashville. With dual primetime telecasts on ESPN and ABC for the first time, plus a cavalcade of onsite studio shows, ESPN’s NFL Draft footprint was bigger than ever. In addition, both ESPN’s traditional Draft telecast and the ABC’s College GameDay-style telecast were produced in 1080p for the first time.
“This year is by far our biggest Draft production ever,” said Steve Carter, senior operations manager, ESPN, during the NFL Draft. “We have seven mobile units, five sets, and over 60 cameras — including eight RF cameras — between the main Draft [on ESPN], ABC, and all our other shows out here. Plus, both the Draft [telecasts] are being produced in 1080p. Even though we’ve got all these shows going on here, we’ve built the infrastructure and the interconnection to be able to handle it all pretty seamlessly.”
Inside the compound, NEP’s EN1 and ND1 – seven mobile in total – were tightly integrated, allowing any source (video, audio, comms, etc.) from throughout ESPN’s Broadway setup to be accessed from anywhere.
Meanwhile, NFL Media fully embraced the Nashville scene at the Draft, bookending Lower Broadway with a pair of NFL Network sets located on the Draft Main Stage and attached to the legendary Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge honky-tonk bar. While the downtown streetside locations made for breathtaking on-air visuals, the confined space on Lower Broadway also presented plenty of challenges for the NFL Media team.
“We always try to tell the story of the city and give viewers the feel of being here at the Draft,” said Dave Shaw, VP Production, NFL Media, in Nashville (pictured here). “Broadway truly highlights the fabric of Nashville — it’s always crowded and hopping with music everywhere until 3 a.m. Of course, we wanted to be right in the middle of all that, so we knew we needed to find a way to make this work. The biggest challenge has been the limitations in terms of space here on Broadway, but I think we were able to handle that really well.”
Game Creek Video’s Encore served as home to NFL Media’s Draft production, while the NFL Network’s Red Carpet Show and Good Morning Football shows were at-home productions run out of NFL Media’s Culver City, CA, broadcast center. – Jason Dachman
Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indianapolis, IN
When Memorial Day Weekend rolls around in the U.S., racing fans know what time it is. At the world-renowned Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 33 drivers revved their engines and embarked on a mechanical sprint towards history in the 103rd Indianapolis 500. The weekend also marked a massive milestone for the team at NBC Sports, who take over as the host broadcaster this year, bringing “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” to homes across America for the very first time.
NBC deployed an impressive arsenal of live video technology to give this year’s race a truly elite on-air look. Much of it was made possible by working alongside the racetrack’s experienced in-house operations unit, IMS Productions.
“From the engineering and operational side, it has been a success working directly with IMS Productions,” said Ken Goss, SVP, Remote Operations and Production Planning, NBC Sports Group, speaking before the race. “They’ve been great partners, and they did a terrific job [with helping us] converge all of our operations here. We’re looking forward to our first Indy 500 and are happy to forge a strong, ongoing partnership with IMS Productions.”
A whopping 80 cameras were scattered across the sprawling 560-acre campus, highlighted by a grouping of five Sony HDC-4300s at 6X super-slow motion. These high-speed cameras were located on the cars’ right side at Turns 1, 2, 3, and 4.
Inside the operational nucleus, five trucks supplied by IMS Productions housed a fair number of the 200 staffers onsite. The main race coverage operated in IMSP’s HD-3 and HD-5 mobile production units. HD-3 was built around a Grass Valley Kayenne K Frame 5M/E switcher, while HD-5 featured Grass Valley’s Kayenne K Frame 8M/E switcher. The main race telecast also had 103 iso record channels at its disposal and a full slate of replay equipment from EVS: four 12-channel servers with ChannelMAX and 10 eight-channel XT3 servers, two with SpotBox and two with IPDirector. – Kristian Hernandez
U.S. Open Golf
Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, CA
This year’s U.S. Open featured great shots from the drone patrolling the Pebble Beach Golf Links coastline as well as shots from four robotic hard cameras that were able to capture the action from new angles.
“There are few courses as good as this one to use drone technology,” said Mike Davies, SVP, technical and field operations, Fox Sports, speaking at the tournament. “There are so many active holes along the coastline, and director Steve Beim has done a great job directing the drones and doing some cool things. Drone technology has come of age here at the U.S. Open.”
Last year’s U.S. Open at Shinnecock saw two developments in compound layout that have carried over to this year. First, space constraints required some of the personnel and operations (such as camera and audio support) to be moved to a Technology Tent located closer to the course. But another change was to move beyond a compound full of office trailers lined up next to each other.
Instead, under the direction of Fox Sports’ Brad Cheney, VP, field operations and engineering, and Sarita Meinking, director, field operations, multiple trailers were combined, literally eliminating the walls between the operations, production, digital, PR, and other departments.
There were three key partners for Fox Sports. Game Creek Video provided the production facilities; CP Communications, fiber and RF infrastructures; and Filmwerks, handled power needs.
The core of Fox Sports’ U.S. Open coverage was mobile units from Game Creek Video, specifically Encore A, B, and C, which have been at the center of all five of the network’s U.S. Open broadcasts.
Pride A and B were also onsite, handling audio submix, super-slo-mo replay, graphics, HDR-video support, engineering, and an emergency production area. – KK
NOTE: This Road Warriors article appears in the 2020 SVG Mobile Production Yearbook. CLICK HERE to read the digital version of the full publication now!