NFL Playoffs 2021: After Grueling SNF Regular Season, NBC Sports Preps for Dual Wild Card Games
After twin productions, the crew will face quick turnaround to the Divisional Round
For the first time since 2013, NBC Sports will be producing two games on Wild Card Weekend, thanks to the Peacock’s acquisition of one of the two additional games in the NFL’s newly expanded postseason this year. That means twice the crew, twice the trucks, and twice the cameras typically called on in a given week for Sunday Night Football — already one of the largest productions in all of sports television.
“We have all the elements in place, and both games will be very close to Sunday Night Football levels,” says Tim Dekime, director, sports operations, NBC Sports. “That meant a lot of coordinating with the various vendors and ordering additional equipment to match Sunday Night Football levels. We also had to get another crew ready to go. We’ve all been working on that for the last month to make sure both games are complete and meet the expectations for Sunday Night Football.”
In the Compound: A Weekend Split in Pittsburgh and DC
Dekime is in Pittsburgh along with SNF Senior Technical Manager John Roché and Technical Manager Greg Pfeifer for Sunday’s Browns-Steelers matchup, which will be produced out of SNF’s dedicated NEP ND1 (A, B, C, and D) along with Supershooter 22 (brought on this season to allow social distancing of the crew). The SNF production team, led by producer Fred Gaudelli and director Drew Esocoff, will handle the AFC North showdown.
Meanwhile, Technical Manager Keith Kice is overseeing operations in Washington, DC, for the Buccaneers-Washington Football Team game, which will be produced by a crew led by producer Rob Hyland and director Pierre Moossa from NEP ND7 (A, B, C, and D units).
“About a month ago, [Hyland and Moossa] started putting their crew together,” Dekime explains, “knowing that we were probably not going to be able to share crew members because we didn’t know where the games were going to be geographically. But, as it turns out, when we found out it was Washington and Pittsburgh, we were able to pivot, and five or six of our Sunday Night Football regulars will travel to Washington to support the Sunday game as well, which is a big help.”
Crews continue to be socially distanced by at least 6 ft., are required to follow strict safety protocols, and have been spread out across various areas. For example, SNF’s EVS replay team of more than a dozen has been split across multiple trucks so that, if a team member tests positive on any given week, it doesn’t take out the entire replay team.
In addition, graphics and edit teams for both games will be working remotely from NBC Sports Broadcast Center in Stamford, CT — as NBC has done all season to allow onsite crew to be spaced out throughout the trucks.
On the Field: Doubling SNF’s Massive Camera Complement
The cameras deployed in Pittsburgh and Washington will mirror those of NBC’s Sunday Night Football package, with a 40+ cameras used for each game.
“We’re at Super Bowl levels for every Sunday, practically,” says Gaudelli. “We feel really good about our complement of equipment. Just going to go in there and try to cover the game as well as we always do, with the pizazz that is Sunday Night Football.”
In Pittsburgh, the production will feature four Sony HDC-48000 4K 4X–slo-mo systems and 19 Sony HDC-4300’s (including one running in 4K, nine in 6X slo-mo, and two in 4X slo-mo) — all with Canon lenses. Also on hand as part of the standard SNF complement are two RF Steadicams with Sony HDC-P1R cameras, seven robos from Fletcher, and, most notably, a Skycam Wildcat system with a Sony P-43 that debuted this season on SNF.
“I think that 4K camera has a lot more potential,” says Gaudelli. “I plan to spend a lot more time in the offseason working with Skycam and Sony to figure out how we can get more out of it, stabilize it more while still being able to use it live in a regular type of replay. That was one of the things I’m most excited about for the offseason, getting to work on that.”
Quick Turnaround: Divisional Round Location Revealed Sunday Night
Once its pair of Wild Card Games are over, NBC will turn back around and head out to cover its to-be-determined Divisional Round game. In the past, the site of the divisional game was determined at the conclusion of the regular season, but, this year, NBC’s ops team will have to wait until all Wild Card Games have concluded to find out where they’re headed – making for an ultra-quick turnaround.
“We won’t find out where our divisional game is until this Sunday, which definitely brings challenges,” says Dekime. “It could be a Saturday game the following week, which means we would travel on a Wednesday rather than Thursday. We have to get all of the logistics done as soon as possible on Sunday — flights, hotels, equipment, and so on — which likely means a very late night.”
A Look Back at SNF 2020: A Challenging Year Unlike Any Other
Despite harrowing circumstances and the constant threat of COVID-19, the SNF team was able to power through its entire 19-game regular-season schedule. Much of this was due to NBC’s stringent testing each week and safety protocols but also to adapting on the fly from week to week.
“Just like other networks, we have experienced cases of COVID-19 during the season within our crew, but we have measures in place to account for that. There hasn’t been a week — at least in the last 10 weeks — where we haven’t had to replace personnel on our staff [due to a positive test],” says Dekime. “But here we are in Week 17 going into our Wild Card Games, and we do feel a good sense of accomplishment having gotten to this point and putting on the level of shows that we’ve put on under the circumstances.”
Gaudelli adds, “I’m really grateful to be here, having made it through 19 regular-season games this year with just a few hiccups along the way. I just want to say thanks to our engineering, operations, production, emergency health and services department for all the constant adjustments that had to be made throughout the season to put the show on the air, with little disruption to the production of the show. It’s great to be in the NFL Playoffs. The league did a phenomenal job. I don’t think many people thought we’d get to the end of the season on time, and we have. Hopefully, a lot of excitement is yet to come.”