Live From Fury-Wilder III: Fox Sports Works With ESPN to Chronicle Last Installment of Heated Heavyweight Rivalry
Fox Deportes is also assisting ESPN Deportes’ coverage
The greatest rivalries in boxing only need a pair of names to tell the story: Ali-Frazier, Tyson-Holyfield, Pacquiao-Mayweather. Nowadays, it’s Fury-Wilder that has taken the sport by storm. For the third chapter of this tale at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena, Fox Sports is taking fans above, within and around the squared circle with a bevy of technology and onsite workflows.
“There are very few heavyweight fights that ever come around that have this much excitement tied to them,” says Brad Cheney, VP, field operations and engineering, Fox Sports. “Tyson and Deontay are ready to go, and I think it’s going to be a phenomenal fight.”
Views From Above: JITACAM, Dynamicam, C360 Cover Aerial Views
Fox Sports is known for taking its viewers to all of the hard-to-reach places, and with all of the aerial work that they show during NFL, college football, NASCAR, and other productions, the same expertise will be on display in the Sin City. Compared to sports that are played on massive fields of play, boxing isn’t a sport that lends a lot of real estate. To counteract the lack of enormous space, the network is taking to the skies and showing off the fight from a higher vantage point.
Leading the way will be two JITACAMs, a pair of cranes that can extend their attached camera 100 ft., will be positioned on opposite sides of the ring. These pieces of equipment will allow for sweeping vistas of the canvas and the surrounding area. For other properties, Fox Sports would call on the services of a tethered or untethered drone, but since this is inside of a closed space, a Dynamicam will be placed above the JITACAMs. This mini three-axis cable cam system will cover a majority of the reverse view of the ring. Lastly, a traditional robotic that serves as the stationary eye in the sky will be replaced by a C360 camera that can provide high resolution shots with infinite zoom and pan capabilities.
The plan is to cover the fight in an engaging way and telling the fight as it goes on from various angles. This includes the two combatants duking it out in the ring, but also the reactions and energy of the thousands of spectators that are anticipated to fill the seats.
“There’s so much excitement and emotion that’s going on around the ring,” says Cheney. “We’re want to be able to showcase that to the people [watching] at home because it raises their expectations about what’s going to happen.”
Handheld: Megalodon, Super Slo-Mos Bring Cinematic Environment
Adding to the idea of storytelling will be a handful of handheld and specialty cameras. Touching nearly all of the network’s touchstone events will be the Megalodon, the mirrorless camera that is capturing staggering images in shallow depth-of-field. Based on the free-roaming nature of the camera, the possibilities are a bit limitless on fight night. The network can use this application outside of the ring during the course of the fight for shots of the team in each corner or the fighters as well as used within the ropes between each round.
“The beauty of the Megalodon is that goes anywhere it wants to but for the most part, it’ll be [used] in and around the ring,” adds Cheney. “We have great shooters who are there to capture everything that’s happening, and it’ll always be available for us to use.”
In addition to Megalodon, a super slo-motion Sony HDC-4800 with an 8K Fujinon lens will be used on the other side of the ring. This will be used mostly during replays, but similar to dramatic scenes in boxing films like Rocky and Raging Bull, it’ll add an extra dash of cinematic brilliance.
On the audio end of the spectrum, more than 50 wired and wireless microphones will be in play during the bout, including those placed on referees and trainers to add extra colors to the proceedings. Outside in the compound, Game Creek Video’s Victory will house the full onsite crew that’s commanding all of this technology.
Setting the Stage: Lighting Creates Dramatic Environment
One of the more underrated aspects of a boxing production is the lighting. When done correctly, it creates a stage that two modern gladiators can be spotlighted on. Once that task is done and a controlled atmosphere is established, that’s when the technology and production tools can take over and develop an appeasing broadcast.
“Boxing is one of the more unique sports where you’re not only covering the sport, you’re creating the arena,” says Mike Davies, SVP, technical and field operations, Fox Sports. “It’s about finding the right feel and flavor for the boxing environment out of an empty arena. We’re pretty happy with what we’ve come up with because when you get into a fight like this, you’re putting a little bit more into it for the television broadcast, but also for the in-venue experience as well.”
As for the physical structure around the ring that supports these lightings, Fox Sports decided to go the basic route to not overcomplicate something that shouldn’t be.
“We think [a simple square truss] conveys boxing and makes it different from the other fighting products that are out there,” adds Davies. “We’ve taken this base and have done something pretty special with it, so I think T-Mobile is going to look amazing.”
Logistical Puzzle: Vegas Golden Knights’ Preseason Finale Prevents Early Setup
Since opening in 2016, T-Mobile Arena has become a formidable fortress for the Vegas Golden Knights. As it’s continued to become a more popular destination for premier concerts and other sporting events, the venue’s calendar is always packed every day. As the city’s NHL team gets ready for the upcoming 2021-22 campaign, their preseason schedule just so happened to have a game against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday, Oct. 7 — two days before the fight. For a heavy lift such as Fury-Wilder III, having more time to prepare inside of the venue is optimal, but Fox Sports concentrated on getting things in order before an early load-in on Friday morning.
“We were able to park [outside] and do all of our internal work,” says Davies. “This happens more times than not for boxing, but a compressed schedule is always a challenge.”
Since there wasn’t much wiggle room to work with in regard to building the actual structure of the ring, the crew decided to pre-hang their lighting system a whole four days before the Golden Knights took the ice.
“You can only do as much as you can ahead of time, so we pre-hung the lights on Sunday and raised them all the way up to the truss,” adds Davies. “That’s sort of the tried-and-true method of trying to get around the busy schedule that T-Mobile Arena has.”
Despite these challenges, the network has a seasoned veteran in Technical Producer and Senior Boxing Consultant Colin Deford on their staff that is used to working on mega-fights such as this one. With his expertise and guidance, Fox Sports was able to sidestep these obstacles in the preparation stages and keep their focus on presenting an innovative, yet informative broadcast.
“He is the person who planned this from the get go, and is the person who has more shows under his belt than anyone else,” says Davies. “Honestly, we couldn’t do these shows without Colin.”
Observational Learning: Network Gains Inspiration From Fury-Wilder II, Previous Boxing Match
Two weeks before the nationwide COVID-19 shutdown, ESPN produced Fury-Wilder II in Las Vegas on Feb. 22, 2020. During that installment, the four-letter network were responsible for the actual production of the bout while Fox Sports surrounded the fight with numerous studio shows. This time, the roles are reversed, but Davies and his crew learned a lot of lessons from watching ESPN at the reigns of the main show.
“It made sense [for ESPN to produce the fight] because we had just finished Super Bowl LIV, but they did a phenomenal job,” he says. “It was really cool to work with them, but also be more of a spectator to that event.”
Production elements slowly came together a few months ago on Aug. 21. The fight, Manny Pacquiao vs. Yordenis Ugás, was an instrumental matchup that allowed Fox Sports to do two things: experiment with production toys that could be used later on and become familiar with the venue that’s now hosting Saturday night’s fight, T-Mobile Arena. It was important to the maturation of the network’s boxing technology, but in hindsight, turned out to be the final time Pacquaio stepped in a ring in his 26-year career.
“We had a bit of a dress rehearsal at T-Mobile Arena,” continues Davies. “We’ll have a very similar LED-based walkout, so it was very helpful that we had a shot of doing it [one time before this fight]. We made some small changes to make it a little better, but we’re really happy with it.”
The Spanish Side: Fox Deportes Handles On-Air Programming for ESPN Deportes
For viewers that want to enjoy the fight in Spanish, Fox Deportes is also working onsite in Las Vegas. In conjunction with their counterparts at ESPN Deportes, Fox Deportes will be serving in this role for the first time. Split between a 15-person onsite team and around 50 staffers working back in Los Angeles, the Spanish-language network will have logged more than 150 hours of planning, coordination, and execution by the end of Saturday night.
“We’re sharing talent for the prelims, so we have a generic look that can air on both networks,” says Ruben Rocha, director, field operations, Fox Deportes. “We’ll continue for the pay-per-view, and then come back on the air for a post-fight show.
Talent will include Fox Deportes’ Adrián García Márquez, Erik Morales, and Jamie Motta alongside ESPN Deportes’ David Faitelson and Carlos Nava. Since this is the first time that Fox Deportes is being used in this capacity, this fight is a milestone event in the eyes of Rocha and his team.
“This comes with a lot of responsibility, but it’s an honor to be able to say that I’m responsible for coordinating everything for two networks,” he adds. “It’s a big deal for us, and we’re very happy that [ESPN] trusts us to handle their on-air programming.”
Pre-Bout Operations: MGM Grand Garden Arena Hosts Weigh-In on Friday
Directly across Las Vegas Boulevard, the pre-match weigh-in took place at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Friday afternoon. This press event was the last opportunity for the viewers at home to hear from the fighters and the last time the fighters saw each other before ducking through the ropes.
Inside of the venue, both Fox Deportes/ESPN Deportes had one set in front of the main stage along with a set for Fox Sports/ESPN. While Márques, Morales, Motta, Faitelson, and Nava covered the event on one stage, a mixture of Fox Sports’ host Kate Abdo, Shawn Porter, and Andre Ward and ESPN’s Max Kellerman. On fight night, a handful of other talent will join the telecast, including Lennox Lewis, Brian Kenny, Heidi Androl, Bernardo Osuna, Larry Hazzard, and Jimmy Lennon Jr.
Outside in the compound, Game Creek Video’s Columbia was at the helm for this effort.
Going Out With a Flourish: Fox Sports Caps Off Trilogy, Exciting Saturday With Gusto
Not many trilogies in boxing have maintained the same level of excitement for the last one as it did for the first, but Fury-Wilder is a different breed. For Fox’s turn at their chance of presenting this storied matchup, they want to throw everything they have to produce a stellar show. The main card will also be a conclusion to another huge day of programming for the network, which includes No. 3 Iowa vs. No. 4 Penn State, No. 7 Ohio State vs. Maryland, No. 25 San Diego State vs New Mexico, Utah vs. USC, West Virginia vs. Baylor, and San Jose State vs. Colorado State in college football.
“The beauty of this fight is that it caps off a more than 12-hour day of amazing programming across the Fox family of networks,” concludes Cheney. “We’re really looking forward to it.”