Live From Super Bowl LVI: Van Wagner Designs Robust Hybrid Workflow for First In-Venue Show at SoFi Stadium

A 10G pipeline will connect remote editors to the onsite control room

After 54 straight years without a team playing in a home championship game, Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles will be the second consecutive season with exactly that. SoFi Stadium is the Rams’ house, but, with Van Wagner Sports & Entertainment (VWSE) managing the in-person atmosphere, it will be serving Cincinnati Bengals fans as well. Displaying this particular event on SoFi’s videoboard brings a unique set of challenges.

“This is our Super Bowl crew’s first event in this building,” says Bob Becker, president, productions, VWSE Productions. “We’ll be rebuilding the entire show to make it our own, so fans that are used to attending games at SoFi Stadium will see a completely different videoboard show.”


Mixed Method: THUMBWAR Helps Build Synchronized Production Model

Located inside one of the National Football League’s newest stadiums, the production staff will be dealing with an unfamiliar centerhung videoboard this Sunday. Unlike any other LED display in professional or collegiate sports, the Infinity Screen by Samsung presents a challenge that is disrupting the typical workflows of VWSE’s creative individuals. Because of its size, rendering any large-scale takeover graphic takes a long time: for example, completing 50 seconds of video of that magnitude takes a full 12 hours. Nearly a half day dedicated to rendering means that any mistake, big or small, is amplified — resulting in deadlines being shifted and the possibility of rehearsals being reduced.

Inside the control room at SoFi Stadium

“Without a doubt, this venue has been the most challenging project we’ve been fortune enough to work on,” says Ryan Kehn, creative director, VWSE Productions. “From the dual-sided, 360-degree video screens to five levels of asymmetric ribbon boards to 4K resolution at 60 frames per second, this building has stretched every bit of our creative and technical capacity. Finding ways to make the most out of this LED real estate for unique visuals without burying ourselves in render times took a lot of foresight and planning.”

This turnaround time is a massive undertaking to manage, and adding to Van Wagner’s plate is the fact that a handful of editors continue to work onsite. Luckily, through an ongoing working relationship with THUMBWAR, they were able to assemble an efficient hybrid model ahead of time for one of the largest crews for an in-venue show at a Super Bowl. This includes instruction of 17 designers, editors, and loggers who are critical to the show’s preparation.

“Because of the scale and scope of the files we’re dealing with,” says Kehn, “we set up workstations onsite at SoFi a week earlier than usual. Our creative team remoted in advance of our travel to work off high-speed, onsite servers to collaborate more effectively and save on transfer times. We maintained a handful of remote editors throughout the onsite preproduction as well as a team of five loggers from our Studio City office that were working off of on-prem virtual machines.”

The decision to keep remote editors on the West Coast and within the city limits will provide a major advantage on Sunday. Rather than having to rely on a long-haul connection for staffers tapping in from across the country, the NFL is supplying a 10G pipeline of connectivity.

VWSE’s Nate McCoart (left) and Bob Becker are two of the 75-person production team.

“It wasn’t efficient to bounce [the files] up to the internet, put them in cloud storage, and download them back to the venue,” says Nate McCoart, director, technical operations, VWSE Productions. “Keeping everything on a local level, we’re able to leverage faster connectivity speeds between storage and the final machine that it’s playing out to.”

Backed by the Best: The Nuts and Bolts of In-Venue Technology

After developing this operational foundation, the onsite team will have ready access to a wealth of high-powered technology: 21 in-venue feeds, including six main cameras (high end zone, two low end zones, two in the slash position, and two RF handhelds in the lower bowl); two onfield RF Steadicams for the pregame show featuring NFL Network’s Scott Hanson, New Orleans Saints defensive end Cam Jordan, and Los Angeles Chargers team reporter Hayley Elwood; and a shallow–depth-of-field camera featuring a Canon EOS C500 on a MōVI rig dubbed “Sexy Cam.”

Inside the control room, the onsite team will rely on a technological backbone comprising Ross Video equipment and solutions. The game-day toolbox will feature two hyperconverged Ultrix Acuity production platforms (including the main switcher and flexible routing system), XPression Studio UHD IP engines for traditional graphics, XPression Studio for concourse and L-bar feed, Inception Social for social-media management, PIERO Live Down & Distance for virtual first-down lines, PIERO Live with Mira Replay integration for instant analysis, Voyager for in-game player stats and scoring-drive summaries in AR, 6X OGX frames for signal processing and DashBoard for full-venue control.

The LED displays will feature Ultrix FR5’s for routing and conversion from IP 2110 to HD SDI, UltriTouch panels, Mosaic video processors, XPression Tessera for the Infinity screen, XPression Studio for roof LED content, and OGX frames for signal processing. On the replay side, four Evertz DreamCatchers will tap into the camera angles controlled by the VWSE crew and more than 20 video feeds from the linear telecast on NBC.

The VWSE team will leverage a lot of equipment and solutions from Ross Video.

From an execution standpoint, the team has some experience dealing with a 360-degree LED video display. At Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta in 2019, Van Wagner was in the driver seat for the show at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Halo board, in what was the first of its kind, presented a new way of digesting visuals at a game. Three years later, Becker and company are relying on that experience and the rapport with SoFi Stadium VP, Broadcast Operations, Jason Cothern (in 2019, then-director, stadium operations, AMB Sports + Entertainment). This centerhung will once again play a factor in how the game is presented to the fans in attendance.

“We’ll be cutting dual-game cameras due to different viewing angles,” McCoart explains. “It’s basically a subcut for each side of the building: sif you’re sitting on the west end, you’ll see the game progressing on the centerhung as you’re seeing it on the field without having the camera pan to the left.”

Celebrating Hollywood: A Nod to the City of Angels

Besides acknowledging both fanbases, the show will tap into the different pockets of culture and influence that make Los Angeles a special city. Van Wagner and the NFL discussed how to package the special sports moments and the bright lights of Hollywood together in a cohesive run of show.

“Taking the lead from NFL Creative,” says Kehn, “this year’s décor theme will celebrate the tradition, scenery, glitz, and glamor of Los Angeles. We worked closely with the team at the NFL to develop a motion identity that stayed true to their Hollywood-inspired designs and also incorporated the energy and excitement of sports. We’re pleased with how everything is shaping up, and seeing it all come to life in that building has been really satisfying.”

This means underscoring the celebrity status of the town and spotlighting special guests in the crowd. This strategy also gives the crew a chance to unpack the history of football in the city, including Super Bowl I at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum between the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs in 1967.

Positive Direction: VWSE Sees Movement Toward Normalcy

This time last year in Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium, Super Bowl LV faced more dire situation: an extreme amount of plexiglass and crews retreating to different parts of the press box for social distancing. However, necessity and current trends in sports-video production have affected VWSE’s efforts in a positive way.

“With the technology that’s available to us,” notes Becker, “our travel crews are getting smaller. It has also been beneficial to keep our crew members home for an extra week where they can work in the comfort of their own home: everyone is a lot fresher and more productive.”

Despite the change in approach, the traditional way of putting on a show is seeing signs of life. Led by VWSE VP, Productions, Brian Scott, Becker, Kehn, McCoart, and others, the onsite crew of 225 credentialed staffers (75 of them on the production team) and the offsite crew are setting the pace in the return to normal production in a stadium control room.

“We’re continuing to be very careful],” says Becker, “but there’s less testing and now more fans [in the venue. Maybe next year, we’ll be completely back, but it certainly feels like we’re back to normal right now.”

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