CFP National Championship 2024: ESPN’s Audio Effort Matches the Moment

The crew mounted 100+ cameras and mics, established 400 discrete audio channels

The sound of the 2024 College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T on ESPN incorporated the key elements of college games: the roar of massive crowds — this one at 72,000+-seat NRG Stadium in Houston, where No. 1 Michigan and No. 2 Washington faced off to write the final chapter of the season — and the marching bands that color the sound as no prerecorded soundtrack ever could. (And speaking of music, for the second straight year, John Williams provided the soundtrack to the National Championship open, produced by ESPN’s Creative Content Unit.)

Says Kevin Cleary, remote operations specialist, ESPN, “The main show is always the key element, but the shoulder programming is a big lift surrounding the production.”

The production was massive. Working with the shortest turnaround between the semifinals and championship in CFP history, ESPN installed 18.5 miles of fiber, built the TV compound, mounted more than 100 cameras and microphones throughout the stadium to enhance both game and studio programming, and established nearly 400 discrete audio channels leaving the site to create the innovative and industry-defining MegaCast presentation.

Parked in the compound was a flotilla of Game Creek Video mobile units. Varsity A and B and Gameday A and B units produced the game and College Gameday, respectively. Field Pass With the Pat McAfee Show was handled by Justice A; Skycast/Deportes, by Centennial A and B/Edit 1.

Key members of the audio team were game A1 Devin Barnhart (on a Calrec Apollo console), submixer Andy Bartley (on his own Apollo), College Gameday A1 Mike Madio (Calrec Artemis), Deportes A1 Dick Dorner (Calrec Brio), SkyCast UHD/Atmos A1 Steve Yoder (Calrec Artemis), Pat McAfee Show/First Take A1 Michael Bevers (another Brio), and Field Pass A1 Tyler Thompson (Calrec Artemis).

Coordinating and managing the 292 channels of discrete audio pumped out to a variety of distribution outlets was the biggest single challenge of the event, Cleary says. He also oversaw application of Dolby Atmos to the SkyCast UHD broadcast and supervised further inroads into an ST 2110 signal-transport environment.

“The 2110 infrastructure is moving along very nicely, for video and for audio,” he notes. “But there are always going to be some challenges, which come about as the signal density of the 2110 infrastructure continues to increase. Keeping the growing number of channels timed and aligned is one of those challenges.”

Cleary credits a veteran crew for pulling an incredibly complex production together in a very short time.

“When you have a show like this at the end of a very long and busy season, as we just had, it seems magical,” he says. “But the reality is that you couldn’t do this without the right people on this team. And that’s what we had here: a truly winning team of our own.”

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