Live From Super Bowl LVIII: For CBS Sports, a True Team Effort Involves an Army of Vendors, Crew, and Talent
Years of planning and the efforts of thousands have gone into the massive operation
The final pieces for Super Bowl LVIII are falling into place. Yesterday, the field tray rolled into Allegiant Stadium, and more and more of the production and support teams, especially those from vendors whose equipment and services are being used by CBS Sports, begin to arrive for the final push and game day.
“The vendors are part of the collective effort that contributes to the Super Bowl production all week long,” says Patty Power, EVP, operations and engineering, CBS Sports. “We value their innovation, expertise, and teamwork to put on the biggest show of the year.”
At the top of that vendor list are the three mobile-unit providers: NEP, Game Creek Video, and F&F Productions. Jason Cohen, VP, remote technical operations, CBS Sports, notes the contribution that they (and the other vendors) have made all season long.
“It’s important that our partners from Week 1 of the NFL are here,” he says, “not just to cover the Super Bowl with us but to celebrate the Super Bowl. For example, NEP is covering the game production for us as they did from Week 1, with our A-crew games produced out of Supershooter CBS. NEP is providing their TFC [Total Facility Control] Connect as well, which is the nucleus of everything [and routes all the audio and video signals].”
While NEP has primary game duties, Game Creek Video is here with three trucks: Prime is handling pregame-show coverage, Varsity is doing the tape release, and Columbia is producing the Nickelodeon game. Game Creek also is providing edit support.
F&F, meanwhile, has been at the Bellagio, with its GTX20 unit serving as the backbone of the studio shows.
“They have an incredibly important task at the Bellagio,” says Cohen, “being the truck providing production for the CBS Sports Network shows that started on Monday of this week and carried on through the entire week. F&F also provided equipment to help get signals for shows like The Drew Barrymore Show and others out to their control rooms at home, where those shows are produced remotely.
“When The NFL Today pregame show kicks off at 2 p.m. ET at the Bellagio,” he continues, “that show will be produced out of the Game Creek Prime truck, and, on Saturday, That Other Pregame Show is also produced out of Prime and connected to the Bellagio via fiber. But all the daily and nighttime shows from the Bellagio for CBS Sports Network are done out of F&F.”
Those trucks collectively will have 37 EVS replay machines, providing more than 600 channels of recorded playback.
As for power generation, again, suppliers that worked with CBS this season are involved. “Aggreko and Sunbelt helped us all season long with our regular-season and postseason power,” notes Cohen. “[Here] Sunbelt/Filmworks is doing all the compound power for us, and Aggreko is doing the Bellagio power for us from a comms and RF standpoint.”
Specialty Cameras and Wireless
On the wireless front, CP Communications is handling all the wireless PLs and microphones, and AVS oversees RF video. Then there are the specialty devices, such as 20 Fletcher robos in various locations around the field (4K down the line, the goal-line cameras, etc.) and in hallways and other stadium locations. In addition, four are scattered around the city: at The STRAT, Planet Hollywood, the Renaissance Hotel, and the Mandalay Bay.
“Those are all using LiveU for transmission but are controlled robotically by Fletcher,” Cohen explains. “We also have LiveU for covering the team buses and team hotels and those sorts of things.”
Skycam is providing three Skycams in the stadium and Skycam robos mounted above each goal line capturing images in 1080p for 4X-slo-mo playback.
“We also will use two Flycam systems,” says Cohen. “One is in the stadium on the reverse side of the field to catch players running down the sideline on the far side of the field. At the Bellagio, we have a 1,000-ft. Flycam across the water.”
Drones also will be in the mix. In Super Bowl first, one will fly within a 10-mile radius of the stadium on game day during pregame coverage.
“Beverly Hills Aerials is providing a heavy-lift drone flying with a Sony P50 camera,” says Cohen. “It will be at the Bellagio, where it has been getting shots all week. Beverly Hills Aerials also provided a tethered drone that flies at 400 ft. from an adjacent space next to the stadium to the Magic parking lot, which is about a block and a half from the stadium. It gives us a great shot of the stadium with the city in the back. We had a tethered drone in Atlanta five years ago for Super Bowl LIII.”
Two FPV drones are also in use. One is flying around the Bellagio set, doing small moves throughout the sets and signs; the other is at the Paramount Mountain activation zone at The Mirage.
The end zones are obviously the most important part of the field, and, for coverage there, several vendors are supplying specialty gear. BSI, Fletcher, and Antelope are involved with the front–goal-line pylons (Fletcher and Antelope were also integral to creation of the doink cam), and C360 is doing the back pylons as well as the C360 8K cameras mounted on the back of the goal posts and shooting toward the back line.
“[The C360 8K cameras are] part of their overall 200-degree immersive replay system,” notes Cohen.
Another new camera position is the “Red Cat cam,” a RED Digital Cinema camera located on the catwalk above the field. The CBS team was inspired to use it after seeing how Atlanta Falcons Senior Director, Video Production, Austin Hittel deployed the camera to capture images and used key framing in AfterEffects to create social-media replays that followed the player or the ball in Falcons productions.
“In the same vein of celebrating everyone’s contributions,” says Cohen, “we have brought Hittel, who brought that enhancement to life, here to be part of the Super Bowl. It’s another really good opportunity to collaborate.”
Augmented reality is an enormous part of this year’s game, especially with the first-ever simulcast on Nickelodeon. According to Cohen, five types of camera tracking will be used across 23 cameras that are fed into 13 Unreal Engines overseen by the AR team from Silver Spoon.
“We’re using Pixel Fly for the drone and the Flycam at the Bellagio and Stype and NCAM for jibs at the stadium and at the Bellagio,” says Cohen. “Of course, we have SMT on up to 10 cameras with their downline tracking. Skycam is also providing their proprietary new camera-tracking solution for the high Skycam and the low Skycam, as well as a lot of augmented reality in the game.”
Each AR vendor has specific strengths suiting it to the use case, Cohen notes. “For instance, with Skycam, it was important for us to develop some graphics that can stick to the field. Skycam has a partnership with Sony, and they dialed in the tracking so we can stick an AR element to the playing field without any type of jitter or movement.”
SMT, he adds, specializes in first-down–line technology, so sticking with its tried-and-true system was an easy call.
“When you bring in companies like Stype and NCAM,” Cohen says, “you find different tools are best for a given situation and [decide] which to use depending on what’s best. NCAM, for example, is the best call for a jib camera at the Bellagio; it will be changing locations because NCAM can recalibrate quickly when moving from point A to point B. Stype will be used for cameras that stay in one location and can remain dialed in.”
A Full Team Effort
The years of planning and the efforts of literally thousands who work for CBS Sports, Nickelodeon, or the numerous vendors and service providers is something that Cohen says everyone is proud of. “We’re bringing Las Vegas to life, throwing the Bellagio into the mix with the water and the fountains and all that energy. And we have Nickelodeon joining the party for the first-ever Super Bowl alternate simulcast. It’s a convergence of so many unbelievable opportunities that it’s a real honor to work on. We have 1,200 men and women working on this game who deserve all the credit in the world because it’s really challenging, but that makes it really rewarding.”