Live From Super Bowl LVIII: Iconic CBS Sports Bellaggio Studio Is at Center of a Busy Week
Live drone is set to make Super Bowl history during NFL Today studio-show kickoff
The Bellagio Fountains on the Las Vegas Strip are the iconic center of the city, so it’s no surprise that CBS Sports settled on a small strip of sidewalk (and one lane of the actual Strip) in front of them as the home of its week-long studio-show operations. Today, the operations shift into game-day mode, hosting the first 90 minutes of the NFL Today pregame show.
For the first 90 minutes of the pregame show, the NFL Today talent team will be located at the Bellagio. At around 12:30 p.m., they will make the relatively short trip (around 15 minutes) to Allegiant Stadium, where they will settle in at an external set and, ultimately, at an interior set in the corner of the field.
“There’s a transition they have to navigate to get from here to the stadium,” says Mike Francis, VP, engineering and technology, CBS Sports. “We’re going to capture that live in some way, and that will be fun.”
CBS Sports will also make history today: it will be the first Super Bowl broadcaster to provide aerial shots from within the 10-mile no-fly zone around the stadium. Capturing the shots will be a heavy-lift drone from Beverly Hills Aerials outfitted with a Sony P50 camera and an FPV drone.
Of the Bellagio site, Francis says, “We certainly looked at other locations, but we quickly knew we wanted to plant our flag at the Bellagio. We feel like it’s everything Vegas, and it’s a great backdrop for all our productions.”
The studio complex houses two main stages, one on either side of a demo football field. The backdrop for viewers includes the Bellagio Fountains (the CBS team has control of them in the morning hours), and, because the set is alongside Las Vegas Boulevard, anyone driving by has a chance to see CBS Sports in action, and pedestrians walking by can even take selfies at two activation areas.
“The Bellagio was great at connecting us with partners that know what they’re doing so we can make it all work,” says Francis. “We were fortunate enough to get the first lane of Las Vegas Boulevard because there’s not a lot of space to pop up tents and trailers for gear.”
Studio-set design was led by CBS Sports VP, Graphics and Design, JP LoMonaco; Senior Art Director Komal Bhukhanwala; and Director Bob Matina; and Jack Morton Group Senior Design Director Andre Durette. The intention was to lean into and capture the extravagant, larger-than-life aesthetic of the Las Vegas Strip and announce CBS Sports’ presence in the heart of it all.
“It was a great collaboration,” says Francis. “Our goals from a design standpoint were to be multi-use so that all the Paramount partners could be here. It was important to be able to build something that could be shared as well as having your own space where you need it. The demo field in the center has been highly utilized across all the properties.”
The set features multiple jibs, two pedestal cameras, a RF Steadicam, and RF handhelds.
“They basically have everything they could ever want,” notes Francis. “We have roofs over the main stages. The desert gets really cold, too, especially when we start programming super-early in the morning, so built-in floor heating comes up under the desks to keep the talent from freezing for the early stuff.”
An affiliates platform, he adds, enables owned-and-operated stations to come in and set up. The platform comes complete with power and lighting; the stations have their own transmission solutions (mostly bonded cellular) to deliver live hits back home.
Heavy use by Paramount shows and CBS stations has made the Super Bowl effort feel like a family affair and, best of all, a busy one. “We have constant programming out here,” Francis points out. “CBS Morning News is here, The Talk has come out for multiple days, and we’ve been doing tons of CBS Sports Network programming daily on Stage 2, which has been running from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. almost every day. And CBS Sports HQ, which has a pretty big stage here, has been going nonstop all week [and producing its shows remotely from Fort Lauderdale].”
The only production and technical facilities onsite at the Bellagio are F&F GTX20 (two units), an interconnect trailer where Lumen has its base of operations overseeing the dark-fiber paths, and plenty of Aggreko power. There is also the team operating the Flycam, which has a 1,000-ft.-long run across the fountain lake, and the drone.
“We also have several 1-Gbps circuits for all of our needs as well as for anyone else who is working at this site,” adds Francis.
The heavy programming schedule on CBS Sports Network has kept the production team in GTX20 very busy all day. “They’re not only servicing the onsite productions,” says Francis, “but are also the interface for all the remote productions at the BMW Building in New York.”
GTX20 is linked to the NEP TFC (Total Facility Control) at Allegiant Stadium, allowing any feeds to be shared. The intercoms at the stadium and the Bellagio are trunked, creating one big intercom system.
The small footprint of the technical facilities is testament to the power of remote workflows. Without the ability for production teams to cut their programs from thousands of miles away, odds are the shows would not have been able to be onsite.
“It wasn’t going to be viable to bring in multiple 53-ft. production trucks to service all that programming,” Francis explains. “We’ve had a great collaboration with our friends at CBS News and the other Paramount arms. Even the CBS broadcast-network shows [such as the Super Bowl LVIII Countdown Show and The Other Pregame Show, which aired yesterday, and The NFL Today‘s opening segment today] are technically remote [being produced out of Game Creek Video Prime at Allegiant Stadium], but a direct connection allows us to treat it just like it’s an onsite production compound.”
That direct connection comprises 48 dark-fiber paths running over three geographically diverse fiber connections. The use of dark fiber means not having to worry about things like encoding, decoding latency, and the ability to meet the needs of production personnel on each side of that fiber run. “One path is almost 24 km, a second path is 10.5 km, and the shortest path is 6.5 km,” Francis says. “We’re essentially plugged into the stadium like the field set or the exterior set at the Game Day Experience at Allegiant.”
Although the studio will be torn down in relatively short order, it will have a new life: the brand-new Super Bowl desk for Stage 2 will head back to CBS Sports in New York to replace the current NFL Today studio desk.
CBS Sports Super Bowl Studio Show Shoutouts:
Patty Power, EVP, operations and engineering
Jason Cohen, VP, remote technical operations
Marianne Fischer, VP, studio operations
Evelyn Jackson, senior director, venue engineering and planning
Dan LaTerra, VP, engineering and streaming technologies
Mike Angeloni, VP, on-air operations