NFL Media Expands Combine Coverage With Player-Tracking Robo on Catwalk, Exclusive Show on NFL+

Event is part of wild few months from Super Bowl LVIII to NFL Draft April 25–27

The next crop of the National Football League’s brightest stars will show off their skills during the 2024 NFL Combine Feb. 29–March 3 in Indianapolis. As the league’s production arm, NFL Media is on hand at Lucas Oil Stadium to broadcast the multiple events and evaluations with an arsenal of technologies and a handful of studio shows covering the action from facilities in Los Angeles and New Jersey.

“We go from our focus being millions of fans watching Super Bowl LVIII to looking at players hoping to break into the league,” says Dave Shaw, VP/head of operations, NFL Media. “This event gives fans behind-the-scenes access to get to know these players. It’s an event that defines what NFL Network is really about.”

The camera operators play a huge part of this intimate event.

Technology Mix: New, Traditional Workflows Enhance Multi-Day Coverage

The NFL Combine officially begins late Thursday afternoon, but the preparation and additional programming that NFL Media is handling began this past week. With minimal restrictions to on-field access, the league is poised to litter the playing surface with cameras to capture all the angles and sounds of the various drills that put the potential NFL players through their paces.

“The NFL Combine is a unique experience since it’s done within a quiet stadium and only the prospects and coaches are on the field,” says Adam Acone, director, media operations, NFL Media. “You can hear everything, so the ability to capture all that audio is one of the great enhancements.”

From left: Tom Pelissero, Ian Rapaport, Mike Garafolo, and Jeffri Chadiha on The Insiders: At the Combine

Much of the technology has become common at this event. On the audio side, more than 70 primary and backup sources make up the mix. That includes 25 RF and hardwired effects mics and four parabolic mics around the stadium, six RF mics on a handful of coaches, and 50 mics used by the onsite studio team and announcers. Talent Rich Eisen, Daniel Jeremiah, Charles Davis, Peter Schrager, Chris Rose, Ian Rapoport, Stacey Dales, and Jamie Erdahl will be joined by guests, including New Orleans Saints defensive end Cam Jordan on Thursday and former NFL offensive tackle Taylor Lewan and NFL Network analyst Shaun O’Hara on Sunday. They will be on the field and in the booth to explain the drills to viewers.

As for video, nearly 50 cameras will anchor coverage of all events, including hard and RF handhelds, a bevy of robotics, a Skycam, and a TVU-powered camera for live hits to free up sources in the production truck. Supporting the effort is a variety of partners and vendors: Robovision (robotics), Aerial Video Systems (RF video connectivity), CP Communications (RF audio connectivity), Filmwerks (power), and THUMBWAR (editing and file transfer).

Aerial Video Systems is handling RF video needs at the venue.

Educating fans about the players aspiring to the professional ranks is important to NFL Media. “Editing everything together over the next few days is a big piece to our show,” says Acone. “We’ve taken a lot of material and put together a ton of packages that’ll be played.”

Keeping everything together in the compound is Game Creek Video PrimeOne mobile unit. It has handled NFL Media’s NFL Draft coverage in the past, but this is its first time as part of the NFL Combine infrastructure.

Reporter Trevor Sikkema joins NFL Total Access via a TVU-powered camera.

In the stadium, something that isn’t new to the coverage is the data-heavy and eye-catching 40-Yard Dash. Driven by the league’s Next-Gen Stats and SMT player-tracking and graphics, this portion of the broadcast has changed dramatically since NFL Network began covering the NFL Combine in 2005.

“It has been fun pitting the new players against older players that participated in the NFL Combine in the past,” notes Shaw. “It’s a bit tricky to use the older technology and overlay it with newer technology, but it has become an awesome feature to our show.”

Changes in technology aren’t the only obstacle in pulling off this activation. With the league relying on both manual timers and electronic timing, the challenge is to make sure that the elements of the graphics overlay are synchronized. “In the past, we’ve seen that the video doesn’t always match up with the timer,” says Shaw. “[The officials] throw out the time that looks different from the others, but we can still use it as the base layer for our overlays.”

Robovision is responisble for all robotic cameras in Indianapolis, including this one capturing press conferences.

Besides creating another year’s worth of 40-Yard Dash overlays, the team is pushing SMT player-tracking and graphics to the limit with a new production wrinkle. Positioned above the field in the catwalk, a robotic camera offering a wide shot of the drills will integrate tracking and graphics for even more stats.

At Home in Indy: The Operations Team Knows the Venue Well

Two of the league’s tentpole events, the Super Bowl and the NFL Draft, have a different host venue every season, but the NFL Combine has called Indianapolis home for 37 years, since the last non-Indy event in New Orleans in 1986. Centrally located for all 32 NFL clubs, Lucas Oil Stadium is an ideal venue and, for an event comprising a multitude of moving parts, offers the operations team the confidence that comes with working in a familiar setting.

“Some of the elements that we execute may change,” says Jessica Lee, VP, studio operations, NFL Media, “but it feels like coming home every time we come [to Indianapolis]. We don’t have to do site visits like we do for the Super Bowl since we know this stadium pretty well.”

The RF comms team is making sure all staffers are on the same page.

Although NFL Media’s onsite setup is robust, its operational footprint extends beyond Indianapolis. With a facility on each coast — the nearly three-year-old NFL Los Angeles next to SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, CA, and NFL Films headquarters in Mount Laurel, NJ — busy with live hits and previews of the NFL Combine during the week, the operations team is sending feeds for use in NFL Total Access and Good Morning Football to the offsite control rooms in L.A. and New Jersey, respectively. This setup will continue until the conclusion of the event on Sunday.

In addition, the studio programming has gained a new outlet for this year’s event. Totaling more than 50 hours of coverage since Tuesday, Feb. 27 — including five hours of defensive linemen and linebackers at 3–8 p.m. ET on Thursday; six hours of defensive backs and tight ends 3–9 p.m. on Friday; eight hours of quarterbacks, wide receivers, and running backs at 1–9 p.m. on Saturday; and offensive linemen at 1 p.m. on Sunday — the league is beefing up its programming with a new show on Saturday. Players Only Combine, an exclusive show that puts former players behind the mic for a candid conversation on what they see from the day’s skill positions, will feature host Rhett Lewis and analysts Kurt Warner, Michael Irvin, Steve Smith Sr., Maurice Jones-Drew, and Michael Robinson.

Four robotic cameras capture live podium interviews from Indianapolis, including this one with Chicago Bears head coach Matt Eberflus.

“Our onsite mobile unit will handle drills and live coverage over the next four days,” says Lee, “but Saturday’s show on NFL+ will be a remote production. We’ll send feeds from the three cameras dedicated to that show, along with other cameras, to a director producing [Players Only Combine] back home.”

The decision to put Players Only Combine on NFL+ was twofold: the programming will increase engagement in the league’s digital platform and will also free up space for the onsite team working in Indianapolis. With an expected in-person attendance of 10,000–15,000 fans, Saturday is shaping up to be a fun day for NFL fans.

“NFL+ is an outlet where we’d like to give our viewers something a little extra,” says Shaw. “We’re always trying to provide additional content, and [the NFL Combine] is one of those instances when we have former players involved with new prospects.”

The audio team is making sure that all sound from the press conference area is crystal clear.

Busy Start: College Bowl Games Mark Beginning of NFL Media’s Year

Every year, as others readjust to life after the holiday season, NFL Media is tasked with executing three major events — Super Bowl, NFL Combine, and NFL Draft — in the first four months of the year. Recently, its slate of productions has expanded with the inclusion of college-football–centric events: the East-West Shrine Bowl at Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, TX, on Feb. 1; the Senior Bowl at the University of South Alabama’s Hancock Whitney Stadium in Mobile on Feb. 3, and the HBCU Legacy Bowl at Tulane University’s Yulman Stadium in New Orleans on Feb. 24. Many people consider the NFL Combine the proper start to the new NFL year, but this trio of NFL Network productions is when the year really begins.

“[Those games] are the first step toward the NFL Draft,” says Shaw. “We don’t have a large team that does all of this, but we pour a lot of effort into the Super Bowl, the NFL Combine, and everything that’s coming over the next couple of months.”

Reporter Cameron Wolfe (right) interviews Jacksonville Jaguars GM Trent Baalke.

A testament to the team’s multi-tasking skills, the crew will be executing the NFL Combine while finalizing plans for the upcoming NFL Draft in Detroit April 25-27. Unfazed by the group’s small size, the crew fills in the gaps with teamwork.

“Our turnaround time for planning these events went from three weeks to two weeks when we added another regular-season game,” says Acone. “We’re fortunate to have a wonderful group of people that really come together.”

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