The NFL Playoffs: Three Rounds of Sounds

By Dan Daley

With the NFL heading into its last round of post-season play in the analog-broadcast era, any changes to the audio for the Wildcard, Divisional, and Championship games will be incremental rather than radical.

Fox Sports covered the Philadelphia Eagles vs. Minnesota Vikings Wildcard game amd will cover the Divisional contest against the New York Giants and the NFC Championship game before Super Bowl LXIII is handed over to NBC (its first Super Bowl broadcast since the 1997-98 season). NBC had two of the Wildcard games (Atlanta Falcons at Arizona Cardinals and Indianapolis Colts at San Diego Chargers); CBS has one game in each round (the Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins Wildcard game, the Divisional game at Pittsburgh, and the AFC title game).

“The Wildcard game we treat as a normal marquee A game, but we’re adding elements progressively with each round,” says Fox Sports audio consultant Fred Aldous. At that first game, Fox had an extra sideline reporter using a Sennheiser SKM 5200 handheld wireless mic. At Giants Stadium, the locker rooms and post-game press conferences will generate additional audio to support the studio wrap show from Los Angeles.

The Championship game is a study in lessons learned from previous penultimate bouts. “We have to be ready for the trophy presentations, wherever they wind up taking place,” says Aldous. If the home team wins, A2 audio techs will reel out a line for a wired microphone that has been prepositioned and is accessible to where a stage will be quickly set up for the ceremony. But if the visitors win, the presentation will take place in the winning team’s locker room to avoid rubbing salt in the home fans’ disappointment. That eventuality will also use a hardwired line back to the mixing position. Both locations will use Sennheiser e835 cardioid microphones.

“We learned the hard way some years ago not to rely on wireless for the trophy ceremony,” says Aldous, citing the burst of RF that can accompany the end of a high-profile game like that. “We now have to clear our wireless frequencies with the game-day coordinator, but people still fire up wireless transmitters randomly. There were a couple of times in the past when we used wireless microphones for the trophy presentation, and they got stepped on at the worst possible time, and we had to get a handheld up there in the nick of time.”

Fos is doing games in all three playoff rounds. That’s not the case for NBC, which will sit out four weeks between the Wildcard games and the Super Bowl. Wendel Stevens, the mixer for Super Bowl and the San Diego-Indianapolis Wildcard game, says that’s not a problem: “I actually like the luxury of sitting and hearing everyone else’s mixes.”

Like Aldous, Stevens approached the Colts-Chargers game like any other network broadcast. What did change was not the technology but the scenarios, which have to be accommodated by whatever is on hand. That was the case with a bus-arrival interview before the game. But much of the pre-Super Bowl weeks will be spent poring over spreadsheets, arranging logistics, and ordering equipment, including more wired microphones. One thing Stevens is emphasizing for the Super Bowl is minimizing RF to the extent feasible. “The sideline talent,” he says, “is all that will be wireless there.”