Basketball-in-a-Stadium Is Old Hat for CBS

Capturing the drama of basketball in the sprawling setting of a football stadium may seem like a daunting task, but it is nothing new for CBS Sports. After all, the network is coming off three South Regional NCAA Tournament games at Houston’s Reliant Stadium last week and produced both the 2009 Final Four and the Championship game at Ford Field in Detroit. As a result, Bob Dekas and Bob Fishman, coordinating producer and lead director, respectively, of college basketball for CBS Sports, are battle-tested and ready for Saturday’s Final Four at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

“We’ve been doing this a long time — since December of 2003 at Ford Field. That was the first game, between Kentucky and Michigan State,” says Dekas of the famed BasketBowl, which drew 78,129 people, a then-record for a basketball game. “I think that it’s a great thing to have so many people in the arena. Very exciting.”

Getting Closer to the Court
When shooting basketball at a football venue, the goal is always to get as close to the action as possible, according to Dekas. The expanded venue forces play-by-play cameras farther away from the court, making cameras on the floor all that more essential to the production.

“The NCAA has helped us get closer to the court this year,” says Fishman. “Our main play-by-play cameras are farther away, but we have bigger lenses these days, so that doesn’t really impact us as much. What really helps us is the ability to put cameras on the court. We’re as close to the action as we’ve ever been, and that certainly helps with presentation.”

Robotic Cameras Highlight a Wealth of Weapons
Fishman’s myriad of tools for the 20-camera shoot will include two backboard cams, four super-slo-mos (one more than the South Regional coverage), a jib-mounted camera, a SkyCam, and six robotic cameras (also new for the Final Four).

The battalion of robotic cameras will be located right at court level and are expected to be a valuable weapon in bringing viewers closer to the action. They will be strategically placed near the scorer’s tables, the baselines, and both benches and in one of the stadium’s end zones.

“There’s a lot of cameras all over the place, including the benches, which are recessed below the court, so it helps to have robotic cameras over on that side,” says Fishman. “Obviously, there’s considerably more equipment to cover this game.”

Coping With All the Space
The challenge for CBS will be to create an intimate broadcast in a cavernous venue. One issue that has plagued basketball-in-stadium broadcasts is the extended gap between the court and the crowd, a space usually filled with press tables.

“[The press tables] have always been a bit of an issue for us, to be totally honest,” says Fishman. “The biggest problem is, when the ball is in play and they’re going back and forth, you’ve got to be a little wider to see the fans cheering. If you’re not a little wider to see the fans cheering in those moments that call for it, what you’re seeing are press tables, some of which are completely empty. That’s a bad look, and that kills part of the excitement around the game.”

Audio has also been a sticking point in games past, but CBS has taken steps to rectify the problem, developing a new audio configuration specifically for games played in stadiums.

“The issue is not looking cavernous; it’s sounding cavernous, and that’s been addressed,” says Dekas. “[The Elite Eight] was a great example. [The Edward Jones Dome in] St. Louis was a dome in the old configuration, and Houston was in the new configuration. If you were to compare the audio of the two games, I bet you would find no difference. Our audio people have figured it out, and I think it sounds just as good now in the new configuration as in the old configuration.”

The Butler Effect
The surprising run of fifth-seeded Butler University, whose campus is just 5 miles outside Indianapolis, provides an added dimension. Bulldogs fans are expected to hit Lucas Oil Stadium in droves, and CBS plans to highlight the raucous crowd extensively, as it did in coverage of Michigan State fans at last year’s Final Four in Detroit.

“I think MSU helped being in Detroit [last year], and now we have the same scenario with Butler,” says Fishman. “I don’t know how many tickets that don’t go to corporate America are going to go to the schools and the fans, but I would assume there’s going to be a lot of Butler fans in there. That can only help us.”

There are concerns, however, as to what will happen if Butler loses on Saturday. The Bulldogs take on Michigan State in the first game of the day (6 p.m. ET), and a Butler loss could result in a mass exodus of fans, leaving Lucas Oil Stadium bare for the day’s second game between Duke and West Virginia.

“I’m sure [the first game] will be loud and raucous. I don’t know what’s going to happen if Butler loses. Do those fans leave and create empty seats, or do they stay because they’re basketball fans?” says Fishman. “In terms of the presentation from our point of view, if the hoopla is there before they tip, you’ll see it. We have enough cameras to show it. I don’t know what to expect, and we really won’t know until that place starts filling up.”

Should Butler win Saturday and advance to the championship game Monday night, Dekas is confident it will make for a telecast to remember.

“I think, if [Butler] makes it to Monday night, it would be one of the best scenes ever,” he says. “If you’ve ever been to a Final Four weekend, many of the fans of the two losing teams dump their tickets and leave town. Those tickets will probably end up in the hands of local Butler fans, and it could be an awesome atmosphere Monday.”