NFL Network Gives Weekly Super Bowl Treatment to Expanded Thursday Night Football Schedule

The tundra of Lambeau Field is far from frozen, but, judging by the excitement of the NFL Network crew, one could easily mistake tonight’s Week 2 matchup between the Packers and Bears for a conference-championship showdown. NFL Network kicks off its seventh season of Thursday Night Football with an expanded 13-game schedule, two new 53-ft. double-expando trucks, 37 cameras, and a variety of production enhancements.

“We’re thrilled to have 13 games,” says Mark Quenzel, SVP of production and programming, NFL Network. “Our goal always is to deliver as much value to NFL fans and NFL Network viewers as we can, and there is nothing more valuable than an NFL game. To have five more of them and to start early with everybody else at the beginning of the season is huge for us.”

NFL Network will once again roll out full remote-studio coverage from the host stadium, including pregame, halftime, and postgame, in addition to its weekly game coverage.

Says Director of Technical Operations Dave Shaw, “We call it a Super Bowl every Thursday.”

Pride and Glory Deliver
NFL Network will produce Thursday Night Football out of Game Creek Video’s newest units: Glory and Pride. Glory takes over from Game Creek Video’s Dynasty, handling the game coverage for the expanded 14-week season.

“We found out officially in February that we indeed had the expanded season,” explains Shaw. “At that point, I asked vendors to let me know what their solutions would be if we did that, and, really, Game Creek was the one who was ready and willing to build us new trucks.”

Pride’s A and B units were delivered in time for the Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 5; Glory’s A and B units were delivered prior to NFL Network’s Aug. 29 preseason game between the Patriots and Giants at MetLife Stadium.

“It was a challenge because they took between February and August [to] deliver the trucks,” says Shaw. “The game trucks were delivered in just under seven months, brand-new construction … and they’ve been terrific, just flawless.”

Glory is equipped with 14 Sony HDC-2500 cameras, two Sony HDC-3300 super-slow-motion cameras, two NAC high-speed cameras, Cablecam, a Panasonic robotic booth camera, two Aerial Video Systems RF cameras, an AVS aerial camera, and two HD POV cameras for a total of 25 dedicated game cameras. The double expando houses 14 EVS XT3 servers, three Vizrt graphics servers, and a Calrec Apollo audio board.

Pride will handle the pregame studio show with an additional 12 Sony HTC-2500s, three EVS XT3s, and two Vizrt graphics servers.

For Shaw, the most exciting enhancement is not the trucks themselves but the ability to interconnect the infrastructures using a fiber tether. Audio is interconnected using MADI, and communications are supported by Adam intercoms in Glory’s A and B units.

“There are times when we’re doing pieces with the studio talent and we can direct them [using] our game director and producer,” says Shaw. “They can hear us through our intercoms and vice versa: if the studio guys want to get something from our game talent, they can just talk. We have all those audio channels available.”

In addition, the trucks are connected via fiber to NFL Network’s Culver City, CA, headquarters. Five fiber feeds are muxed directly from the truck to Culver City, including two feeds dedicated to Liberovision 360-degree replay system, which returns after last season’s inaugural run, and two dedicated to NFL.com.

Pylon Cameras in Sight
In addition to the 25 dedicated game cameras and 12 additional studio cameras, NFL Network plans to add a few more to the mix in an unexpected place: the pylon. NFL Films currently has a crew working with a rubberized plastic that can be cut, sanded, and molded into the shape of a pylon and mounted with a transmit/receive camera.

“For this year, we’re trying to have it so each pylon has one camera in it, and we’ll aim the two cameras on the one end zone towards the goal line and then the other two on the other end [towards] the other goal line, so we’ll have goal-line coverage,” explains Shaw. “These cameras reach probably about 20 yards of visibility … so we expect to catch those amazing catches or when [players] dive right to the pylon [or] those really close calls that you’re always wondering if they make it or not.”

Even though the one-camera pylon is still a work in progress, Shaw hopes that, in future seasons, each pylon will be able to accommodate two cameras: one trained on the goal line, and another focused on the side line.

Joining the Early-Season Fray
NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET with a two-hour Thursday Night Kickoff, featuring Rich Eisen, Steve Mariucci, Marshall Faulk, Deion Sanders, Michael Irvin, and Stacey Dales. Game coverage follows at 8 p.m. with play-by-play man Brad Nessler, game analyst Mike Mayock, and sideline reporter Alex Flanagan.

Although the expanded schedule has created logistical issues for talent and crew alike, who have had to fit five additional weeks of NFL games into an already busy autumn, the ability to begin the Thursday Night Football season at the beginning of the NFL season is well worth the scheduling challenge.

“In [an] eight-week [schedule,] you’re picking up from the middle of the season, you’re trying to get your legs under you when everybody else has been doing games for half the season, and, by the time you feel like you got a rhythm, you’ve got a game or two left,” says Quenzel. “This will really allow us to catch a rhythm, to develop some stories, follow the league for the full season as opposed to trying to catch it in midstride.”