UFC on Fox Has a Sound All Its Own

Ultimate Fighting Championship made its announced move over to the Fox family of sports nets on April 21. The franchise will also become the first sports broadcast of any type on the new Fox Sports One channel in August, even as it continues to generate several pay-per-view events each year. And, despite being a solid stereo show, it’s also an intense one, sound-wise.

“The way the show sounds is really a combination of the intense crowds and our willingness to push the envelope of the sound — the broadcast and the live sound,” says Greg Louw, director of technical operations at Bloomfield, CT-based show packager ConCom, which does all the UFC shows — including those on the Spike, Versus, and Fuel channels — as a turnkey operation, providing crews and trucks from NEP (for the PPV shows) and Game Creek (for Fox shows). “We really try to push the envelope for the effects sound.”

Part of that involves putting a slew of microphones, mainly shotguns, into and around the octagonal fighting ring. These include Sennheiser 816s on four RF hand-held cameras and two more of them suspended above the ring as overheads, as well as a kick-drum type of microphone, such as an E-V RE20, used to amplify the thumps of bodies hitting canvas floor in the ring. The referee and the fighters’ cornermen wear lavaliere microphones, to catch their advice between rounds.

According to Louw, that strategy evolved from crowds’ annoyance when camera crews using fishpole-mounted microphones blocked the view through the netted sides of the ring at previous broadcasters’ ultimate-fighting shows. Also important is a separate, hot live-sound mix in the venue’s PA system, some of which is designed to leak into the broadcast sound. This serves several purposes, including adding a raw edge to the on-air sound (the PA will occasionally overdrive) and letting the fighters’ walk-in music be picked up from the PA to simplify licensing for the broadcast performance.

Between the hot PA and the six Sennheiser 416 shotgun mics for audience sound, the house sound is a constant presence in the broadcast mix. Senior A1 Peter Addams says that’s part of the overall effect the producers are going for but it can sometimes interfere with between-match announcer dialog and ringside interviews. “But the broadcast sound and the house sound are all working on the same team,” he says, noting that, at least on the Fox shows, he can ask live sound mixer Daniel Bonneau to either pull the overall level back or zone the audio around the announcer area during those moments.

As raucous as the UFC events can get, he adds, the audio nonetheless remains nuanced. He notes that there’s no problem picking up punch effects and mat-slam sounds when a pair of 200-lb. fighters are engaged around the periphery of the ring near the microphones but it’s harder to get the sound when a couple of 145-lb. contestants are wrestling in the center of the ring: “You have to constantly watch and adjust for that.”

Addams and the A2s have experimented with various microphone placements, including, at one point, some PZM mics placed vertically on the mat. That didn’t work out well, he says, but, when the matches are carried on Fox and the budget allows for a submixer, PZMs are attached face down on the mat. With four lavalieres on corner posts of the ring and mics on handhelds and a jib-type camera, the effects mix can be pretty big.

The audio is delivered in stereo but is auto-upmixed to 5.1 surround at the plant for Fox; the PPV shows remain in stereo, Louw says, because it’s too difficult to do a proper transmission check for the dozens of headends that distribute the PPV shows.

Addams points out that, given the numerous iterations of the shows —live on Fox and other networks, home-video versions — stereo keeps the 32-track recording process more manageable. “The upmixed 5.1 sound hasn’t drawn any complaints. So we’ll keep doing it that way.”