TSN Gives CFL Fans an All-Access Pass to the Field, Locker Room, and More

The Stanley Cup Champion has been crowned. North of the border, it’s time for football.

Now entering its sixth season as the exclusive broadcaster of the Canadian Football League and Grey Cup, TSN continues to up the production ante every year.  With expanded use of CableCam and LiberoVision, increased access to players and coaches, and an enhanced animation package, 2013 will be no different.

All before TSN’s new multi-platform broadcast deal with the CFL – extending the partnership through 2018 – takes effect in 2014.

“We’re currently in the last year of our deal with the CFL before our new deal kicks in next year, so we’ve added a few added items,” says Paul Graham, vice president and executive producer, live events of TSN. “But we’re obviously saving a few more tools for next year.”

The 2013 CFL season kicks off tonight in Winnipeg, with the Blue Bombers hosting the Montreal Alouettes at their newly opened Investors Group Field.

“We’re paying special attention to our first game this Thursday in Winnipeg,” continues Graham. “The fact that it’s a brand new stadium, there is a bit of a challenge for us on a number of fronts, but in a positive way. We’re looking forward to putting on a good show on Thursday night for the Bomber fans and the CFL fans as well.”

In total, TSN will broadcast end-to-end coverage of all 77 CFL games this season, including 72 regular season, four playoff matchups, and the Grey Cup.  French-language RDS will showcase every Montreal Alouettes game, while RDS2 will televise an additional 27 CFL games. With a new franchise — the Ottawa RedBlacks — set to join the CFL in 2014, TSN’s slate will expand to 81 total games next season.

Stateside, the NBC Sports Network will carry 14 regular season games, the Eastern and Western Finals, and the Grey Cup, while ESPN2 will show five games and ESPN3 will carry 55.  All will broadcast TSN’s feed.

Production Plans
TSN plans to deploy between 11 and 14 cameras for each game, with the option to add more for marquee matchups. The network plans to use 37 cameras, including a helicopter, for this year’s Grey Cup.

“If we have our panel on location, that increases our complement obviously because we need additional cameras to shoot the panel and then we turn around and use those cameras in the broadcast,” explains Graham. “We’re going to have more cameras when we have our special games, whether it be the Hall of Fame Game, Labour Day games, Thanksgiving games… we basically add cameras that will give us more isolation. Our plan always is to add more cameras wherever we see fit, and any time we can add more isolation cameras, it just improves the overall quality of our telecast.”

Once reserved for the Grey Cup, TSN will expand its use of CableCam to all four playoff games as well.

While there are no plans to add super-slow-motion cameras to the regular season complement, the technology may be used in the playoffs. The reason, says Graham, is timing: unlike the NFL, which allows 40 seconds between plays, the CFL only has 20.

“The CFL game is so much quicker than the NFL game and moves so much faster,” he explains. “You don’t always get full value for [super-slow motion] because of the pacing of the game. They basically have twice as much time as we do in between plays.”

Once again, Dome Productions will provide mobile units from coast to coast.

A Part of the Action
RF handheld cameras return to the broadcast, and will be included in the complement for approximately half of the regular-season games and all playoff games. The league allows RF cameramen onto the field and into the huddle, provided they leave the field as soon as the whistle blows.

“It helps that a couple of our cameramen are in great shape because they have to be very active running out onto the field and then running back once the huddle breaks,” laughs Graham.

On-field RF has had a two-fold effect since its debut during the 2010 CFL playoffs.  Not only do the teams benefit from the lack of cabling near the player areas, but the at-home viewer gets a unique opportunity to be a part of the huddle, touchdown celebrations, and more.

“In most cases, previously, we had to take that shot from our cameras that are on the sidelines or up high,” says Graham. “Now, that cameraman has permission to run into the end zone and basically, for lack of a better description, celebrate with the players.”

The CFL permits TSN to mike from two to four players per game, with audio recorded and played back during a “Sounds of the Game” segment or an individual player feature.  TSN is also working with the league on a trial basis to mike offensive linemen in order to add more on-field audio to the broadcast.

In the Locker Room
As it has done for the past two seasons, TSN will invite fans inside the locker room. The CFL grants TSN access to shoot footage inside each locker room for an hour prior to each game, which includes recording the coach’s pregame speech with the option to play back during the telecast.

“We record them all [but] we don’t always play them back,” says Graham. “It really depends on where it fits in our telecast and what the coaches have actually said. Sometimes we might not play that speech back until the third quarter because it’s more relevant then, so we leave that to the producer’s discretion.”

During halftime, TSN has the option to interview players and coaches, and has access to each locker room for five minutes.  This season, the network will be permitted to record locker-room audio.

“We’re mostly looking for background noise in the [locker] room to get an idea of the mood,” says Graham. “Obviously if something interesting is said, whether it be cheerleading by a player or whether it be something a little more substantial, we would look to include that in our broadcast playing back on a tape-delay basis.”

After the game, the CFL allows TSN to enter the winning team’s locker room and record the winning coach’s speech.

Enhancing the Look
This season, viewers will notice updated graphics and animation, driven in part by TSN’s decision not to protect for 4:3 and instead commit fully to 16:9.

The network returns LiberoVision to the broadcast, accompanied by Paul LaPolice, former head coach for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. LaPolice will provide video analysis, including breaking down individual plays and providing insight, in a new segment called Coach’s Playbook.

“We’re heading into year three with [LiberoVision] and it’s just improved every year,” says Graham. “The technology has improved, the people that we have here working on it are far more experienced… and also our talent and our producers have seen what it can do, so they’re more interested then in asking the proper questions and pushing the envelope to get more out of LiberoVision.”

LaPolice joins fellow analysts Jock Climie, Matt Dunigan, Chris Schultz, and Milt Stegall, and host Dave Randorf, on the CFL on TSN panel. TSN’s CFL coverage is anchored by veteran play-by-play announcer Chris Cuthbert and game analyst Glen Suitor. Also in the booth are seasoned play-by-play announcers Rod Black and Gord Miller and game analysts Duane Forde and Dunigan.

Grey Cup Returns to the Elements
Capping the 2013 CFL season, TSN will travel to Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Saskatchewan, for the 101st Grey Cup.  Already the network, the league, and the city of Regina are planning for the CFL’s premier event. Unlike the 99th Grey Cup in British Columbia and the 100th in Toronto, the 101st will be played outdoors.

“We’ve been blessed the last two seasons being able to work indoors,” says Graham. “This year, we’re right back out into the elements where we belong.”