Championship Caliber: NESN’s Boston Bruins Coverage Sets High Standard

As far as Joseph Maar is concerned, he doesn’t work for a regional sports network. Not in the traditional — or technological — sense anyway. The VP of programming and production for New England Sports Network notes that it’s hard to tell the difference between his “regional” productions and a full-blown national one.

NESN’s broadcast of the Boston Bruins’ season opener against the Tampa Bay Lighting drew a 9.0 average household rating, the second-most-watched Bruins opener in network history.

NESN’s broadcast of the Boston Bruins’ season opener against the Tampa Bay Lighting was the second-most-watched Bruins opener in network history.

Nowhere is that more evident than in NESN’s newest mobile-production truck for Boston Bruins broadcasts. Provided by Game Creek Video, the multimillion-dollar, state-of-the-art, double-expando trailer — which made its debut during the Bruins’ season opener at TD Garden on Oct. 3 — opens doors to a bevy of new opportunities that have already taken Bruins hockey on TV to a new level.

A new arsenal of cameras, seemingly unlimited slow-motion capabilities, a top-notch replay infrastructure, and enhanced audio capabilities all make NESN’s hockey coverage the continued envy of the league.

“We wanted to take what the national networks are doing and bring that technology to the regional level, especially with NESN doing shows that are fairly advanced and sophisticated in terms of number of equipment and quality of signal,” says Maar,  who joined NESN in the summer of 2012 following a career at Fox Sports North and ESPN. “To be able to take what is normally done for a Super Bowl production and start doing that on the regional level is pretty phenomenal.”

Picture Sharp as Skates
NESN’s Bruins broadcasts are a 1080p show, one of the many RSN rarities that NESN treats as the norm. For a Bruins home game, 18 cameras cover TD Garden, many of them new Sony HDC-2500L units.

On most nights, NESN can access as many as 22 or 23 cameras because the new Game Creek truck possesses interconnectibility that allows multiple feeds to be shared with the visiting broadcaster’s truck.

NESN is using a new Game Creek Video mobile-production unit for Bruins games at TD Garden.

NESN is using a new Game Creek Video mobile-production unit for Bruins games at TD Garden.

“We don’t have to care what flavor of HD it is or what frame rate something’s at,” says Maar. “The ability to mix and match that pretty quickly is important, and that’s what this truck is set up to do.”

Inside the truck, the producer/director team of Brian Zechello and Rose Mirakian use a brand-new scalable video-monitor wall that has the ability to display up to 144 images.

Never Enough Replay
Perhaps the biggest workflow change for the NESN crew is wildly increased replay-recording capability. A sophisticated network of nine six-channel EVS devices (including SpotBox) connected with NESN’s Watertown, MA, studios gives NESN the ability to record and use up to 18 replay angles at all times.

“Research that we have [indicates] that, for NHL fans, there’s no time that you can’t replay a goal,” says Maar. “In the third period, you can show a goal from back in the first period, and they still want to see it, and they want to see every possible angle of that goal. Before, we had to parse our resources and say, What’s going to happen here, I’m only going to to record these things. Now we’ve got the ability to really expand that.”

A scalable, sideways monitor wall allows Bruins director Rose Mirakian to view up to 144 images at a time.

A scalable, sideways monitor wall allows Bruins director Rose Mirakian to view up to 144 images at a time.

In NESN’s current setup, the Sony HDC-3300R serves as Mirakian’s slo-mo camera to access. The new production setup also offers her a lot of creative freedom throughout the season when deploying the camera.

“[Rose] is looking forward to moving it around,” says Maar. “The way this technology works will give her the freedom and the ability to say, This worked well with this opponent, but, when we’re going against Toronto, we may want to change what that super-slo-mo look is, based on how they play their game. With a team that’s more defensive on the ice, you’re going to position your super-slo-mo camera differently than if it’s a team that’s much more about offense.”

Maar and Game Creek Video President Pat Sullivan suggest that a yet-to-be-announced slo-mo camera will take the place of the 3300 come spring. They would not, however, disclose which camera that will be.

During a broadcast, Mirakian can use many of the 2500 cameras, which are slo-mo–capable as well.

“Given the quality of the image of the 2500, to a fan, it’s very difficult to see the difference between the 2500 at 2X versus the 3300 at 3X,” says Sullivan. “There’s a lot of flexibility for [Rose] to basically pick whatever camera she wants. She doesn’t even have to commit to that for the whole game; she can change to whatever she wants. It’s simply assigning it to the correct EVS.”

Sounds of the Game
Bruins games on NESN are produced in 5.1 surround sound, yet another RSN rarity.

A total of 20 microphones are positioned throughout TD Garden to help give NESN telecasts an elite audio production. A Calrec Artemis console (64 faders, 96×96 AES, 128×28 analog, 12×12 MADI) is at the center of it all inside the Game Creek truck.

NESN hosts its pregame, between-periods, and postgame coverage from a set inside a luxury box at TD Garden.

NESN hosts its pregame, between-periods, and postgame coverage from a set inside a luxury box at TD Garden.

NESN has also revamped its internal-communications system, deploying five wireless IFB/mic combos, which enable more people in the arena and in the truck to communicate with each other. An RTS ADAM intercom (160 Analog ports, 16 RVON channels, 64 MADI channels) pull together 12 wet PLs, 16 wet IFBs.

On-Air, On-Ice Talent Boost Ratings
In Boston, the Bruins are already a popular product, but, thanks to last season’s Stanley Cup Finals, NESN is pulling in record ratings. NESN will deliver local coverage of 71 Bruins games during the 2013-14 season, which began with the Oct. 3 home opener against Tampa Bay, the second-highest-rated regular-season game in NESN history with a 9.0 average household rating/15 share in the Boston DMA.

NESN’s best regular-season rating was last season’s opener against the New York Rangers on Jan. 19, when NESN garnered 9.4 rating/17 share.

The network has enhanced its Bruins pregame, game, and postgame coverage, expanding the role of analyst Billy Jaffe and adding rink-side reporter Jamie Erdahl.

Post-game coverage — produced from a set built inside a luxury suite in the lower-west corner of the arena — also scored big on Oct. 3 amid the opening-night hype. The show received a 5.0/9, NESN’s third-highest rating for a Bruins regular-season postgame show. WB Mason Presents Bruins Face-Off LIVE, which was expanded to a one-hour show for opening night, earned a solid 1.7/4.