SVG Summit: Can Production Technology Keep Up as Football Speeds Up?

Two of the top teams in the AFC – the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots – are a sign of the times in the NFL today, having already run more than 1,000 plays from scrimmage through their first 14 games. That’s more plays than nearly half of the league’s teams ran all of last season.

NBC Sunday Night Football producer Fred Gaudelli (center) discusses football production technology enhancements at the SVG Summit as Fox Sports' Mike Davies (left) and ESPN's Derek Mobley listen in.

NBC Sunday Night Football producer Fred Gaudelli (center) discusses football production technology enhancements at the SVG Summit as Fox Sports’ Mike Davies (left) and ESPN’s Derek Mobley listen in.

From the 2001 St. Louis Rams and ‘The Greatest Show on Turf’ to the hurry-up schemes of the 2013 Philadelphia Eagles and rookie head coach Chip Kelly, the speed of the game in the NFL has been getting faster and faster in the 21st century.

At this week’s SVG Summit, a panel of elite football production professionals discussed how the speed of the sport at both the pro and college level has completely changed how broadcasters utilize video technology in bringing America’s favorite sport to the masses.

“It’s moving so quickly that you’ve got to retrain your crews,” says Harold Bryant, executive producer and vice president of production for CBS Sports, which covers the NFL and SEC football. “Whether its on replays and cue-ing them tighter, or making sure your cameramen are set. Unfortunately, you can’t get some of those stories in that you want to because the game is moving so fast and we’re having to adjust in the truck.”

From left to right: NFL's Glenn Adamo, CBS Sports' Harold Bryant, and Fox Sports' Mike Davies.

From left to right: NFL’s Glenn Adamo, CBS Sports’ Harold Bryant, and Fox Sports’ Mike Davies.

NBC Sunday Night Football producer Fred Gaudelli agrees, noting that when working with former Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson when he first got into broadcasting in the mid-1990s, he had said to Gaudelli, “You make a three-yard run look like Armageddon.” Not so much anymore.

“Unless you have two teams that huddle, which is a rarity, it’s hard to get much in between plays,” says Gaudelli. “You really have to prioritize. It’s one to tell the story of why things are happening, but you might not be able to tell why it’s happening while it’s happening.”

Fox Sports VP of Field Operations Mike Davies has spent the season building in preparation for his network’s production of Super Bowl XLVIII in February. That has meant working in three technology pieces: player-pointer graphics, hyper-motion cameras, and 4K.

Fox Sports director Rich Russo (right) emphasized the importance of keeping up with the pace of the game.

Fox Sports director Rich Russo (right) emphasized the importance of keeping up with the pace of the game.

“There’s a lot of technology out there,” says Davies, “but you never want to put technology before the integrity of the game. It’s important to use these technologies in context and to supplement the story.”

One of the most innovative technologies to hit the football landscape this year came in the form of 360-degree replays from the Israeli company Replay Technologies. Their camera system installation in Dallas’ AT&T Stadium and their agreement with NBC Sports brought NBCeeIT360 to Sunday Night Football. It’s a new form of replay technology that could change the football TV dramatically in the future.

“The 360 technology is still very much in its infancy,” says Gaudelli, “but I do think in about five to six years that all of us will have the ability to circle around every single play. The way sports is going right now, officiating the game is now a major responsibility so this is a going to be a significant piece of technology. In football, there’s 22 people on the field and you can have 1,000 cameras out there but when the bodies are positioned in a certain way, you’re just not going to have a definitive look.”

On the college side, ESPN produced over 300 college football games this season and the emphasis was on bringing a big-game feel to as many of those as possible.

“What we’re focusing on is trying to take what we have on the top games and bring that down to more games,” says Derek Mobley, remote production director at ESPN who will direct the BCS Championship Game next month. “More technology, more super-mos, more SkyCams on more games, and that just helps improve the overall product.”