2014 NFL Preview: NBC Paves Path to Super Bowl XLIX With Wire-to-Wire Coverage

Any NFL season in which a network has a Super Bowl broadcast at the end of the journey is bound to be a good one. For NBC Sports, however, there are plenty of reasons to be excited for tonight’s NFL kickoff than just the big game on Feb. 1, 2015. With a brand-new state-of-the-art quartet of mobile units, a bevy of tech toys at its disposal, and a lineup of high-profile matchups that is sure to have NFL fans salivating, the Sunday Night Football and Football Night in America production crew is set for another season of pageantry and gridiron action.

“I think, whenever you get to begin the season and end the season, that’s about as special a season as you can have, so we’re obviously greatly anticipating the season.” NBC Sunday Night Football Coordinating Producer Fred Gaudelli said last week. “At the end of every season, we go back, we watch every game, we evaluate every game, and we look at everything that needs to be improved from last season to the coming one. This year was no different. We did all of that. So we changed a lot of our elements.”

ND1 Provides Peek at Future of Mobile Production
Chief among these new elements is NEP’s ND1, a cutting-edge four-trailer mobile unit that builds on the benchmark NEP set with Monday Night Football’s EN1, which debuted last year. Built around a Grass Valley Kayenne Elite 9M/E production switcher, ND1 features Calrec Artemis and Apollo audio consoles, 32 Sony HDC2500 cameras, Canon lenses, and more than 100 channels of EVS recording capability via 14 EVS XT3 replay stations within a single production trailer.

CLICK HERE for SVG’s full story on ND1.

Plenty of Toys — Old and New
In addition to ND1, many of the high-end production tools that have become standard on SNF will be back, including FOR-A 4K cameras shooting down each sideline and in the end zones integrated with an Evertz DreamCatcher replay system to allow HD-quality close-up replays of questionable plays. Gaudelli is also excited about the advances in ultra-slow-motion camera systems.

“They have finally made these ultra-slow-motion cameras with a real-time playback like every other camera that’s tied to an EVS,” he said. “So we’ll hopefully be going to those shortly after the beginning of the season as well.”

In all, NBC typically deploys about 30 cameras on SNF, including a Cablecam aerial system, two NAC/Ikegami Hi-Motion II ultra-slo-mos (NBC will be testing the new Grass Valley LDX XS camera this season), an RF Steadicam, and robos on both goalposts and in the announcers booth.

This year, NBC will mount a real-time weather station on the Cablecam, allowing the system to obtain wind patterns from the quarterback’s perspective.

“If [the quarterback is] throwing with the wind or if he’s throwing against the wind, that information will be tied to the timecode stream … that gets recorded on every camera,” said Gaudelli. “So you can go back and [see] this pass here that was woefully underthrown into a 25-mile-an-hour head wind or vice versa. So I’m pretty interested in what that might present as we get later into the season, if there’s some bad-weather stadiums.”

FreeD Back in Dallas
Also back this year will be Replay Technologies’ FreeD 360-degree replay system — albeit for just one game at this point since the system is installed only at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium and the team’s lone Sunday-night home game (barring flex scheduling during the season) is Sept. 28 against the Saints. The FreeD system uses dozens of miniature hi-res cameras mounted in the stadium to create 360-degree replays of key red-zone plays. A proprietary algorithm converts the 2D camera feeds into 3D data, giving the operator a virtual-3D environment in which to move the camera.

“[FreeD] will be back, but the only stadium it’s in right now is AT&T Stadium in Arlington,” said Gaudelli. “But, yes, we will use it, and we’re looking forward to the improvements they have said they made from last year to this year.”

Player Tracking on the Horizon
Another factor that all four of the NFL’s rights partners are taking into account this year is the introduction of player-tracking technology with the installation of Zebra Technologies’ real-time location systems (RTLSs) in 17 stadiums. Although Gaudelli has reservations about the usefulness of stats like how fast a player is running (“saying somebody’s running 20 miles an hour doesn’t really leave a lasting impression when you are used to seeing cars going over 200 in NASCAR and Indy Car”), he does see plenty of potential in using the system for other purposes.

“I think one of the really interesting things [and] something that we have never really been able to get a handle on during the game is … what the player participation is,” said Gaudelli. “So, if a guy’s on his 95th play, which doesn’t happen often but has happened, that will be worth noting … because that’s a lot of plays to be playing in a football game. So I think that aspect is opened up.”

The NFL opens its regular season tonight with NFL Kickoff 2014 on NBC featuring the Green Bay Packers at the Seattle Seahawks. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. ET.