Road Warriors: 2014 in Review, Part 1

2014 was yet another ultra-busy year in remote sports production, with broadcasters and mobile-facilities providers producing high-profile events around the globe. SVG was there to cover it all, chronicling their gargantuan efforts from the BCS National Championship Game and Super Bowl at the start of the year to the Ryder Cup and World Series in the fall. Here’s a look at some of last year’s highlights.

BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA
The numbers for ESPN’s BCS Championship Game production in January 2014 speak for themselves: six media platforms, 63 cameras (yes, 63), and 72 microphones. Calling it the Megacast, ESPN offered eight ways for the viewer at home to watch the crowning of college football’s national champ. They ranged from the main game production to digital-exclusive platforms featuring isolated camera angles, the feed of each team’s home radio announcers, or — if one felt so inclined — no announcers at all.

Game Creek’s Victory housed the main game-production control room.

Game Creek’s Victory housed the main game-production control room.

To feed all these platforms, ESPN erected a production compound that would make the biggest sports events blush. Eight production trucks (many provided by Game Creek Video) and eight office trailers filled a tight space outside Gate F of the Rose Bowl, spilling into a neighboring golf course. It was enough to make your head spin, but, for Senior Coordinating Producer, College Football, Ed Placey, the focus remained in one place.

“This is no doubt the most complex production I’ve ever worked on,” he said, “but the main ESPN telecast is still the priority for us and will still be the standard by which our coverage is judged.” — Brandon Costa

SUPER BOWL XLVIII & SUPER BOWL BLVD.
MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ
Times Square, New York
Even for America’s biggest sports event, New York City — or New Jersey in the case of Super XLVIII — always does it bigger. Fox Sports’ telecast in February drew the largest U.S. audience in history (average audience of 112.2 million viewers) and ranks as the seventh-highest-rated Super Bowl ever (46.7 final household rating). The millions that tuned in were treated to a hulking telecast that featured an army of 55 cameras (including 4K Super Zoom systems); several new graphics elements for player, wind, and kick tracking; infrared cameras; virtual graphics and augmented-reality elements; custom-designed sets; and hours upon hours of pre- and post-game coverage.

Fox Sports’ towering Super Bowl Blvd. set in Times Square

Fox Sports’ towering Super Bowl Blvd. set in Times Square

While Fox drew in record audiences, the network’s greatest achievement was taking place in the compound — or, rather, compounds. Using a robust custom-designed fiber network and IPTV system, Fox linked its production compounds at MetLife Stadium and Super Bowl Blvd. at Times Square so tightly, they might as well have been next door to each other. Fox Sports Director of Technical Operations Kevin Callahan called it “the largest and most connected project I’ve ever been a part of, partly because everything is so spread out.”

Of course, the Super Bowl was much bigger than just Fox. NFL Network, ESPN, NFL Films, international broadcasters, and their tech vendors were on hand in New Jersey and Manhattan throughout the week leading up to the game. Among the trucks on hand were 13 of Game Creek Video’s remote-production units, which helped produce everything from the big game itself to pregame efforts for Fox Sports, ESPN, and the NFL Network and the NFL Honors ceremony. — Jason Dachman and Ken Kerschbaumer

NBA ALL-STAR WEEKEND
Smoothie King Center, New Orleans

Tom Sahara oversees many major sports productions for Turner Sports — the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, Major League Baseball’s postseason, the NBA playoffs, major golf and auto-racing events — but he won’t hesitate to tell you that the most difficult and complex event he produced in 2014 was the NBA’s All-Star Weekend in February.

The TNT NBA Tip-Off set inside the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans

The TNT NBA Tip-Off set inside the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans

With three straight nights of major events from the Rising Stars Game to the Dunk Contest to the All-Star Game itself, Turner Sports and NBA Entertainment teamed up in a massive production compound (18 trucks, including A and B units and temporary office facilities), all of which needed to be tightly integrated to handle simultaneous productions.

In addition, with the court inside the newly named Smoothie King Center surrounded by nearly 70 cameras, the show promised to be one of the most high-tech yet.

“This is one of our tentpoles, there’s no question,” said Craig Barry, SVP, production/executive creative director, Turner Sports. “It’s a celebration not only for the fans and the league but for us, as a chance to not only broadcast championship sports but as an entertainment network. We really straddle that line so we like to throw everything at it. It’s a big weekend for us.” — BC

2014 WINTER OLYMPICS
Sochi, Russia
During the Winter Olympics in February, the International Broadcast Center served as the home of host broadcaster Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS), long-time U.S.-rights holder NBC, and more than 25 other broadcasters from around the globe. With the size of rightsholders’ operations running the gamut from Panorama’s (Russia) and NBC’s (U.S.) massive onsite operations at the IBC to the dozens of broadcasters sending feeds home in lieu of a  large onsite presence, the Sochi Games proved to be a breeding ground for cutting-edge production workflows and unique new technologies.

4-SochiLugeNo broadcaster had a more sizable presence — both in footprint and in influence — than NBC Olympics. In addition, the network continued to build out its operations at home, conducting much of its highlights, graphics, postproduction, and streaming work from its Stamford, CT, facility. In all, NBC Olympics delivered more than 1,500 hours of coverage from Sochi — the most ever for a Winter Olympics and more than the coverage of the previous two Winter Olympics from Vancouver (835 hours) and Torino (419) combined (1,254).

“This has been our most challenging Games logistically,” said NBC Olympics SVP/CTO Dave Mazza. “Not our hardest technical Games but our hardest from a logistics standpoint. And the next two Games will probably be equally complex [as Sochi]. But we always get it done and are very proud of what we have accomplished.”

In addition, the Sochi Games marked a new era for OBS, as Manolo Romero, the pioneer of Olympics host broadcasting, transitioned to OBS vice chairman and Yiannis Exarchos shouldered the responsibilities of CEO. “There are no easy Games,” Exarchos said. “I can talk about challenges in London, Vancouver, or Athens; that is the nature of the Games. The challenges are always different ¾ and that is true here [in Sochi] as well.” — JD and KK

NCAA MEN’S BASKETBALL FINAL FOUR & CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX
The 2014 Final Four and National Championship Game productions at AT&T Stadium received plenty of attention and fanfare. Whether for the team-centered Teamcasts or the massive production compound that CBS Sports and Turner Sports rolled out together in North Texas, there was no denying that it was the most technologically advanced and complex college-basketball production ever. From the national broadcasters to those at the college level (the NCAA and the University of Florida’s GatorVision) to a wide array of mobile-production providers (F&F Productions, Game Creek Video, NEP Broadcasting, Filmwerks, and Bexel) and to the lengthy list of technology companies (Sony, Grass Valley, Skycam, ChyronHego, and many more), there was no shortage of talent and tech in North Texas to make it all happen.

Nearly 40 cameras covered AT&T Stadium, the most cameras ever for a Final Four.

Nearly 40 cameras covered AT&T Stadium, the most cameras ever for a Final Four.

To produce three simultaneous live shows, CBS and Turner Sports nearly doubled their equipment complement over the 2013 Final Four and, as a result, were required to lay out two full truck compounds on different levels of the stadium’s grounds, one for the main game production and the other for the Teamcasts and international shows.

“It’s not something we haven’t done before,” said John McCrae, executive director, field operations, CBS Sports. “In a perfect world, it would all be together, but we do what we can here. This is not the worst run, and there’s a good amount of space down here, more than most venues.”

With three full-fledged productions, two studio sets, and 38 cameras, including several specialty units, and RF sources, Turner and CBS combined to roll out one of the largest live basketball productions ever. — BC

KENTUCKY DERBY
Churchill Downs, Louisville, KY
Few events combine the drama of live sports with the glamour of the red carpet better than the Kentucky Derby. In May, NBC Sports Group rolled out a cavalcade of resources to cover not only the race but all the pageantry.

Nearly 40 cameras covered AT&T Stadium, the most cameras ever for a Final Four.

More than 50 cameras lined the track at Churchill Downs for NBC Sports’ Kentucky Derby production.

“This show is definitely the Super Bowl of horseracing,” said NEP Technical Manager John Roché. “It is twice the size of the other Triple Crown races; the Belmont show grows when it is a race for the Triple Crown [as it was in 2014].”

NEP’s ND3 (A, B, C, and D units) and SS24 (A, B, and C) completed a triple crown of their own, marking their third consecutive year at the center of NBC Sports coverage on NBC and NBC Sports Network (in this year’s edition, NEP’s ND1, which debuted in August, will replace ND3). Also, as in previous years, BSI provided RF mic and camera coverage, Token Creek housed Big Screen Network Productions, and CP Communications served a support role.

Overall, 260 NBC staffers and freelancers were onsite, managing 13 announcers/reporters and ensuring that images and sound captured by 52 cameras and over 25 mics not only traveled properly through more than 100,000 ft. of cable but also made their way to 16 EVS servers and a front-bench production area featuring a Sony MVS800A production switcher.

The big story, literally, at Churchill Downs was the massive 4K Panasonic videoboard dominating the skyline with a 171-ft.-wide x 80-ft.-tall physical presence on the backstretch. And Tim DeKime, director of sports operations, NBC Sports, capitalized on that vantage point via a robotic camera from Fletcher. — KK

X GAMES
Circuit of the Americas, Austin, TX
After more than a decade in Los Angeles, ESPN’s Summer X Games took on a South by Southwest flavor in its inaugural year at the sprawling Circuit of the Americas (CoTA) complex in the Texas capital. Although the atmosphere was decidedly different — with live concert stages, Major League Gaming competitions, and themed festival villages — ESPN’s production model remained largely the same. The model, developed during 2013’s now-reversed six-event Global X expansion, relies extensively on file-based workflows and a robust fiber network to exchange media with ESPN headquarters in Bristol, CT.

ESPN’s X Games set (foreground) on Big Air course (background) at Circuit of the Americas in Austin

ESPN’s X Games set (foreground) on Big Air course (background) at Circuit of the Americas in Austin

“This is a very similar model to what we have done since the birth of the global process,” said ESPN Senior Operations Manager Larry Wilson. “It’s the same global workflow that we have done recently — but with a few pretty big differences, both here [in Austin] and in Bristol.”

ESPN split its X Games operations into three sectors: Venue A (Park, Street, BMX Dirt, and Big Air courses, located along the front stretch of the track), Venue B (Moto X, Rally, and the new Super Trucks courses), and Venue C (located about 13 miles northeast of CoTA in front of the Texas capitol building in downtown Austin and hosting the Skate and BMX Vert competitions on Thursday night). NEP’s SS14 was on hand at 9th St. and Congress Ave. to shade the show’s 10 cameras and cover the Vert competitions, as well as provide an audio submix (announcers and judges also were onsite). Those 10 feeds were encoded and sent back discretely to the CoTA compound (via two redundant 270-Mbps dedicated video circuits), where the full show was produced out of NEP’s sparkling new ND1 mobile unit, debuting in Austin. — JD