Road Warriors: 2014 in Review, Part 2

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.

U.S. OPEN
Pinehurst No. 2, Pinehurst, NC

The 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 marked the end of an era: this year, Fox Sports takes over coverage for all four days. But sentimentality was laid aside as both ESPN and NBC focused on the job at hand.

Inside NEP’s ND3 A unit, which served as home for NBC Sports’ final U.S. Open production

Inside NEP’s ND3 A unit, which served as home for NBC Sports’ final U.S. Open production

“It’s pretty straightforward,” said NEP Technical Manager Ken Carpenter, who oversees NBC’s golf operations. “This is our third time here for an Open, and none of the cable runs are ridiculous.”

The 60 cameras on the course included five RF minis, two wireless Inertia Unlimited X-Mos, a wireless Steadicam, and a wireless Flycam. There were also some POV cameras, including on a tree at the fifth hole and on the bronze statue of Payne Stewart behind the 18th green.

Each Open championship tends to provide unique challenges because the courses and compound layouts can vary wildly. The first challenge for the 2014 edition was getting cables across dirt roads, which required that the cables be buried. The other challenge was the heat during setup, when temps hit the mid to upper 90s; during the tourney, temperatures hovered in the mid 80s.

NBC’s production home for the weekend included NEP’s ND3 (which had a quick turnaround after working the Belmont Stakes in New York the weekend before), SS24 A and B, ESU, and ST41. CP Communications was also on hand for RF support.

ESPN’s focus was its Thursday-Friday coverage, along with the DirecTV ITV service and USGA streaming show, which were both in play all weekend. Game Creek Larkspur was home to the studio-production team; the ITV feeds were produced in Game Creek FX A and B. Game Creek Northstar, meanwhile, housed the USGA control room. — Ken Kerschbaumer

FIFA WORLD CUP
Brazil

The month-long 2014 FIFA World Cup delivered massive ratings in the U.S. and thrilled fans around the globe with exhilarating action from the pitch. A dramatic conclusion in Rio de Janeiro — Germany’s 1-0 extra-time win over Argentina in the Final — put the finishing touches on a massively high-rated tournament with a parade of cutting-edge new production technologies, highlighted by successful 4K and 8K operations by FIFA TV and NHK, respectively.

ESPN located its primary operations center, including control room and studio, at Copacabana Beach, rather than at the International Broadcast Center.

ESPN located its primary operations center, including control room and studio, at Copacabana Beach, rather than at the International Broadcast Center.

FIFA TV, Host Broadcast Services (HBS), and a legion of rightsholding broadcasters rolled out massive production operations within IBC in the Barra da Tijuca district of Rio de Janeiro. The IBC, which measured 55,000 sq. meters, comprised key facilities for the event: master-control room, central equipment room, production center, production-control room, and quality-control room. More than 85 broadcasters called it home during the tournament, making use of 17 TV studios, more than 70 miles of primary and secondary cable, 350 40-in. HD screens, and a 6,000-sq.-meter satellite farm. Built in less than five months, it was located at Riocentro, west of Rio de Janeiro (about 10 miles from the Estádio Maracanã).

And then there was ESPN, which saw off-the-chart TV ratings, fans’ consuming content on mobile devices at a record pace, countless beautiful shots from the network’s studio on Copacabana Beach, and one infamous bolt of lightning that temporarily shut down its primary studio. But, for ESPN SVP/Executive Producer Jed Drake and much of his team, it ended a World Cup run that began in Germany in 2006, grew in South Africa in 2010, and exploded in Brazil. “What we have accomplished here,” Drake said, “is mind-blowing as it was just an enormous leap.” — KK

MLB ALL-STAR GAME & HOME RUN DERBY
Target Field, Minneapolis
The MLB All-Star Game has always been an “active test site” of sorts for Fox Sports. Although the Midsummer Classic is one of the premier sports events of the summer, Fox’s production team uses the A-level broadcast as a technological tryout with an eye toward October and the postseason. In 2014, the network pulled out all the stops with what it boasted was the “most technologically advanced MLB All-Star Game broadcast in history.”

ESPN located its primary operations center, including control room and studio, at Copacabana Beach, rather than at the International Broadcast Center.

Fox Sports erected this on-field set and another one inside Target Field for its 86th MLB All-Star Game coverage.

To cover the action, Fox deployed 4K workflows, futuristic graphics enhancements, and a bevy of high–frame-rate cameras. With Fox Sports working from Game Creek Video’s FX series of production trucks, it was truly a summer night to remember. “There’s a lot of enhancements that we used in the last MLB postseason,” said Mike Davies, SVP, technical and field operations, Fox Sports, “and those tools have only gotten better.”

Prior to the game itself, ESPN’s coverage, headlined by the Home Run Derby, had a whole new production workflow with NEP’s EN1 Monday Night Football mobile production facility (A, B, C, D, and E units) on hand. EN1 streamlined the operation, putting all the various onsite productions under one roof. Throughout three days of festivities in Minneapolis, ESPN produced the live-to-tape Taco Bell All-Star Legends & Celebrity Softball Game, the live Gillette Home Run Derby, shoulder programming for Baseball Tonight, live hits for SportsCenter, and ESPN Deportes operations. At previous All-Star Games, ESPN had multiple trucks, each independently focusing on a piece of the programming pie. EN1, however, is robust enough to house all the properties. — Brandon Costa

US OPEN
USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Flushing, NY
After being at the center of broadcast operations for the US Open tennis tournament since 1968, CBS Sports covered its last Open in 2014: this year, ESPN takes over rights and production duties as part of an 11-year deal. But that didn’t prevent the CBS Sports team from ensuring that its role at the center of the 2014 production action was topnotch.

F&F Productions’ GTX17 mobile unit, which debuted at the US Open tennis tournament, housed ESPN’s and CBS’s productions.

F&F Productions’ GTX17 mobile unit, which debuted at the US Open tennis tournament, housed ESPN’s and CBS’s productions.

“We’re not looking to shortchange this show,” said CBS Sports Senior Engineer Nick Muro, who worked for CBS at the Open for more than 30 years. “We’re bringing the same class of coverage we do to every other event, and we are as committed to doing this show as well as we can.”

For the 2014 edition, coverage of seven televised courts was produced out of a large, double-stacked cabin and a number of remote-production units. F&F’s GTX17 handled CBS and ESPN production duties; GTX16 was responsible for Tennis Channel coverage. NEP’s Skyline, SS11, ST27, SS16, and ST28 covered Courts 3, 5, 17, 11, and 13, respectively (ST27 also shared 2M/E of the SS11 production switcher). Late in the tournament, Courts 11 and 13 were no longer televised so that the trucks could service the needs of the CBS Sports Network.

Taking over US Open coverage, ESPN is looking for ideas from a familiar spot in building out its own compound in Flushing, according to EVP of Event Production Jamie Reynolds: “Wimbledon, with the BBC and Visions, has a good infrastructure that we may look to as a model for how to do New York next year because the metrics and scale are similar.” — KK

RYDER CUP
Gleneagles, Scotland
For the fifth time, European Tour Productions (ETP) and its production-services provider, CTV Outside Broadcasts, were at the center of Ryder Cup host operations. CTV OB also provided fiber connectivity for Sky Sports, the OB1 unit for Golf Channel, the OB7 unit for Turner Sports/PGA.com, highlights facilities for the BBC, and on-course power kits and IFBs for BBC Radio and IMG Radio. Among the greatest challenges for ETP and CTV OB was the fact that the course was located more than a mile from the compound and was divided into three distinct areas, requiring separate fiber and RF support for each.

The NBC Sports Ryder Cup replay area shown here operating in a 5,180-sq.-ft. cabin.

The NBC Sports Ryder Cup replay area operated in a 5,180-sq.-ft. cabin.

“Hosting is a lot easier because you control it a lot more and, therefore, are more part of the conversations to make sure you have the correct infrastructure,” explained Hamish Greig, technical director, CTV OB. “When we work unilaterally, we are piggybacking and need to make things work accordingly. But it is a lot less frantic piggybacking.”

NBC Sports called a 5,180-sq.-ft. cabin home in Gleneagles in an effort to ensure that a staff of more than 200 had room to be comfortable and work as efficiently as possible. Four years ago, when the Ryder Cup was held in Wales, NBC Sports operated out of a production truck and a cabin for EVS. This year, however, NBC enlisted the help of NEP Visions to outfit the large cabin.

“It was really tight [in 2013]. People were almost sitting on top of each other, and we struggled,” said Ken Carpenter, technical manager, NBC Sports. “This makes it more comfortable, and director Tommy Roy can have the control room set up the way he wants.” — KK

WORLD SERIES
Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, MO
AT&T Park, San Francisco
Never was the Fox Sports flair more apparent than in the 2014 tech-centric World Series coverage. Fox’s World Series production (winner of the Sports Emmy for Outstanding Live Sports Special in 2010 and 2013) featured a record 38 cameras, including eight high-speed systems and two in-ground DiamondCams; a cavalcade of virtual-graphics and augmented-reality elements; and more than 80 microphones scattered throughout Kauffman Stadium and AT&T Park.

One of Fox’s record-high 38 game-coverage cameras at the World Series

One of Fox’s record-high 38 game-coverage cameras at the World Series

Thirty-eight cameras and 70 EVS replay channels (12 EVS servers in all) may seem like overkill, but SVP of Technical and Field Operations Mike Davies said that, when it comes to a massive show like the World Series, “every camera has a purpose.”

With Fox Sports 1 supplying several hours of shoulder coverage daily from Los Angeles via Fox Sports Live and America’s Pregame, as well as the broadcast network’s pre/postgame shows, Fox rolled out plenty of remote facilities in both Kansas City and San Francisco.

The front bench inside Fox Sports’ Game Creek Dynasty A unit

The front bench inside Fox Sports’ Game Creek Dynasty A unit

In Kansas City, NEP’s NCPX (A and B units) and customizable Super B truck were on hand for game production, along with NCPXIV to produce the onsite studio pre/postgame show (with the set located in left centerfield). When the Series headed west for Game 3, Fox relied on Game Creek Video’s Dynasty (A and B units), the D unit from its FX fleet, and Bexel’s BBS One mobile support unit for game coverage and Game Creek’s Yankee Clipper for the studio show. — Jason Dachman