Live from Super Bowl XLIX: NFL Network Shifts into Game Day Mode

The NFL Network has offered up 87 hours of live programming over the past week from seven sets located in the Phoenix downtown area and today much of the effort shifts over to the University of Phoenix Stadium where two sets will be put to use, including a new one that offers a lower profile that best meets the needs of the stadium.

Dave Shaw on one of the NFL Network sets on Radio Row in the Super Bowl Media Center.

Dave Shaw on one of the NFL Network sets on Radio Row in the Super Bowl Media Center.

“We used Filmwerks to build an interesting set for us as when we sat down a few months ago we realized the walls [around the field] are low and our outdoor set for “Thursday Night Football” would not get down low enough,” says Dave Shaw, NFL Media, vice president of technical operations and engineering.

The result is a simple platform with telescoping towers on each side of the stage that will rise up and hold the lighting truss. When the pre-game coverage ends the towers retract and the total height for the stage will be only 4-foot 4-inches tall, compared to 7 feet for the other set.

“Plus it can be moved into place and be ready in less than six minutes,” adds Shaw.

Shaw expects the new set to have an ongoing role in NFL Network operations, as there will be plenty of opportunities in the future where a stage with a shorter height will come in handy.

The new set caps off a week that Shaw says has gone great, especially considering that the network programmed 87 hours of live content from seven sets, standup locations at team hotels and elsewhere, and more.

Game Creek Glory and FX played a key part in NFL Network Super Bowl week programming.

Game Creek Glory and FX played a key part in NFL Network Super Bowl week programming.

Shaw has spent much of his week at the Phoenix Convention Center where the NFL Network relied on Game Creek’s Glory and FX to provide much of the production and editing support for live programming. While one truck was on air the other truck would be prepping for the next show, giving the production teams about 90 minutes of rehearsal time.

“The central compound helped because feeds would come in and leave from a central router so any of the 22 cameras from the multiple sets could be routed into either truck,” says Shaw.

The sets in use included two at Super Bowl Central, a large set in the middle of the NFL Experience in the PCC, and three different sets in the Media Center. A set was also located in the Social Media Command Center and a set was put up for Media Day last Tuesday at the U.S. Airways Arena. Game Creek Pride was used at Media Day before heading to the stadium last Wednesday.

A total of 364 fibers were run around the compound and the nine-block area downtown where most of the events took place. Level 3, The Switch, and Azzuro provided transmission to Culver City, with two of the three being at each location.

NFL Network's Total Access set inside the NFL Experience at Super Bowl XLIX.

NFL Network’s Total Access set inside the NFL Experience at Super Bowl XLIX.

Today’s big game ends a long run of 17 days for some of the production team as the Pro Bowl was held at the stadium last week. Game Creek Pride, for example, was at the Biltmore Hotel to cover the Pro Bowl draft.

“From a facilities standpoint it is easier to have the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl in the same city because you can latch onto the assets, operators, and equipment,” says Shaw. “But you do need to coordinate a separate crew for each event.”

Shaw says the NFL Network team worked a lot closer with NFL Digital this year as the NFL Now app, launched this year, requires some dedicated studio space in the NFL Network facility in Culver City, CA.

“Likewise, here in Phoenix we had Game Creek Patriot dedicated to do the digital programming and they had two of their own sets,” says Shaw. “Also on Media Day we send 10 independent feeds back to Culver City so they could stream live from the podium cameras and with live reports.”

Reporter hits from around town also made use of the Live Link fiber system that could feed muxed feeds to the central compound and Culver City, CA.

There is still plenty of work to be done today but it won’t be long before Super Bowl 50 planning begins in earnest. The 50th Super Bowl will be a massive milestone for the league and there is little doubt that the hype and programming efforts will reach new levels. And similarly to this year (and to last year in New York) the stadium is located well outside of San Francisco but San Francisco is where much of the pre-game activities will take place.

“We are working together with the production team very closely on that and there are so many iconic locations in San Francisco,” says Shaw. “But the NFL Network will do more, have more talent, and be in more places. And that is the challenge we’re looking forward to as we pick the core locations and have an opportunity to build a foundation.”