Road Warriors: 2015 in Review, Part 1

by Brandon Costa, Jason Dachman, Karen Hogan, and Ken Kerschbaumer

2015 was an extremely busy year for remote sports production in North America, highlighted by a summer that included major multinational events like the FIFA Women’s World Cup and the Pan Am Games. Meanwhile, new rights agreements changed the landscape: Fox Sports assembled a massive production for its first U.S. Open Championship, and ESPN took over as sole domestic-rights holder and host broadcaster at the US Open tennis championships. Throw in annual behemoths like the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, Super Bowl, NBA All-Star Game, NCAA Final Four, and the MLB All-Star Game, and it all added up to be quite a year for the live-sports-production community on the road. Here’s a look at some of the highlights from the first half of 2015:

College Football Playoff National Championship Game
AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX

ESPN brought back its ultra-robust Megacast this year at the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, a programming assault in which virtually every outlet of the ESPN family offered a unique way of watching Ohio State’s underdog victory over Oregon on Jan. 12.

1-CFP-Championship-cameras2“I have been on Super Bowls, World Series, Olympics,” said ESPN Director of Remote Operations John LaChance during preparations. “This is by far the largest-magnitude event that I’ve had the privilege of overseeing.”

ESPN’s game-production crew — working out of a loaded compound housing eight Game Creek Video trucks (Spirit served as the main game unit) — deployed more than 40 cameras and had approximately 60 camera sources at its disposal, given all the shared resources used for Megacast and for in-stadium entertainment at AT&T Stadium. The traditional game coverage featured 11 hard Sony HDC-2500 cameras, two cabled handheld 2500s, four RF 2500s, three more 2500s serving as support cameras (jibs, clock/score), six standard robotic units equipped with Sony P1 cameras, a Sony P1 Steadicam, and more. Aerially, viewers saw angles from Spidercam, Flycam, and an airship above the stadium. ESPN also made a substantial 4K commitment to this year’s coverage, with five hard Sony F55 cameras distributed around the bowl and four I-MOVIX Phantom robotic units positioned at the near and far sides on each goal line. On top of all of that, the main game production had 10 camera sources in place to program the Megacast, four AT&T Stadium in-house feeds for the venue’s videoboard production, and inbound feeds from the Columbus, OH, and Eugene, OR, campuses. — Brandon Costa & Ken Kerschbaumer

Super Bowl XLIX
University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ

It simply does not get any bigger than the Super Bowl, and, this year, NBC Sports Group was tasked with producing what would become the most-watched television program in U.S. history. As is the case every year at the big game, Super Bowl XLIX packed a technological wallop, with NBC, ESPN, NFL Network, and others deploying massive operations and cutting-edge production tools at University of Phoenix Stadium and in downtown Phoenix during Super Bowl Week.

2-SuperBowl-Cameraman4Super Bowl XLIX marked the culmination of three years of planning by the team at NBC Sports and its primary production partner on the event, NEP. The game also wrapped up a very busy week, during which NEP’s ND6 production unit (along with SS16) was at the center of operations from Super Bowl Central in downtown Phoenix.

“Everything worked out because of the planning,” said NEP Technical Manager John Roché. “The big issue was the field moving in and out of the stadium, but, with a lot of preplanning, we were able to build and get everything ready.”

The operations team — headed by Ken Goss, SVP, remote operations and production planning, NBC Sports; Tim DeKime, director of operations, NBC Sports; and Roché — showed its experience as well, the game marking the team’s third Super Bowl. NEP’s ND1, used all season for Sunday Night Football, served as the main production unit. NBC also deployed Double Eagle, NBC’s golf truck; SS24 for the studio show and tape release; and the ESU unit for transmission and to tie all the trucks together. — KK

NBA All-Star Game
Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center, New York City

The NBA All-Star Game took over New York for the weekend with activities at both Madison Square Garden in Manhattan and the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. There were plenty of new bells and whistles in the broadcast of NBA All-Star Saturday from Brooklyn and the All-Star Game Sunday night, but the two main events were only part of the massive production puzzle that was NBA All-Star Weekend. Operations in both Brooklyn and Manhattan covered more than half a dozen events prior to the game itself.

3-NBA-All-Star-MSG-Front“Because of all the activities, we had to have dedicated crews for both venues,” said Tom Sahara, VP, operations and technology, Turner Sports, during preparations. “This is a great example of cooperation and collaboration between Turner Sports and ESPN, NBA TV, and NBA Entertainment just to make all the logistics work.”

MSG was home to NEP’s SS24 (A, B, and C units) for the game, SS32 and ST32 for the studio show, ESU2 for transmission, and TS1 (formerly Turner Studios’ truck) for entertainment/musical-acts operations at MSG. Bexel’s BBS1 was on hand with three editing systems, and CP Communications’ truck handled RF audio. NBA Entertainment’s world feed used MTVG’s HDX30, and Lyon 14 was shared by ESPN for Friday’s Celebrity Game and NBA TV’s studio operations on Saturday and Sunday.

Barclays Center, meanwhile, was home to NEP’s NCPX (A and B) for All-Star Saturday Night, NCPXI (A and B) for the studio show, Super B for transmission, and SS22 (A and B) for NBA TV studio operations and the Rising Stars game. — Jason Dachman & KK

NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four and Championship Game
Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis

CBS and Turner Sports continued to operate under a shared-rights deal for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Shared production resources, facilities, sets, and programming helped enable the massive technical and operations undertaking.

4-FinalFour-TechnoCrane“This partnership just continues to grow, and, each year, it just gets better and better,” said Sahara. “These shows continue to grow, and the level of integration gets deeper and deeper. This is all one family.”

A large crew and gear arsenal was deployed at Lucas Oil Stadium and the surrounding areas, with more than 350 production personnel, close to 40 cameras, 12 production trucks, two sets, and more. Specialty cameras included a custom-built, robotic Rail Cam, Skycam, massive jib, and three Grass Valley 6X slo-mo cameras.

There were two truck compounds inside the stadium — housing units from F&F Productions, NEP Broadcasting, and Bexel — to handle the main game production and the two team-specific TeamStream shows that aired on TNT, TBS, and/or truTV parallel to the main game. The main game truck was F&F’s GTX-17, the supplier’s latest. A tangible sign of the broadcasters’ increased unity was the introduction of an F&F unit that offered their production teams one place where they could collaboratively monitor all incoming and outbound feeds — a first for the production. — BC

FIFA Women’s World Cup
Canada

The day Fox Sports captured the rights to FIFA’s World Cup events, it was clear that the network was committed to making a splash with coverage of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015. And that is exactly what it did in Vancouver, with a media headquarters featuring a stunning 5,400-sq.-ft. set and a massive 7,500-sq.-ft. operations area.

6-WorldCup-SetExteriorConstruction of the set at Jack Poole Plaza provided Fox Sports a broadcast home that not only gave the production team and talent plenty of room but also offered a dramatic backdrop of Vancouver Harbour and the mountains from one side and an equally dramatic view of the Olympic flame and downtown Vancouver from the other. The overall footprint of the studio was 84 x 44 ft. and included two 84-in. touchscreen monitors; 12 cameras, including a Super Techno 50-ft. crane-cam that could retract at 7 ft. per second; a drone capturing aerial shots in and around the set; a 21- x 11-ft. LED screen; a three-sided ticker; and a soccer demonstration field. “You can’t appreciate the size of this until you get here and see it in person,” said Kevin Callahan, director of technical operations, Fox Sports.

Every great studio set needs a great technical facility and team. More than 150 people were involved with the production, and the set at Jack Poole Plaza was connected to a production facility inside the nearby Vancouver Convention Centre packed with equipment provided by VER. The facility housed production offices, a central equipment room with EVS servers and a Grass Valley Nvision router, an audio-playback–control room based on a Calrec audio console, video control to shade the Sony cameras on set, and more. – KK

CLICK HERE for Part 2 of Road Warriors: 2015 in Review.