Road Warriors: 2015 in Review, Part 2

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 for the second half of 2015 (CLICK HERE for Part 1 of Road Warriors: 2015 in Review):

U.S. Open Championship
Chambers Bay, University Place, WA

Fox Sports’ coverage of the U.S. Open golf championship from Chambers Bay Golf Course near Tacoma, WA, in July not only was its debut at a major golf tournament but was also arguably the largest single-network golf production in history. The coverage involved more than 500 technical-crew members, 100 production staffers, 115 cameras on the course, and even more channels of replay pumping through Game Creek’s new Encore production unit.

5-USOpenGolf-InsideTruckEncore was key to the entire effort. Physical-design innovations allow its three trailers to expand to a larger size than previous vehicles. But, given the number of camera sources (119) and replay channels (more than 150) and the desire to have as many of them as possible on view in the front bench, there was a need for innovation in routing. The unit has an Evertz IP-based router at its core.

“I don’t think there is a truck in the world that could have handled this show,” said Brad Cheney, director, technical operations, Fox Sports. “Nothing else comes close to the physical and technological size of Encore.”

Other Game Creek units were also in use by Fox: Pride handled the studio show, and Glory and Justice worked on the U.S. Open 360 stream as well as the featured-group and featured-hole streams.

The coverage deployed 118 cameras, including 20 RF cameras, 35 hard cameras, and a rail camera that provided a tracking shot along a portion of the 18th fairway. Eleven audio mixers handled signals from 202 microphones. And 29 EVS XT3 replay servers provided more than 150 channels of recording. Sixty-one miles of fiber was laid as the foundation of coverage. — KK

MLB All-Star Game
Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati

Fox Sports’ busy summer of high-profile events continued with the MLB All-Star Game. As it does every year for the Midsummer Classic, Fox trotted out a few innovative production elements, headlined by a cinema-style MōVI three-axis gyro-stabilized handheld camera and a revamped version of Inertia Unlimited’s DirtCam deployed at three infield positions. Game Creek’s FX trucks (A and B units) were on hand for the All-Star Game production, with its Glory (A and B) handling the studio shows throughout Monday and Tuesday. Game Creek’s Edit 1 truck was also on hand for Fox’s features and postproduction team.

7-MLB-All-Star-Fox-Set-3“There are a lot of moving parts, but [MLB] Postseason made us get to where we are, and now we know what to expect,” said Francisco Contreras, director, field operations, Fox Sports. “And, to be quite honest with you, it’s gotten kind of easier because you have a great team in every department … and we’ve been building out a great operations team for baseball.”

For Home Run Derby coverage, ESPN rolled out a massive show powered by its EN1 mobile unit. The show featured the MLB debut of a 3G wireless CatcherCam and included an increased role for Baseball Tonight and MLBAM’s Statcast player-tracking and analytics platform.

MLB Network had five mobile units and 31 cameras at Great American Ball Park for its studio programming and to support MLBAM, the world-feed production, and other MLB operations. Game Creek’s Pride A and B units handled studio shows and primary transmission, its Apollo manned the red-carpet show, and Dome Productions’ Atlantic and Unite produced the Futures and world-feed shows. — JD

Pan Am Games
Toronto

With 41 countries participating in 36 sports (more than at the 2012 Summer Olympics), producing a world feed for the quadrennial Pan Am Games is no easy feat. Host broadcaster CBC tapped Broadcast Services International (BSI) to design, engineer, and build the technical facilities for the International Broadcast Centre (IBC), the heart of the Pan Am Games production. BSI began design work in 2013, working alongside the TO2015 Organizing Committee to ensure that the needs of both host and unilateral broadcasters would be met. In addition to host broadcaster CBC, the IBC provides facilities for CBC’s domestic coverage, ESPN and ESPN Deportes, Claro Sports Mexico, Rede Record Brazil, SporTV Brazil, TYC Argentina, TVN Chile, and ICRT Cuba, as well as for a pool of additional broadcasters under the Pan Am Sports Organization umbrella.

8-PanAmGames-TruckDomestically, CBC broadcast nearly 750 hours of coverage in English and French, with another 650 hours of live-streaming coverage on desktops and mobile app. As the Games’ host broadcaster, CBC had the ultimate home-court advantage: its network headquarters, located less than 2 miles away. And, although host-broadcaster CBC leveraged its at-home editing facilities to create the host feed, domestic-broadcaster CBC — an entirely separate operation — redlined on its at-home control rooms, studios, and staff to create a Pan Am Games show tailored specifically for a Canadian audience.

Meanwhile, ESPN and ESPN Deportes worked side by side to deliver the Games to English- and Spanish-speaking audiences in the U.S. and abroad. The two networks were headquartered in Corus Quay, a commercial office building on the Toronto waterfront roughly 2½ miles from the IBC. The building housed three studio areas, while the production-control room lived at the IBC. — Karen Hogan

US Open
USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Flushing, NY

A new era began at the US Open when ESPN took over as host broadcaster and sole domestic-rights holder. The broadcast compound, traditionally a carnival of interconnected trucks and trailers serving a variety of broadcasters, became the embodiment of organization, thanks to ESPN’s newly built 13,500-sq-ft. two-story broadcast center and the streamlined 3,500-sq.-ft. administration-office trailer across the street.

9-USOpenTennis-ESPN-Production-center-2storyThe spick-and-span appearance was no accident. ESPN was intent on building a regimented, flexible, and scalable operation as it embarked on its 11-year rights deal with the USTA, taking over as host broadcaster from CBS Sports and carrying every single point of the tournament on ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPN3. The media giant tapped Gearhouse Broadcast, which played a key role in its Australian Open buildout, to serve as the primary systems integrator.

“You will hear this mantra from us a lot: expandable and flexible,” said ESPN Director of Remote Operations Terry Brady. “Instead of connecting multiple mobile units, we centralized the entire operation under one roof. We looked at it as a great opportunity for ESPN to step forward in this realm.”

ESPN covered seven linear-TV courts with traditional manned cameras and audio. Four other courts had Hawk-Eye SMART coverage with automated cameras following the action. More than 250 technicians, 32 engineers, and more than a dozen operations staffers were on hand for ESPN’s host, domestic, and international operations — with a whopping 650-plus total ESPN credentials issued. — JD & KK

World Series
New York City and Kansas City

Despite “the power outage heard round the world” that caused a brief but memorable disruption in Fox Sports’ telecast, this year’s World Series was among the most technologically advanced ever. Fox Sports’ coverage featured the newly deployed MōVI three-axis gyro-stabilized RF handheld camera and a half dozen high-speed cameras running at various frames per second.

Never one to skimp on slo-mo, Fox deployed a high-speed–camera complement that includes a Vision Research Phantom system provided by Inertia Unlimited (shooting at 3,000 fps at low first and low third), two Inertia Unlimited X-Mo systems (shooting at 400 fps at mid first base and tight centerfield), three Sony HDC-4300 8X slo-mo cameras (two in tight center and one at mid third), and a Vision Research 4K Flex (shooting at 1,000 fps) using an AJA Corvid 4K scaler for hyper-zoom functionality. Also included in the 39-camera complement at the World Series was up to three Inertia Unlimited Dirtcams (branded Diamond Cams in the Fox telecast) in front of home plate, behind first base, and in front of second base. The ultra-mini camera sticks up only 0.1 in. above the dirt and can pan to show the runner leading off and plays in the infield. Fox also deployed 20-plus standard HD cameras and eight robos, and a blimp in Kansas City and a fixed-wing plane in New York will provide aerial shots.

Fox-Sports-World-Series-KC-Compound-1

Sony-owned Hawkeye Technology pitch-tracking will provide graphics from centerfield and third-base perspectives. Hawkeye, first used by Fox at July’s MLB All-Star Game, tracks pitch speed and break data and creates a 3D strike zone over home plate and indicates where the pitch passed through. – BC, JD, and KK