NFL Pro Bowl To Let Viewers Hear the Game Unfiltered

Extra QB mics, live mics on handhelds and Spidercam will create an immersive experience

The NFL Pro Bowl (Jan. 31, ESPN) is the fans’ opportunity to see football’s best of the best in a single matchup, but it’s also the one time every year that they get to hear the inside of the game to an extent impossible during regular-season play.

Player microphones on the offensive centers, under the control of the league during the regular season, are sent directly to the network unfiltered for this game, as are mics on all six quarterbacks rotating through the game. Team areas that are off limits to microphones during the season are able to go live, as are mics on handheld cameras covering the huddles from the sidelines and the Spidercam microphone, which is usually muted up to the snap.

Pro Bowl 2016“You are really hearing the entire football game for the first time each year,” says A1 Scott Pray, a Pro Bowl audio veteran. He will be mixing this year’s show from Aloha Stadium in Honolulu in discrete 5.1 surround from the NEP ND4 Double Eagle production unit equipped with a 68-fader Calrec Alpha console with Bluefin DSP and Genelec 8030 monitors.

“We have a enough microphones to really bring you inside the game,” he says. “And, besides the additional microphones, such as on the sidelines and in the huddles, the NFL gives us a lot more freedom to use them.”

Another NFL audio veteran, Jonathan Freed, will be handling the submix from the field, which, thanks to the additional microphones, will be more complex and richer-sounding than for a typical regular-season game.

The microphone attached to the Steadicam, rarely used during the rest of the season, will also be available throughout the game. “Normally, we’d have to keep that mic off during the huddles, as well as the microphones on the sideline cameras,” says Pray. “But the NFL gives us free rein during this game, and the sound is much bigger as a result. We can acquire sound that is off limits the rest of the time.”

That extends to the coaches’ communications system; Kansas City Chiefs’ Andy Reid and Green Bay Packers’ Mike McCarthy will act as the game’s coaches. Team captains (and hall of famers) Jerry Rice (winning 2014 Pro Bowl captain) and Michael Irvin (winning 2015 Pro Bowl captain) will wear wireless microphones. As a result, viewers will be able to hear the opposing head coaches call plays over the wireless system, then hear the quarterbacks relay those instructions and set up their lines accordingly, and ultimately see and hear the plays executed. At the same time, field-camera microphones and parabolic microphones will be able to get in closer and more consistently to the team areas and the sidelines, offering more-contextual sound. That’s all on top of the standard crowd and other effects sounds added to the submix.

Audio for the Draft
Players will be assigned to teams through the Pro Bowl Draft presented by USAA, which will air on Wednesday Jan. 27 on ESPN2. Pray will mix that event as well and notes that the venue — a voluminous aircraft hangar at Army/Air Force Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickham— will present its own acoustical challenges.

“It’s a big, reverberant area but with a small audience of military personnel and with an entertainment area nearby,” he explains. “We’re unsure of the acoustics at this point, and we’re going to have as many as six people on the stage, so we’ve decided ahead of time to use close miking.”

In this case, he will deploy Sennheiser HSP 4 condenser cardioid neckband microphones. In addition, because of the potential for RF problems on a military base, floor reporters will likely use wired microphones and be stationed at fixed locations in the venue, with interview subjects brought to those locations.

Notes Pray, “It’s much more predictable that way.”