Carolina Panthers Video Team Up to the Challenge of Super Bowl Season

‘We are almost a small TV station that just happens to reside inside an NFL organization.’

The red-hot Carolina Panthers hit a key stretch about the middle of last season’s schedule: four straight games against the Seattle Seahawks, Philadelphia Eagles, Indianapolis Colts, and Green Bay Packers. The team swept all four games and was 8-0. Suddenly, a promising season had become a potentially historic one for the 20-year-old franchise, and yet the team behind Panthers TV didn’t change a thing.

Rob Paul (left) and Tom Butler on the Panthers TV team that was onsite to produce content during Super Bowl 50.

Rob Paul (left) and Tom Butler on the Panthers TV team that was onsite to produce content during Super Bowl 50.

“Our coverage, with all of the content we are creating day in and day out, I would like to think is complete,” says Greg Brannon, executive producer, TV broadcasting and digital media, Carolina Panthers. “We’ve got a philosophy that, if you are doing a certain level of work and that work is excellent and your team starts winning, there’s an exponential bump in results. I’ve always told our people, we need to be even better when we’re losing than when we’re winning. So, change our approach? No. Because that only makes me wonder, well, what were you doing before?”

The Carolina Panthers boast a deep and robust in-house content-production and -distribution team that churns out radio, television, and digital video for fans year-round. So it should come as little surprise that, when the football team earned a trip to Super Bowl 50, the production unit was up to the challenge.

From Santa Clara, the video team created 5½ hours of live television content through TV partner Time Warner Cable, live-streamed every press conference to the Panthers website, and created an ocean of web and social content to offer fans insider access to activity before the big game.

“We are almost a small TV station that just happens to reside inside an NFL organization,” explains Brannon, who has been with the Panthers since 2000. “The big advantage to having that much video production going on is that there is a natural cross-function with [digital] and social platforms from a video standpoint.”

The content team features 13 full-timers creating content across all platforms. Their roles include field producer, camera operator, editors, writers, social-media directors, web developer, graphic artist, and still photographers. Throughout the season, Brannon plugs any holes with freelancers.

Having all arms of content creation and distribution — including TV, digital, and social — has proved a huge benefit for the Panthers.

Mike Craft records content on the field at Levi's Stadium prior to Super Bowl 50.

Mike Craft records content on the field at Levi’s Stadium prior to Super Bowl 50.

“Content generation is the life blood of what we do, across all of our platforms, and the beauty in what we do is [that], because we have all of these platforms under one department, there’s constant communication,” Brannon points out. “We don’t have to pull everyone together and ask what’s going to happen here and what’s going to happen there? We have enough people who have been around long enough that [they know] what game day is going to be like. You know you’ve got a camera working the sideline with an audio kit and a fishbowl boom mic, so you know the type of stuff you are going to get. We’ll need some of that stuff for our Gameday show on Sunday night, but we can also pull some really good stuff to do a little social snippet.”

To acquire footage, the video-production team regularly deploys four Sony 800 XDCAMs on the field for game and sideline action. It also uses a Sony PXW-FS7, even though Brannon notes that his staff doesn’t dabble much in 4K. Instead, a long lens is put on the PXW-FS7, and its feed is used for artsy, cinematic shots. The team also records all footage taken in by PanthervIsion, the in-house in-venue–entertainment unit.

Throughout the year, the production team relies heavily on its own TV studio and control room, located in the Panthers main complex and fibered to the rest of the building. It is home to eight weekly TV programs that Panthers TV produces and distributes to every market in North Carolina and South Carolina. The Panthers also have a deal with Time Warner Cable that hits their specific markets in the Carolinas.

When the Panthers claimed home-field advantage with a 15-1 season record, it was a major benefit to the Panthers TV team, which was able to work at home and continue to work as they had all season.

When the team made the Super Bowl, however, that was another story.

Stephen Manderville shoots on-field action during a regular-season game.

Stephen Manderville shoots on-field action during a regular-season game.

For a normal away game, the Panthers typically travel two writers, two video shooters, a still photographer, and one utility staffer. The Super Bowl was, of course, not just any other away game.

“I just knew,” says Brannon, “that, because of what we had done through the season, if we made it to Santa Clara, the entire department needed to go, so we could continue to produce at our level.”

But, with the whole production team headed to the West Coast, how could it continue to fill its daily television obligations?

“To me, it made no sense to have your whole team on the West Coast and you’re doing TV shows out of your studio in Charlotte,” says Brannon, who worked his relationship with Time Warner Cable to solve the problem.

Through Time Warner, the video team was able to arrange that a production truck and a satellite truck were dedicated to the Panthers’ practice facility in the Bay Area. From there, Brannon and his team were able to erect a pop-up set on the team’s practice field after practice and host six television shows — five of them live — that went out to the team’s 13-station Carolina network.

The production team was able to continue its service to fans by streaming press conferences live to the Panthers website. In Santa Clara, press conferences were live-streamed despite the video team’s not being in its fibered-up facility at home, thanks to TVU Networks. Using a TVU pack in Santa Clara, the Panthers were able to connect with the base TVU unit in Charlotte, which is tied into the team’s live-streaming computer. One staffer stayed in Charlotte to monitor the streams.

“The beauty of TVU is that, when you flip that thing on, it locks in almost immediately,” says Brannon. “We were able to stream [quarterback] Cam Newton’s daily press conferences and [coach] Ron Rivera’s daily press conferences using TVU, and that was fantastic for us.”

On top of that, the department had a room in the team hotel, where it set up editing stations. Brannon’s team shipped a full Avid system to Santa Clara to accompany two Avid laptop editing systems and also rented an additional Avid with ISIS storage. All four editing systems were connected for easy sharing of projects.

“Because of that setup, we were able to do all of the things that we normally would do,” says Brannon. “If social media needed a video, we were able to do that. If [the website] wanted something, we had the ability to do that as well.”