The official start of the fall season is just around the corner. You know what that means: cooler weather, sweaters, football, and for some, pumpkin spice everything.
One thing that many Houstonians and Texans in general are excited about is football. This football season is extra special because Houston will be hosting Super Bowl LI, the championship game of the NFL. Hosting such a huge sports event takes a ton of hard work and people working around the clock. Camera operators, cable wranglers, sportscasters, sports producers, and more have to make sure that they are doing their jobs well. In live sports, it’s crucial to be able to capture big moments at the right time. If you miss something or make a bunch of mistakes, it’ll be hard to live it down. You only have one chance to get it right. Because of these high stakes, sports producers need to prepare extensively, have high quality, reliable video equipment, and a good crew from preparation all the way down to the end of the game. As Richie Zyontz, the lead producer for NFL on Fox, states, “There’s nothing like playing, but the closest thing that you can get to playing or coaching is being in TV and covering an NFL game.”
Let’s go behind the scenes to see how sports broadcasting works.
As any producer in sports will tell you, preparation is key. This period of time is crucial in preparing for everything that will happen or anything that may pop up unexpectedly during the game. When preparing for Game Day, sports producers have to take care of all the little details including making sure that everything is set up correctly, knowing all the facts about the teams playing, coordinating with the talent, and knowing their surroundings. According to 25-year veteran sports producer, Dennis Kirkpatrick, “There is no such thing as a normal day in the life of a television producer, every day is different even if you prepare the same each time. Without fail something unexpected happens from a production standpoint, frankly the very nature of sports is unpredictable, which I guess is why so many people like working in sports” (Workinsports.com).
Here we go…it’s game day! For sports producers and their crews, the day starts early especially if the game is earlier in the day. The first thing that producers need to do is make sure that everything is scripted out and the formats are in order. Once that is done, the producer has to make sure that the production truck is ready to go and all equipment is set up correctly. Oh, and as 25-year veteran sports producer Dennis Kirkpatrick recommends, buy breakfast or coffee and snacks for the crew “because if the crew is happy everyone will be happy.”
Cameras and Audio Set Up
Before the game, the crew, usually made up of people called grips, put cameras in their proper spots and plug cables into the cameras and wherever else they need to go. In football, there can be 13 cameras or more to manage depending on the production situation. In addition, you have to set up the audio and video for playback. Crew members have to test out cables and video feeds, check stats, wire the entire stadium, and make sure that all the different parts connect to each other. Sports Producers make sure that cameras are in the right places and the audio is set up properly. Sometimes, a technical manager will coordinate the technical aspects of a production if it is a big network game. In addition to checking the cameras and audio set up, producers have to check their schedules for the day and verify details such as the game time, etc.
In order to properly broadcast a football game, you need several production trucks, which were developed to take television studios on the road so video productions could be done remotely. Production trucks can transmit video to different places by using a microwave link, satellites, or fiber optic lines. The visiting team also has their own production trucks as well so that their local sportscasters can give a play-by-play or talk about the footage.
In a production truck, there are usually 84+ different monitors on a wall, a production switcher with 1,000+ buttons on a desk where the director sits, and the crew. At the front of the truck, the director is watching the screens and tells the technical director what to do such as “go to 4” or “fade to 15”. The technical director has to be ready to put any camera, person, or replay on TV by pressing the right buttons. The director has to think four or five steps ahead and make sure to catch all the important things that happen in order to guide the technical director. Behind them, the producer is also there speaking into the talent’s ear and to the crew via speakers and headsets. Another important person to have in the production truck is an audio consultant who will make sure that everything sounds as good as it looks. Some of the other members of the crew may include the camera operator, video tape operator, video technician, audio mix engineer, audio assistant A2, graphics operator, stage manager, utilities, and an engineer in charge (EIC).
Before the game, producers need to make sure that the tape elements and graphics are ready such as the show opening, feature stories, bookends, voice overs, and more. To do this, the graphics team has to prepare 1,000 graphics, making sure that every record or outcome is covered.
In another truck, the Fox Sports NFL crew also has a Cablecam, “the flying camera that shoots behind the line of scrimmage during plays, sees huddles from above, and finds players in spots no other camera can” (The Verge). The Cablecam has become a staple to Fox and it’s now a key piece of any NFL broadcast because the camera can get certain shots that others can’t capture.
The Verge has a great video that shows everything that goes on to prep and broadcast an NFL football game.[su_youtube url=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/u_V8IlitveE”]
On the Field and In the Press Box
Depending on the network, there are typically 2 broadcasters that are in the press box talking about football: the Main/Play-by-play commentator – the primary speaker that describes each play or event and the Analyst/Color commentator – he or she provides expert analysis and background information such as statistics and strategy. In addition, there is usually a Sideline reporter (on the sidelines of the field) who interviews the coaches and players. Typically, lavalier microphones are used as well as a handheld mic and headset mics. In addition to the two commentators mentioned earlier, there are usually radio, TV, and other media personnel inside the press box.
On the field, there are field producers, camera operators with the talent, PAs (production assistants), hair and makeup, audio people, a lighting person, and camera operators and cable wranglers. The camera operator and cable wranglers usually use production cameras called “hard cams”. Cameras are placed all over the field, sidelines, and even on zip-lines (Skycam). With the cameras placed all over, you get more angles and opportunities for a good view of the field. In addition, there are also cameras placed on the football goalposts that can pan, tilt, and zoom.
If there is a special broadcast going on such as ESPN College GameDay, you’ll need specific video equipment such as a teleprompter, tripod, and lighting that is set up in one of the corners of the field. For these broadcasts, you have to build a whole set and can use any lighting ranging from hot halogen to HMI to fluorescents to LEDs. Depending on the stadium, the type of lighting that will be used will differ to adjust to the stadium height as well as to the high-frame-rate cameras.
You know the people that entertain you during breaks and also do giveaways and other activities during halftime? They have a crew of about 6 camera operators, 6 cable wranglers, 2 A2s (audio), and 9 people running the control room to make sure that the scoreboard, LED ribbon boards, football stadium screens, the jumbotron, and other activities run smoothly.
After the Game
Alright, we’re almost to the finish line. Once the game is over, the crew has to break down and load the production back into the trucks. When everything is packed up, then your job is done until you move on to the next game and start this process all over again.
As you can see, there’s more to broadcasting football than just the game. It’s important to be prepared, have the proper video equipment for sports broadcasting, and a great crew to help you better capture and report on live sports. At the end of the day, you want to bring the best possible viewing experience to fans.
If you’re in sports broadcasting, what equipment do you use? Let us know by sending us a tweet @ikancorp.
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