When Fox Sports kicks off coverage of Super Bowl XLII from the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., Feb. 3, the production team will be setting a record for advance set-up.
“We’re trying to build an entire city over a two week period,” said Jerry Steinberg, vice president field operations for Fox Sports in Los Angeles. “The Super Bowl set-up used to take a month, but we’ve learned from shooting the weekly NASCAR races how to make an aggressive set-up schedule feel comfortable and efficient.”
(click thumbnail)Fox Sports plans on deploying a multitude of HD cameras to cover all the action, including from each end zone.When covering NASCAR events over the past year, Fox Sports has been setting up a compound that could include as many as 23 mobile units on any given weekend, according to Steinberg.
“We’ve had to get the trucks in and set up fast, so we’re ready to shoot the pre-race by Friday. We’re applying these lessons to the Super Bowl schedule, so we can have set-up and testing ready for pre-game rehearsal.”
The biggest part of their challenge, Steinberg said, will involved rolling the Game Creek trucks into Arizona for the Super Bowl on Feb. 3, then uprooting by Monday and heading to Daytona Beach, Fla., by Feb. 8 in time to set up for the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17. “From an operational and engineering standpoint, such a feat is unparalleled, as far as I’m concerned,” Steinberg said. “We believe we’re setting a standard for other sports productions to follow.”
NEW STADIUM, MORE FIBER
The linchpin is working with the new $455 million University of Phoenix Stadium, completed in 2006. “They’ve installed permanent fiber throughout the new building,” he said, “and it’s pretty much exactly where we want it,” Steinberg said. “When we covered the Fiesta Bowl at the stadium on Jan. 2, we installed our Super Bowl pre-game set along with a lot of the cabling we’ll need, and we’ve left all that in place.”
The only difficulty encountered with the new 63,400-seat stadium, Steinberg noted, deals with the retractable roof and field. The two fully retracted roof panels do not allow as much sunlight onto the grass field as needed, and a full soaking of the grass before a major event can hit the limits of the drainage system inside the stadium. Therefore, the playing field itself, with two acres of grass, is designed to roll out into the parking lot on a giant tray weighing 18.9 million pounds. The field takes 45 minutes to wheel out and another 45 minutes to wheel back in.
(click thumbnail)The University of Phoenix football stadium, completed in 2006, will host Super Bowl XLII.Since the playing field does not stay in one place, Steinberg said, Fox Sports cannot install camera cabling on the field far in advance. This has to be done after the green field is wheeled inside the stadium on game day, or the day before, which means the production crew must scramble to be ready.
Speaking of green, Steinberg said this will be the most environmentally friendly Super Bowl that Fox has ever produced.
“We’re running our plant on diesel generators using an 80/20 fuel blend for reduced-emissions” he said. “All the utensils in the catering tent will be recycled, and labeled recycling trash bins will be placed all around the compound. The crew will be driving hybrid gas-electric cars, and we will limit trips to the store and other errands as much as possible.”
For the game, Fox will introduce the Fox Jumper, a high-resolution camera system that works with the Sportvision virtual graphics application to isolate an expanded view of selected shots, like the catch of a forward pass. “As of now, the Fox Jumper will be on the 50 yard line and used as part of the play-by-play, but that may change,” Steinberg said.
Fox Sports also may use up to six Sony 3000 HD super slow-motion cameras. “A regular slow-mo shoots 180 frames per second,” Steinberg said. “A super slow-mo that shoots up to a thousand frames per second in daylight cannot really run more than 300 fps at night, so it’s possible we’ll blow that off at the last minute. I don’t know yet.”
Steinberg’s philosophy on game coverage is pragmatic. “The tendency in sports coverage is that you want to put on the screen whatever you put in the field. If we bring in a lot of high-tech gear, we want to use it. So, we decided that we’re only going to bring in the technology we actually need to bring the game experience into our viewers’ living rooms, like our signature audio coverage with more than 70 microphones, so it feels like you are sitting in the stadium. The main thing is that content has to drive the bus, not the technology.”
This same philosophy guides Pat Sullivan, president of Game Creek Video in Hudson, N.H. Game Creek is bringing four mobile units to Glendale along with six engineers responsible for set-up, he said, after which the Fox crews take over. Two more trucks with three more engineers will be there for the pre-game show. “These are guys that have worked for Fox doing NASCAR races and NFL games, so they are familiar with Fox, and Fox is familiar with them,” Sullivan said.
The main pre-game truck is the Patriot 53-foot expando mobile unit, built in 2004 for large-scale HD production. The Patriot has been used by ESPN and ABC Sports as well as by HBO for a Justin Timberlake concert.
Gear on the Patriot includes a Grass Valley Group HD Kalypso Duo Video Production Center; GVG Dual-Twin HD GVEous MX; PESA 128x128 HD broadband router w/ 64 monitoring downconverters; PESA 256x256 Cheetah analog video router; Nvision 512x512 mono audio router; a dozen Sony HDC Sony HDC 1500 1080/60P cameras with Canon DigiSuper 100x9.3 lenses.
For the Super Bowl game itself, Game Creek is bringing four of its five Fox mobile units built exclusively for Fox Sports to cover NASCAR and NFL.
Truck A is a 53-foot single expando that handles all instant replay operations along with audio and video control plus transmission engineering. The truck carries 18 Sony HDC 1500 cameras and four Sony HDCS 3300 super slow-mo cameras; a PESA 1156x1156 video router and 1256x1256 stereo audio router.
Truck B is a 53-foot single expando dedicated to production control with a three-tier control room facing 122 Samsung 21-inch flat-screen monitors on the wall. The unit features a GVG HD Kalypso Duo Video Production Center and GVG Dual-Twin HD GVEous MX. Graphics are executed with two Chyron Duet Hyper XT2 systems.
Truck C is a straight side 53-foot truck that carries most of the field equipment along with four Final Cut Pro editing systems plus the Sportvision first and 10 virtual graphics system.
Truck D performs all of the transmission using Tandberg Television encoding and decoding. A Calrec audio mixer handles natural sound effects and ambient stadium sound, such as crowd noise. “Fred Aldous does the audio mixing for the Super Bowl shoot,” said Sullivan, “and he’s one of the best we’ve ever worked with.”
Sullivan said his primary goal is to meet all of Fox Sports’ requirements “before we get on the site, so we are fully prepared to expand or contract our operations as needed, and we try to anticipate their needs. When we have to get in and get out as fast as we do, the one constant in doing events like the Super Bowl is change, and you just have to be prepared for that.”