Fox Sports Preps for Super Bowl XLVIII

Metlife Stadium,, home to Super Bowl XLVIII

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.—It might be really cold in this community outside New York City, on the evening of Sunday, Feb. 2, with the possibility of precipitation and wind, for Super Bowl XLVIII.

But you know that.

Any football fan with an appreciation of history remembers the 1967 NFL Championship, or the “Ice Bowl,” in Green Bay, Wis., and temperatures that plummeted to –13 on the famed Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field; the 1982 AFC Championship in Cincinnati, aka the “Freezer Bowl,” with temps around –9; and the more recent Giants-Packers NFC Championship in 2008, at –1.

By the way, those temps don’t factor in the wind chill.

Those storied games were played as scheduled, but that’s the kind of deep freeze that most involved are concerned about. But when talk of a potential postponement arises, some of those people point out that the weather that night might be unseasonably mild. There’s so much chatter about it that there are web sites like, from Rutgers University, and AccuWeather’s, devoted to the topic.

But this is the Super Bowl, and that means gazillions of eyeballs glued to screens large and small, so it’ll most likely start on cue.

With that seemingly constant discussion acknowledged, know that Fox Sports is bracing for the moods of Mother Nature, a faulty power setup and the game, too.

That starts with an on-field, glass enclosed pre-game show set that lowers down before splitting in half against the wall, and the usual tripling of the number of cameras that will be available to acquire those game-changing shots.

What that means, said Lead Director Rich Russo, is that Fox Sports will probably have 45 to 50 cameras on hand. “We use about 15 to 18 during the regular season, then ramp it up to about low 20s during the playoffs,” he said.

That mix will include about 35 regular cameras— mostly Sonys—with more on the sidelines and in the end zone. But Russo, who will be directing his second Super Bowl, said that the approximately four dozen cameras will be used “smartly and economically,” with a number of robotic models in the mix.

What Fox Sports will offer, he said, is basically its regular setup, and will include— with four low end zone cameras—all super slo-mos, plus five or six handhelds for the rovers, including a couple more super slo-mos.

Rich Russo, director, Super Bowl XLVIII for Fox Sports That effort comes down to capturing emotions. “We want to be able to capture the reactions of the players and the intricacies of the game, on the ball and off the ball,” Russo said, “though that can be a challenge, due to the players wearing helmets.”

Using the more sophisticated lenses of today is also part of emotionally connecting with the viewers. “Back in the ’80s, if you had a 55:1 lens, you were happy,” he said. “Now, they’re 86:1 or 100:1.”

With the super slo-mos, Fox Sports will also employ three “X-mo”s, as opposed to just one per game during the season. The Vision Research X-mo came to the fore after the famous “helmet” catch by David Tyree of the New York Giants toward the end of Super Bowl XLII, when the Giants upset the New England Patriots in Glendale, Ariz. (which was also covered by Fox).

What’s new with this year’s broadcast, said Russo, is six 4K hybrid cameras, which enable shooters to zoom in on images and heighten the potential for definitive looks. Fox used one per game during the regular season, noting that they “helped us tremendously, notably on calls by the officials.” They will be used on both sidelines, on both goal lines and on both end lines.

That’s all part of bringing new angles to the game’s storyline. “The live cameras and the replays tell the story,” and part of doing that is having the right people and the right cameras, Russo said. “We don’t want any breakdowns. We have to operate as a team [of more than 200 people, in this case], just like the players do.”

Jerry Steinberg, senior vice president of field operations and engineering for Fox Sports

On the audio side, in the past Fox has mic-ed a player or two and played the content back live, such as when mic-ing the center/guards to hear the quarterback’s signals, instructions, etc. “We may try to do that, depending on what teams are playing,” he said, noting a game time decision.

Another decision will be made regarding how many parabolic mics to use, though Russo did offer that it will be more than “the four to six” that are employed during the Fox regular season broadcasts.

What broadcasting the Super Bowl comes down to is basically “adding more of the same of what we use every week,” said Jerry Steinberg, senior vice president of field operations and engineering for Fox Sports. And while he also offered that there will be some intriguing technical approaches, most were still under wraps at press time.

What Steinberg did say is that the broadcast will offer player tracking (the little bubbles on a player’s head at the line of scrimmage) via a ChyronHego. Other enhancements will include enhanced graphics in the “tackle box” (where the quarterback stands, inside the tackles).

The truck on hand will be from Game Creek Video (which did not respond to a request for an interview at press time), which works with Fox during the regular season. The truck contains up to six Sony 4K cameras and more than 20 EVSs. “This will be the third Super Bowl we’ve done with Game Creek, after Glendale [XLII] and Dallas [XLV],” Steinberg said. “That’s a testimony to how they design equipment and how it’s still current. In fact, it’s called the ‘Fox truck.’ The 4K cameras will allow us to extract 720p, so we can zoom in tight on the action.”

Of course, using more equipment means that more may fail, but Fox will have backups on hand, Steinberg said. But, as Russo also noted, it’s not all about the equipment.

“We can replace a camera in five minutes, but we can’t replace talent. It’s really important that we take care of our people. They have to be kept safe and warm,” Steinberg said, noting that working during the Giants-Packers NFC title game in 2008 “was the coldest I’ve ever been.”

Fox Sports will erect a 43-foot-high set at Times Square as part of its Super Bowl XLVIII coverage. Speaking of backups, know that contingencies will be in place after last year’s major power malfunction at the Mercedes- Benz Superdome in New Orleans during Super Bowl XLVII, between Baltimore and San Francisco. There “are many redundancies in place,” Steinberg said.

All told, while the champions of each conference are being determined, the crew at Fox is bracing for Feb. 2. “Our people will be setting up all of the previous week, but once the teams come out of the tunnels, their adrenaline will kick in,” Russo said, “and ours will, too.

“Everyone will be talking about the weather, but we’ve dealt with the elements plenty of times,” he said. “I’d like to see a little snow. It makes for great pictures.”

Steinberg is on board and getting ready, too.

“We’ll be ready for 60 degrees and we’ll be ready for a blizzard,” he said. “That’s kind of neat, because some of the most classic games have been outdoors. And Super Bowl XLVIII could be one of them.”

Mark R. Smith

Mark R. Smith has covered the media industry for a variety of industry publications, with his articles for TV Technology often focusing on sports. He’s written numerous stories about all of the major U.S. sports leagues.  

Based in the Baltimore-Washington area, the byline of Smith, who has also served as the long-time editor-in-chief for The Business Monthly, Columbia, Md., initially appeared in TV Technology and in another Futurenet publication, Mix, in the late ’90s. His work has also appeared in numerous other publications.