SOUTH BEND, IND.—On New Year’s Day at 1 p.m. EDT, the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks will take to the outdoor ice for the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. It will be held in the unprotected Notre Dame Stadium, which can seat 80,795 fans outside. Opened in 1930, the stadium was designed with the help of legendary Notre Dame football head coach Knute Rockne.
Even though game day temperature is expected to be in the mid-20s (Mother Nature permitting) at the stadium’s location east of Lake Michigan, NBC Sports’ field production crew is eager to shoot the Winter Classic in the frosty winter air.
“Everybody looks forward to this event,” said John McGuinness, NBC Sports’ coordinating producer for the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. “It’s a big, big deal for our people. It’s our second biggest hockey event of the year, with the Stanley Cup Final being the first.”
A DELIBERATE CHOICE
The fact that the Winter Classic has been played on Jan 1st since it was inaugurated in 2008, puts it squarely against the many football games played on this date, (the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Buffalo Sabres. 2-1 in front of more than 71,000 fans at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y.). The NHL does this intentionally to provide viewers with something different to see.
“When you’re flipping the channels and you come across an outdoor hockey game where it’s a beautiful day—or better yet, snowing—it’s something that will make even a casual fan stop and watch,” said Craig Bernstein, NBC Sports senior director of remote technical operations and engineering. “It’s a good opportunity to bring the sport to people who don’t normally tune into hockey. It’s been great for NBC.”
DEPLOYING DOUBLE EAGLE
NBC Sports will cover the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic using the A, B, and C units of NEP Broadcasting’s ND4/Double Eagle production mobile. The double expando Double Eagle A, equipped with a GVG Kayenne K-Frame Switcher (128 inputs/96 outputs, 9 M/E) and three ChyronHego Mosaic XL graphics workstations, will handle production switching and graphics.
Streetside expando Double Eagle B will manage video recording/editing and audio production, using eight EVS XT3 video servers (five 12 channel LSM 10 GB and three six channel LSM 10 GB) and a Calrec Apollo Digital audio console with Bluefin 2 high density signal processing.
The power unit, Double Eagle C, provides either two 200amp, 208V, 3-phase electrical feeds or one 400amp, 208V, 3-phase electrical feeds to Double Eagle A and B.
Double Eagle is NBC Sports’ golf truck, but the network deployed it for the 2018 Winter Classic at Citi Field in New York, according to Bernstein. “It’s got significantly more CCUs (camera control units) and EVSes than a normal twin,” he said. “We resource a lot of those for the Winter Classic because our number of cameras has increased.”
NBC Sports will use six hard (fixed) cameras, one of which will be a Sony HDC-4300, according to James Stuart, senior director of NHL Remote Ops. (Sony HDC-2500s will also be deployed.) “We will have three handhelds around the ice; one in each corner and one around the benches,” Stuart said. “Those will also be Sony 4300s.”
Three remotely controlled “robo” Grass Valley LDK cameras will also be used to cover the game; one behind each goal and a third covering the red line in the center of the rink. All three of the robos will shoot at six times normal frame rate (180 fps), to provide the broadcast with highly precise slo-motion video playback. Each goal net will also be equipped with a “Net Cam” to capture inside views.
The rinkside announcer team of Mike “Doc” Emrick (play-by-play) and Eddie Olcyzk (analysis) will be covered using three tripod-mounted Sony HDC-2500 handhelds, Stuart said. “We’ll be using a Skycam overhead that we’ve fitted with a Sony HDC-P43 camera; it offers higher performance than the P1,” Stuart said. “We’ll have an RF-connected ‘Movi’—think of a Steadicam—and an RF handheld. We’ll even have a camera-equipped airplane overhead.” This last item is something NBC Sports couldn’t use in an indoor hockey rink (natch).
COPING WITH THE WEATHER
With 10 years of Winter Classics under its belt, NBC Sports knows how to shoot hockey outside in cold weather.
Wherever possible, the cameras and associated technology are covered with insulated material, and heated if possible. “We always try to protect the equipment,” said Ken Goss, NBC Sports’ senior vice president of remote sports operations. “We don’t leave it outdoors overnight if we don’t need to.”
NBC Sports is equally concerned with keeping its production crew comfortable. “We schedule lots of breaks for people to come in and warm up, and bring lots of hand and foot warmers for them to use during the shoot,” said Stuart. “We even use ‘warming vests’ for our camera-people, have lots of hot chocolate on hand, and listen to any suggestions offered by our outdoor crew that might help.”
The amount of warmth NBC is allowed to provide to its rinkside talent is limited due to logistics. To keep Emrick and Olczyk from freezing during the Winter Classic, the network makes sure they’re always dressed to cope with the cold.
Even with these precautions, it can get frigid for crew members outside. For instance, the rinkside temperature at last year’s Winter Classic in Queens was 20 degrees, motivating NBC Sports’ producers to ask Emrick if he wanted to move up into the stands to a warmer location. “But Doc insisted in staying down there,” said McGuinness. “He said if the players could do it, he was going to do it.”
After all, shooting NHL hockey outdoors “is getting back to the roots of the game,” McGuinness observed. “The game started as pond hockey, and that’s been our theme the whole way through.”
James Careless is an award-winning journalist who has written for TV Technology since the 1990s. He has covered HDTV from the days of the six competing HDTV formats that led to the 1993 Grand Alliance, and onwards through ATSC 3.0 and OTT. He also writes for Radio World, along with other publications in aerospace, defense, public safety, streaming media, plus the amusement park industry for something different.
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