NBC Sports Preps for Super Bowl LII
MINNEAPOLIS—This winter’s consistently frigid weather is on the mind of NBC Sports, as they prepare to produce Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4 at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Atlanta Falcons' Alex Mack (#51) prepares to snap the ball against the New England Patriots at Super Bowl LI in Houston.
Although the stadium is enclosed and has drive-in facilities for broadcasters, there’s not enough space inside to hold all the equipment needed to cover the Super Bowl. As a result, some of the production trucks and trailer will have to be left outside in the Minnesota Vikings Players’ parking lot.
“The major obstacle [in producing Super Bowl LII] is being in Minneapolis in February,” said NBC Sunday Night Football Senior Technical Manager John Roché. “Obviously it’s not the best weather in the world.”
That said, NBC Sports knew what they were getting when Super Bowl LII was awarded to Minneapolis, where the average Feburary temperature is around 23°. This is why the network has arranged for a gigantic heated framed tent to sit over the outside production compound, to keep the equipment and its operators warm.
“We start planning for this months in advance,” said Roché. “We’ve done our homework.”
A MASSIVE OPERATION
Producing the Super Bowl LII game itself, plus the pre-show and post-show (the half-time show is produced by third-party contractor Touchdown Entertainment), is a massive operation. Ken Goss, senior vice president of remote operations and production planning for NBC Sports Group, estimates that around 400 people will be in Minneapolis to handle all aspects of the NBC Sports’ broadcast; including production people, technical crews, on-air talent and everyone else.
The heart of the Super Bowl LII broadcast operation will be a suite of production trucks belonging to NEP, NBC Sports’ regular season supplier of mobile production trucks. “We’re utilizing NEP’s ND1 A, B, C and D,” said Roché. “We’re also using ND7 A and B, just because of the amount of cameras, tape machines, and EVSes that we have going.”
BIGGER AND BETTER
NBC Sports is taking its experience with its Sunday Night Football series and supersizing it for the event.
“We always enhance our normal Sunday night coverage—which is pretty extensive—with additional cameras and new technology for the Super Bowl,” said Tim DeKime, vice president of NFL Operations for NBC Sports. To this end, NBC Sports will be covering Super Bowl LII with a mix of Sony HDC-2500 (1080p), HDC4300 (4K) and HDC-4800 (4K slomo) video cameras.
“We’re utilizing Sony HDC-P1R cameras for our Steadicams and POVs,” said Roché. NBC Sports will also be using 12 fixed pylon cameras; “six in each end zone,” he said. Most of the cameras will be equipped with Canon lenses. NBC Sports will also be attaching Fuji cine lenses to its 4K robotic cameras, which are used for the network’s augmented reality video content (for overlaying graphic images on live screen shots).
NBC Sports will enlist NEP's ND1 and ND7 fleet to cover the game.
Backing up these cameras will be a suite of video servers; including 12 six-channel EVS XT3 and ten 12-channel EVS XT3 servers. As well, “we have one XT4 that we’re utilizing, seven EVS IPDirectors, and five Sony 4500 servers,” said Roché. “In total, we will have 192 channels of video. So every single camera that is out there will be iso’d [recorded to their own separate video channel].”
The reason every Super Bowl LII camera feed will be recorded is because things happen that don’t always make the live switched broadcast. “NBC goes on the philosophy that we never want to miss anything, so the public doesn’t miss anything,” Roché said. “Things happen in the background that the fans at home cannot see, so we’re able to cover that with all the isos.”
Finally, more than 130 microphones will be used to cover on-air talent, player interviews and natural sound from the game.
For the first time at the Super Bowl, NBC Sports will be operating a “High SkyCam” alongside its regular SkyCam; both of which fly above the play on wires.
Unlike the original SkyCam, which rises up to 40 feet above the play, the High SkyCam can operate at heights up to 80 feet. This means that High SkyCam has far more clearance above the field; a vantage point that opens up many new possibilities.
“In theory we could keep it [High Skycam] overhead the defense—all 22 players—and not interfere with game play,” said DeKime. “We have used it for four, five regular season broadcasts, and we will use it for the Super Bowl as well.” (Due to its lower elevation, the regular Skycam usually stays behind the quarterback during play.)
A second newcomer is an Aggreko UPS (uninterrupted power supply) to ensure that the production has power; no matter what. This is not your standard-sized home office UPS: Aggreko’s UPS is so big that it comes on its own 53-foot trailer. The UPS will be powered by one of four 1000 kVa diesel generators, with the other three powering the game and pre-/post-game broadcast facilities.
A NEW STADIUM HELPS
The fact that the enclosed U.S. Bank Stadium is only two years old does mitigate playing Super LII in Minnesota during a bitterly cold winter. Not only are the majority of NBC Sports production trailers able to park inside the stadium’s indoor loading docks, but the glass roof overhead will keep the playing field relatively warm and dry. (In contrast, the Nov. 26, 2017 Grey Cup football championship in Canada was played outside in Ottawa’s blowing snow and cold winds.)
Super Bowl LII will be played in U.S. Bank Stadium, which can seat up to 66,200.
Meanwhile, “the stadium is very well wired with fiber and SMPTE cable,” said Goss. “It makes our life easier, although we still have to supplement that due to the massive amounts of equipment that we have.”
This extensive cabling will be a boon for the NBC Sports Super Bowl LII pre-/post-game show, which has outdoor booth and standup locations in front of the stadium. “They’ve been putting in connections where we haven’t seen it at other facilities,” said Tom Popple, NBC Sports’ vice president of studio operations, who is producing the pre- and post-game shows. “It’s just some really great infrastructure.”
All told, the 400-strong NBC Sports production unit is ready to tackle Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis no matter what winter throws at them. “We have a real solid team,” said Goss, “and they’re at their top performance when it comes to the Super Bowl.”
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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.