NFL Network, NFL.com Share the Wealth at Scouting Combine
This week, NFL Network and NFL.com once again return to Indianapolis’s Lucas Oil Stadium for the annual pinnacle of prospect-dom: the NFL Scouting Combine. Although the Combine may still trail its big brother — the NFL Draft — as the league’s highest-profile off-season event, it has nonetheless evolved into a massive production effort on par with an NFL Network Thursday Night Football telecast.
“This is very similar to or even bigger than a [Thursday Night Football broadcast],” says Rod Conti, director of remote operations, NFL Network. “In fact, the complement that we set up for the pregame and game for a Thursday Night show is pretty much the same exact complement that is here and then some.”
Game Creek Hits the Scene
The big news at the Lucas Oil Stadium truck compound this year is NFL Network’s expansion into Game Creek’s Pride and Glory mobile-production units, which served as home to the network’s on-site studio show and game coverage for its Thursday Night Football package last season.
Previously, NFL Network operated out of a single Corplex truck, and NFL.com used a VER flypack. However, with two dedicated Game Creek units (both with A and B trucks) at their disposal, NFL Network and NFL .com opted to revamp their production model at the Combine and focus on sharing its abundance of resources among six on-site trucks.
NFL Network is producing its three shows — on-field workouts, the on-site Total Access studio show, and press conferences — out of Pride and Glory. Meanwhile, NFL.com produces its own pair of on-field workout feeds out of Game Creek’s B2 truck (a super-sized B unit). In addition, the features department is housed in an HFI B unit equipped with four Apple Final Cut Pro NLE systems.
Sharing the Wealth
Although the production areas for each show are separated in the trucks, all shows — both NFL Network’s and NFL.com’s — are sharing other resources. For example, the network’s video room is built into Glory, whereas the Website uses Pride’s video room for its needs. B2 houses all the Vizrt graphics systems, and Glory’s replay area serves as home to all EVS replay servers. Meanwhile, Pride’s B unit houses the dual audio for both NFL.com shows.
“We’re using the fiber-optic interconnect we use [for Thursday Night Football] for Game Creek Pride, Glory, and now B2,” says Conti. “Because of that, all trucks basically have all the resources of the other trucks. We all share router heads. It’s all about allocating the gear appropriately to service all these different shows.
“This has allowed us to leave production people in their own workspaces for their own shows,” he continues. “Even though some of the other resources in the truck may be used by other shows, it really opens up the workflow for production teams and gives them a dedicated area.”
NFL.com Gets a Truck of Its Own
Each year, as the scale of the NFL.com coverage expands, Conti and his team must think up creative new ways that allow NFL.com to deliver simultaneous feeds from stages on both sidelines.
The key to this year’s production is Grass Valley’s Karrera Soft Panel [KSP] technology, which essentially serves as a touchscreen switcher for an NFL.com technical director in B2. NFL.com has deployed two KSPs in B2 — one for each show — and has dedicated one mix effect each from the Kayenne switchers in Pride and Glory.
“It basically piggybacks off of the mothership,” says Conti. “They have access to the Kayenne’s resources. It’s a lot of power bundled into a nice, small touchscreen application that works well in this kind of environment.”
Game Creek B2’s lateral design allows an NFL.com production team at each end of the production room — complete with dedicated director, producer, and TD equipped with a KSP switcher. A coordinating producer is positioned in the middle of the area to oversee both shows at the same time.
“One of the challenges of [the NFL.com] dual production is figuring out how to allow the production team that oversees both of those shows simultaneously to function in a truck layout,” says Conti. “But the B2 and its lateral design and the KSP panels on each end of that room allow us to have this kind of unique layout. What NFL.com production might lose in location — having someone [from another area] right next them — they are gaining in total resources.”
Out on the Field
NFL Network and NFL.com’s colossal Combine operation goes well beyond the truck compound, however. The two entities have unleashed a total of 29 cameras throughout Lucas Oil Stadium, including a CableCam aerial system and two Inertia Unlimited X-Mo ultra-slo-mos (one as a handheld and one in a long-lens configuration).
In addition, three Robovision robotic cameras are covering the press conferences, and two others are covering the weight room and start of the 40-yard dash. NFL Network will also use a Robovision camera for the booth, where lead anchor Rich Eisen and analyst Mike Mayock will host the coverage.
In addition to the booth, the first one to be used at the Combine, the traditional Combine set will remain on the main concourse, and several of the network’s 24 analysts will roam the field. The network’s morning show, NFL AM, will also have an on-site presence for the first time.
Sportvision’s Simulcam technology, a staple of the network’s Combine coverage for five years, will once again be featured in both NFL Network and NFL.com coverage. Deployed primarily for the 40-yard dash, Simulcam applies background-recognition and camera-matching technology to overlay the image of one prospect’s dash on top of another. This provides the viewer with an in-depth visual comparison of the athletes competing (click here for video of Simulcam in action).
Combine Comes Into Its Own
With 60 hours of coverage lined up over the next week and hours of streaming coverage on NFL.com, the Combine has never been bigger. Consider that about 6.5 million viewers tuned in to last year’s NFL Network coverage (down slightly from 2011 but up 25% from 2010), and it’s amazing to consider just how far the event has come in just nine years on the network.
“Thinking back to year one of the nine years of coverage, I believe it was Mike [Mayock] and one producer, a gentleman named Jason Wormser, who were there trying to make inroads and bring to light what goes on at the Combine,” says Senior Coordinating ProducerMike Muriano. “And here we are some nine years later with expansive and dynamic coverage that we’re all proud of and pleased to be doing again this year.”
NFL Network’s coverage of the NFL Scouting Combine kicks off with live coverage of all press conferences at 2 p.m. ET Feb. 21-22. NFL Network and NFL.com will begin their live coverage of workouts at 9 a.m. each day Feb. 23-26. NFL AM airs each day at 6 a.m. Total Access each night at 7 p.m. live from Indianapolis Feb. 23-29.