CBS Sports, Fox Sports rise to NFL championship level in brutal conditions

By Ken Kerschbaumer

The New England Patriots and New York Giants aren’t the only ones proud of their NFL accomplishments this weekend. Fox Sports and CBS Sports both offered two of the best recent examples of how technical crew and staff worked together through nasty weather conditions to put on top-quality productions.

“CBS Sports, Fox Sports and ESPN production crews are as much of a team as the Patriots or the Giants,” says Ken Aagaard, CBS Sports SVP production and operations. “It’s pretty amazing what they do every week and they learn to react in certain circumstances [just like the players]. They don’t miss too many stories.”

The extreme conditions Fox Sports battled in Green Bay, WI (-4 F by the fourth quarter with a wind chill of -24 F) and the relatively balmy but still windy and cold conditions CBS Sports battled in Foxboro, MA had production staff sharing ideas on how best to keep warm.

“Our guys were talking with the guys at Fox exchanging ideas,” says Aagaard. “And everyone has their own thing. One guy will use a heating pack on the back another in the front or certain gloves on the camera handle bars. Others will wear ski pants or three pair of socks…everyone has a story.”

Despite the conditions Aagaard says the CBS crew, particularly the camerapeople, did a great job. “Our AFC Championship coverage had as good of camera work as I have ever seen,” says Aagaard. “They really worked the replays from the low side.”

Aagaard adds that Fox coverage of a game that was so compelling it had him delay the long ride home from New England was also commendable, pointing to shots like the sideline coverage of a toe-tapping grab by New York Giant receiver Amani Toomer from two angles indicative of the rising level of sports camera work.

Michael Davies, Fox Sports director, field operations, says the production went exceptionally well. “The weather was an obvious factor in everything we did but the crew, audio guys and camerapeople stepped up,” he says. “They knew what they were getting into and they were prepared.”

Hundreds of hand and toe warmers were on hand to keep Fox Sports, Game Creek and Cablecam production staffers warm. They also supplied face masks and other gear.

“We supplemented whatever gear the audio, stage hands and camera operators had,” says Davies. “A couple of people also lost their baggage in the bad weather so they went shopping.”

While crew layered clothing Fox layered crew, rotating an extra cameraman and studio cameramen with the cameramen shooting the game and the parabolic antenna operators. “Our mantra was tap out if you need to,” adds Davies.

CBS Sports camerapeople weren’t quite under the same harsh conditions and with the studio show back in New York relief crews weren’t available. “Plus our guys won’t give up their camera positions,” says Aagaard who sometimes has to beg camerapeople on PGA coverage to take a break. “It’s their camera and their shot…but they were able to come in out of the cold at halftime.”

The gear also held up well with the only issue being a lens that froze up after the electric blanket shut off after 10 hours and some color shifting on high, wide beauty shots. Cablecam performed well, with the winches and motors heated with lamps. And once the camera was up and running, and providing its own heat, any concerns were set aside.

CBS Sports also had a few technical challenges. One of the goal post cameras froze and locked up and Freezecam, ironically, froze up. “We had someone go out with hair dryer to try and unfreeze the lens,” adds Aagaard.

While CBS Sports shifts its attention to the PGA Tour Fox Sports is gearing up for one last football game (we won’t count the Pro Bowl): Super Bowl XLII in Glendale, AZ.

“The NFC Championship game was a good opportunity to get internally set for the Super Bowl,” says Davies. Game Creek engineers and technicians replicated the set-up that will be in place on Feb. 3 with an additional truck (a D unit) joining the mix to handle transmission and audio sub mixing. Game Creek Patriot will be on hand for the pre-game and NMT’s HD11 will be used for the “red carpet” portion of the broadcast.

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