NBA All-Star Weekend Promises Big Challenges, Big Sound

When East meets West for the NBA All-Star game on Sunday Feb. 14, there will be a lot of firsts. The crowd filling the Dallas Cowboys’ 90,000-seat stadium in Arlington, TX, is expected to be the single biggest in the game’s history. It’s also the first time that the events leading up to the big game are being held in different venues: the Rookie Challenge on Friday night and the All-Star Saturday Night events, including Shooting Stars and Skill Challenge, take place at the Mavericks’ home court in the American Airlines Center in Dallas.

All this offers unique challenges for Turner Sports’ audio crew, especially the big game at the stadium. “The Friday- and Saturday-night events take place in a pretty conventional venue that we’re used to working in for basketball,” says Tom Sahara, senior director of remote operations and IT for Turner Sports, of the Mavericks’ court. “The Cowboys’ stadium is going to be very different.”

For starters, there’ll be a lot more microphones, as many as 24 various boundary and other mics to cover the court — more than twice as many as usually deployed in a conventional basketball venue. These are Shure Mx 391 condensers, Neumann KM 84 cardioid condensers, Rode NT5 cardioid condensers, and Sennheiser 416 short shotguns.

There’ll also be additional boundary and various contact microphones on the backboards and rims. Senior Mixer Dave Grundtvig is using Silly Putty to affix a Schertler contact microphone along the white line of the glass backboard to minimize its visibility. A Barcus Berry C-Tape piezo microphone is also mounted to the bottom of the backboard.

You might have noticed a pattern here: the Barcus Berry is usually found on pianos and the Schertler on acoustic guitars in recording studios, along with the Neumanns.

“The audience is my orchestra so I use music-type microphones with better frequency response and a more open sound,” Grundtvig says. “I’m not a big fan of shotgun microphones other than on cameras. The sound is too tightly focused.”

Adds Sahara, “A lot of the technique involves managing the pickup patterns of the microphones. The boundary mics have a cardioid pattern. We open the mics up as the action moves from one end of the court to the other, so we’re always getting the sneaker squeaks nice and close up.”

Sennheiser 416s are used to cover the court lanes on either side of the backboards, pointing toward the foul lines, giving Grundtvig a focus for building up crowd noise when play reaches those areas. AKG 430 short condenser mics and Neumann KM 184 condensers located above the backboards and a large-diaphragm Shure KSM32 down low catch the bigger picture. “That combination creates a great reaction shot,” he says.

Capturing the FX mix at the American Airlines Center will be CP Communications’ new audio trailer, which houses a 32-fader Stagetec AURUS console, which connects via fiber from the trailer into the center to a Stagetec NEXUS base device through which all the mic/line inputs are physically connected. Grundtvig will be mixing at Cowboys Stadium through a Calrec Alpha console with Bluefin.

Reverb Nation
However, with 90,000 fans in the house — over four times more than the typical basketball arena — controlling the ambience might be the biggest challenge. The solution is, “less is more,” says Sahara, adding, “We have a couple of spaced pairs of microphones up around the main camera position. We’ve found that, in bigger spaces like this, fewer microphones make it easier to manage.” Pairs of shotgun microphones at the ends of the court are aimed at the crowd to add the intensity of free throws to the larger ambient soundscape.

Cowboys Stadium has a voice of its own, including what Sahara estimates is a whopping 2-second-long reverberation decay time. “The actual crowd-noise level is about the same as it would be in a conventional venue, between 90 dB and 100 dB or so,” he says. “The challenge is that the reverb drags it out so far beyond [the duration of] the primary sound, and the PA system just adds to that. Fortunately, a lot of our audio guys also do football, so they’ve worked in larger stadiums before, too. We’ll be figuring out during rehearsals how to get the best balance between the play action and the hall to avoid creating distractions in the sound.”

The stadium is big, and the NBA All-Star sound will also be big. But then again, it is Texas.

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