HBO Boxing, Yankee Stadium Deliver for Boxing Fans
Last Saturday night, the house that Derek Jeter built was transformed into the house that HBO boxing and boxing promoter Top Rank built. A boxing ring, seating, and technical operations occupied the new Yankee Stadium for a fight between Yuri Foreman and Miguel Cotto.
Making that transformation was no easy task. HBO and Top Rank are accustomed to transforming an arena or theater into a boxing venue. But this was the first time that Yankee Stadium personnel had done an event other than a Yankees baseball game, so there was a steep learning curve for everyone from security personnel to stadium management and operations.
“The entire Yankee organization was wonderful to work with,” says HBO Sports Production Manager Jason Cohen. “It was a learning experience for both parties, trying to produce a show that was out of the comfort zone for both sides, but it came together very nicely.”
Adding to the challenge was that the ring, canopy, seating, and in-venue entertainment and broadcast technical facilities had to be installed in the outfield in less than 48 hours because the Yankees had a home game on Thursday afternoon. And then there was a constant threat of thunderstorms and rain.
“It was an incredible evening for HBO Sports,” says Cohen. “Thanks to our incredibly talented and devoted technical team, we were able to pull off an extraordinary event under very difficult circumstances. The event was very rewarding, considering it was one of most ambitious and challenging schedules combined with an array of weather, logistic, and technical hurdles.”
The production itself was fairly straightforward. NEP Supershooter 17 was the primary production truck alongside NCP VII and a B-unit that handled Top Rank’s venue-video needs. NEP ST14 was on hand for transmission.
Six Ikegami HDK-79E cameras captured most of the action in the ring, complemented by two Sony DC 3300 handheld units and a Sony HDC-1500, an Inertia Unlimited xMo V12 super-slo-mo camera, and a Grass Valley LDK 6000 unit.
Cable runs were the word of the day since the cameras could not be placed in the typical stadium camera positions, which are designed for baseball coverage. One camera platform was built in right/center field, and another was located between second and third base. More than 7,300 ft. of cable was used, including 2,950 ft. of SMPTE fiber.
A Grass Valley Kalypso, 10 channels of EVS XT replay servers, and Chyron Duet graphics and HyperX3 character generators transformed the camera feeds into a show. A Calrec Sigma with Bluefin audio console helped viewers feel that they were in the ring with the boxers and their handlers.
The biggest challenge was turning a single-sport facility into a multipurpose facility, says HBO Boxing Technical Manager Colin DeFord. “Everything was basically done from scratch. I was expecting a lot of issues with the groundskeeping crew, but there hasn’t been any.”
Another challenge was integrating HBO’s coverage with Top Rank’s in-venue DJ, lighting director, and the Yankee Stadium control room. Everyone was tied together via the same RTS intercom channel to ensure a consistent show on the video screens above the ring and the massive Yankee Stadium scoreboard in centerfield.
The most unusual aspect of the production took place before the fight even started. Because it was on a Saturday night, Foreman, a devout Jew, was not allowed to travel to the stadium until nightfall. HBO had a helicopter fly above his motorcade and then played the video during the broadcast. The chopper also flew above the stadium during the undercard and main fight.
By the end of the show, the only person who had a bad night was Foreman, who lost the fight. The rain held off, the staff stayed dry (sweating aside), and more than 25,000 fans enjoyed a good show.
“Even though we brought umbrellas and ponchos,” Cohen points out, “when weathermen say ‘40% chance of rain,’ don’t forget that means that it’s 60% likely that it won’t rain.”