NBC’s Winter Classic Coverage Creates Big-Event Feel

For NBC, the NHL Winter Classic has become much more than a game. The annual outdoor showdown, the latest edition of which will take place on New Year’s Day at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field, has become an event in its own right. With six more cameras at his disposal than are available for the Stanley Cup Finals, NBC Sports Executive Producer Sam Flood emphasizes that this game is an event, and must be covered as such.

“It’s much more than a hockey game,” Flood explains. “We want to celebrate the sport, the two stars in the game, as well as the teams and they city of Pittsburgh. The important thing is to let people know that they are watching something that’s more than a hockey game, to show the game from a much wider perspective than normal.”

Event host Bob Costas agreed that this event, more than other hockey games, must both appeal to hardcore hockey enthusiasts and to those who do not know a red line from a blue line. NBC has planned its coverage to reach both of those fan segments.

“We recognize that this is an event that draws in a lot of casual fans who probably won’t watch much hockey outside of this game, the Stanley Cup Finals, and probably the Olympics,” Costas explains. “You have to capture the atmospherics of it and something that will draw in the person who isn’t necessarily watching the NHL night in and night out.”

CableCam, Star Cam, Plane Cam
In order to appeal to both the casual and dedicated hockey fan, NBC tossed a few new elements into this year’s game. New for the matchup between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins is a CableCam which will fly over the ice throughout the game.

“We can move it up and down along the boards, move it up in the stands, whatever we want to do to capture the event,” Flood explains. “We’ll be able to capture some of the speed of hockey, which will be one of the fun things we’ll get to do with it. As the players go up the ice, we can follow a rush and see what [Alexander] Ovechkin is doing from an angle you haven’t seen before. That should add something in addition to our normal iso cameras.”

Those iso cameras will be fixed on star players Sydney Crosbey and Ovechkin throughout the game, while a high camera atop the scoreboard will give NBC both a view of downtown Pittsburgh and, by rotating 180 degrees, a view into the stadium of the game.

Four years ago, NBC scored a television first by showing the first replay of a hockey goal captured from an airplane. NBC will bring back that airplane camera this year to round out its complement of more than two dozen cameras.

“It’s not a hockey game; it’s en event,” Flood repeats. “That’s our goal; to capture how big and different it is to have the multitude of people sitting in these stands and cheering for these two teams.”

No Normal in Outdoor Hockey
Unlike the past two years, when the Winter Classic ice ink has been wedged in unlikely geometric configurations at Boston’s Fenway Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field, Heinz Field allows NBC to set the ice parallel to the football playing surface.

“We’re going to line it up a lot like a normal football game,” Flood said. “The camera side remains the same side. Doc [Emrick, play-by-play announcer] and Eddie [Olczyk, game analyst] will be in the stands at the back of the lower section of seats, so that they’ll be in the element and experience the game as the players do, except they’re not going to be hit.”

Still, for NBC, little about this game is normal.

“We don’t normally do games that have low-flying aircraft, meteorologists, and the threat of rain or snow that might affect the outcome of the game,” Emerick smiles.

The 2011 edition of the Winter Classic also marks the first to be streamed on NBCSports.com.

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