Big Day, Big Audio for CFL’s Grey Cup

The Canadian Football League (CFL) Grey Cup is Canadian sports broadcasting’s big day. Last year’s show pulled in more than 6 million viewers, good numbers for a country with a population of 34 million, and even more saw the game on the French RDS feed. This year’s match, between Eastern Division champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers and hometown Western Division champion BC Lions, will take place Sunday at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver, BC, and will also be available on the NFL Network.

The Grey Cup’s audio will be extensive. According to technical producer Phil Laplante, there are more effects and nat-sound microphones around the field and in the stands this year, including crowd mics placed high in the stadium to capture “every corner of the house,” he says. Field-audio coverage comes from four Big Ears parabolic dishes on the sidelines — bigger dishes help address the CFL fields’ larger dimensions of 65 yards versus 53.5 yards for regulation NFL fields, as well as 20-yard-deep end zones — loaded with Sony ECM 77 lavaliere microphones, numerous Sennheiser MKH 416 and MKH 70 stereo shotgun microphones along the sidelines, and a stereo shotgun microphone mounted on the Cablecam that traverses the length of the field. Most of the 40-plus cameras on the show also carry shotgun mics.

No Player Microphones Likely
What there probably won’t be are player microphones. As SVG reported in June, broadcaster TSN secured the league’s permission to experiment with on-field player and coach microphones during the 2011 CFL preseason. Starting and backup quarterbacks and both coaches wore lavaliere mics and wireless beltpacks, with the broadcast audio capturing play calls from the huddle, pregame pep talks, half-time strategy discussions, and general grunts and groans as they happened live on the field, all on a 10-second delay.

However, says Laplante, the experiment didn’t make it to the regular season and was not implemented for the playoffs. While it remains a remote possibility for the Grey Cup, it’s unlikely to be used.

“We found, during the preseason, that it sounded OK, but the problem was that it was difficult from a production perspective to know who was talking,” he explains. “It was almost impossible to pinpoint the sound. It added something, but it just didn’t add enough to continue using it.”

Laplante adds that that there was also some concern about the security of teams’ playbooks as a result of audio from huddles and sideline strategy discussions.

This year’s Grey Cup will be the fourth one broadcast in discrete 5.1 surround, which TSN implemented when it took over the broadcast from CBC in 2008. The network is also deploying a Holophone H2Pro five-channel single-point surround microphone, positioned on the sideline at midfield, where it also was during the regular season and playoffs. The Holophone creates a foundation for the effects in the surround and stereo channels, atop which the additional crowd microphones will be used to create a diverse and highly localized sound field that puts viewers in a number of areas in the stadium.

“You’ll get the POV of every seat in the house,” Laplante predicts.

TSN viewers get most replays at full speed, which gives the network a chance to track the audio with them. “If there’s a big hit, we can really emphasize and isolate [the sound] on the replay,” he says. “That adds a dimension you don’t get on the slo-mo replays.”

Audio will be mixed from Dome Productions’ Thunder truck, with a 64-fader Calrec Sigma console for the main mix; a Yamaha 02R mixer positioned to the left of it will be used for the effects submix, according to Dome’s Mike Johnson. The TSN audio crew includes A1s Dave Ryan and Howard Baggley; Graham Zapf will mix the pregame show.

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