Fox, CBS Ready for the NFL’s Penultimate Showdowns

This weekend, Fox Sports and CBS Sports wind down their NFL coverage with the NFC and AFC Championship games on Sunday. And, with both networks stepping up with their A-level production teams, A-level production units, and A-level game, it’s just a question of whether the four NFL teams — the NFC’s New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers, the AFC’s Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots — will do the same.

This weekend’s action also highlights not only the networks’ different philosophies toward big-game production but also how the age of a venue can impact how they get ready for the big game. San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, for example, may be relatively broadcast-friendly during regular-season games, but, when more production units are in the parking lot and more cameras and equipment need to be cabled, creative thinking is required.

“It’s an older stadium, and the first challenge is parking,” says Mike Davies, VP of technical operations, Fox Sports. “The compound isn’t built for many trucks, and the grade in the compound is extreme.”

Game Creek Video and Fox Sports had to get creative to keep the production trucks level for this weekend’s NFC Championship Game Here is a picture of the early process of getting the unit ready to sit on sturdy ramps.

The steep grade meant that Fox Sports and the team from Game Creek Video, led by Senior Engineer Kevin Callahan, spent all day Wednesday simply getting the trucks level, using with a series of ramps assembled by stacking wood underneath the wheels. The wood was then replaced with more secure ramps, providing a safe work environment for crews and preventing them for feeling as if they are working on a listing ship.

“Also,” Davies adds, “there is some older cabling that isn’t terrific, so we needed to run some fiber in for the pregame show.”

Game Creek’s FX A, B, and C production units were in Green Bay last weekend and were driven double-teamed to make sure they were on-site in plenty of time. Game Creek’s Liberty production unit is on hand for the pregame show, which makes the move up the coast from Los Angeles for the big game. Bexel’s BBS1 unit is also there as an executive office and viewing area.

Davies says the camera complement is virtually identical to last week’s, with only a second Inertia Unlimited X-Mo and a wireless Steadicam rig added.

“One other feature that has been snuck in over the past couple of months to our shows is our Super Zoom camera,” says Davies. The camera from Vision Research, with a back from Psi Tech, offers twice the resolution of an HD camera.

“We can extract a 720p image from it and zoom in with a fair amount of resolution integrity using some proprietary software,” says Davies. “It’s been on-air a few times, and we are trying it out at various locations.”

For viewers, the biggest difference from last week will be the addition of the studio show at the venue, which adds another layer of complexity to the production efforts. Besides the Game Creek Liberty unit and crew, more than 60 additional people are on-site to take care of the out-of-studio efforts .

“It ends up being a big production,” says Davies.

It also requires a big stage that can quickly get out of sight of fans in the stands. Kernwer (formerly Northern Lights Productions) is on-site with a new, larger version of the “Z Stage,” which features a movable roof that can also be reduced.

“It can move and be condensed,” says Davies, “but we needed the roof, being here in potentially rainy conditions.”

While Fox takes its studio show on the road, CBS is keeping its studio team at CBS Studios in Manhattan. Ken Aagaard, EVP of operations, engineering, and production services, CBS Sports, says the decision to keep the studio show back in New York is based simply on logistics.

“We still have other things going on Saturday, like college basketball, and, by keeping everyone in the studio, we have all of the resources we need,” he says. “From a programming point of view, it works fine.”

While Fox Sports grappled with some issues related to working in an older ballpark, CBS had smooth sailing at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots’ home in Foxborough, MA.

“It’s great to be in New England because the venue is very broadcast-friendly,” says Aagaard. “It’s a great compound, has all the camera positions, and is well lit.

The CBS equipment complement is identical to last weekend’s, with NEP’s SS24 at the center of the production and two Inertia Unlimited X-Mo cameras in place — one at high reverse and another on a low cart.

One item that both CBS and Fox did not have to worry about was the aerial camera that flies over the field: both the Skycam that CBS uses and the Cablecam that Fox uses were in place for last weekend’s games.

“The rigging stays up, which helps with some of the setup, but we still had to bring the cameras down and then put them back up again,” adds Aagaard. “And audio mics also had to come off the field in case of the weather.”

If predicted rain showers descend on San Francisco, Fox may be dealing with some weather issues, but the CBS Sports team, thankfully, won’t suffer from flashbacks to the 2008 AFC Championship Game, the latest to be hosted by New England. Wind chills during that game dipped into the low single digits, and temps during break down after the game dropped even lower. This weekend’s forecast calls for temps in the 30s.

Says Aagaard, “It’s going to feel like being in the Bahamas compared to the last time.”

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