TSN’s CFL Coverage Celebrates Grey Cup Centennial All Season Long

As NFL fans in the U.S. count down the long summer days until their favorite players report to training camp, north of the border, it’s football season.  The Canadian Football League kicks off tonight on TSN, with a doubleheader featuring the Saskatchewan Roughriders against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at 7 p.m. ET, followed by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers against the B.C. Lions at 10 p.m.

From Canada Day weekend through the end of November, TSN will broadcast 77 CFL matchups as part of its exclusive multiyear deal with the league, including the 100th Grey Cup in Toronto.

“The [production team] has been given direction to… make sure that the hundred years of the league is reflected throughout the year on our broadcast, whether it be from existing guys that have their names and numbers up on Walls of Fame or with old video showing a lot of the key players that have played for organizations over the years,” says Paul Graham, vice president and executive producer of live events, TSN. “There’ll always be a constant theme about this being the hundredth Grey Cup, and pushing towards Toronto in November.”

TSN Returns to the Field, Locker Room
TSN will return the production enhancements introduced last year, including on-field RF cameras, in-locker-room cameras and mics, and the LiberoVision 3D highlights system.  Graham reports that the RF cameras were received very well from both viewers and the teams themselves, who appreciated the decrease in cabling and personnel on the sidelines.

“There were a lot of magical pictures where you saw, on a number of occasions, shots from close to being inside the huddle just prior to the snap,” says Graham. “Obviously, [we were able to capture] a lot of emotion when the players would score a touchdown in the end-zone… as a result of those RF cameras.”

The CFL allows RF cameras to get as close as possible to the huddle and any celebratory moments, but once the referee blows his whistle to begin play, the camera operator must get off the field immediately.

“We leave a lot of the shooting style, if you will, to the actual camera person under the guidance of our director, and we’ve found that the most effective way to use that camera is to have him get as close to the huddle as possible prior to the break,” says Graham. “I think that’s the most effective way to use that camera, and then the fact that [he’s not] tied down to a cable enables the camera person to get from point A to B a lot quicker to get better shots and closer shots.”

TSN’s cameras were once again invited inside the locker room for the coach’s pregame and halftime speeches, which the network would record and occasionally play back during the broadcast.

“It’s not often you can get right inside a locker room at halftime or during an intermission in any sport, so the teams were very welcoming,” says Graham. “We were able to get some fantastic pictures out of there and I think it gave our viewers a unique look inside a pro locker room and what exactly takes place during halftime.”

TSN plans to ramp up its use of LiberoVision 3D highlights system.  Last season, when the system was new, operators were charged with learning by doing.  This season, after successful rollouts for the CFL, NHL, and Euro 2012, TSN has shortened highlight turnaround time from upwards of 20 minutes to less than 10.

Last preseason, players and coaches were outfitted with live mics during a Toronto Argonauts-Winnipeg Blue Bombers exhibition, raising the possibility of deployment during the regular season. This season, because fewer exhibition games were televised (due, in part, to TSN’s Euro 2012 coverage), TSN did not deploy live mics, and does not plan to do so during the regular season.  However, says Graham, the mics will return.

“The CFL [is] really focused on putting on a fantastic show for the 100th Grey Cup that we thought we’ll just take a year off on [the live mics] and address it again next year when everybody’s plates are a little less full,” says Graham. “But I think that’s something that’s not going to go away. It will come back in time; it’ll be a bit of a hybrid from what we did last time, taking into account what we learned with that experiment.”

Covering the Action
TSN plans to deploy a base-level nine manned cameras and two to six unmanned cameras for each CFL game, with the option of adding more gear for marquee matchups. Most marquee matchups will be determined as the season progresses; however, games already drawing special attention from the network include those played on Labour Day weekend and Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, the Hall of Fame Game, the final game played in Hamilton’s Ivor Wynne Stadium, and, of course, the playoffs and the 100th Grey Cup (during which TSN will deploy more than 35 cameras).

Later this season, TSN hopes to take a page out of the NFL playbook and add super slow mo to CFL broadcasts.  Graham would like to add the technology to select games this fall; however, the timing of CFL games presents a challenge not faced in the NFL.

“One of the issues with super slo mo is that, unlike the NFL where you have 40 plus seconds in between plays where you can really utilize super slow mo, [the CFL has] 20 seconds in between plays,” Graham explains. “Sometimes, it doesn’t allow you enough time to properly take advantage of [super slo mo], so that’s something that we’ve often struggled with.”

TSN continues its partnership with Dome Productions, rolling out available Dome HD mobile units across the country.

A Season of Celebrations
While the 100th Grey Cup is top of mind for CFL fans and TSN, the network is also celebrating another milestone: the 15th season of Friday Night Football. To commemorate the anniversary, TSN will roll out a new opening animation package and theme song for its Friday night broadcasts, and an updated graphics package.

“We are trying to focus more on stars of the game and key players, and you’ll see that reflected in our animation and as well during the three hour broadcast,” says Graham. “We have some special graphics that we’ve been working on that’ll show faces better, show names better, and show statistics better, that will give the viewer an opportunity to learn more about some of the key players.”

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