Amidst Frenzied Preparation by CP Communications, New York City Marathon Cancelled

Mere days after Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New Jersey, leaving hundreds of thousands without power and countless more unable to return to storm-ravaged homes, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg affirmed that the New York City Marathon would still be run. However, after facing backlash across the five boroughs, the Marathon was cancelled Friday afternoon.

On a clear day, the world’s biggest marathon poses logistical production challenges unlike any other in televised sports. With the potential for power failure, a severe gas shortage, and the expected ire of New Yorkers at every mile of the route, CP Communications had to prepare for the unprecedented.

CP Communications dispatched HDRF5 to the finish-line location at 67th Street and Central Park West before the storm hit. Two Penske trucks, stationed at the CitiCorp building in Long Island City and the Bay Ridge Apartments in Brooklyn, took longer to reach their intended destinations.

“Typically, we’re in Wednesday morning, [but] we didn’t get in until Wednesday evening,” says Kurt Heitmann, SVP, sales and marketing, CP Communicaitons.  “Basically, we’re a day behind in load-in and a day behind in setup, and it’s tough to catch up because you run out of daylight. You can’t work on rooftops putting up your systems in the dark, so we’re in a little bit of a scramble mode.”

As any driver in the Tri-State area can attest, gas has become a precious commodity in the past few days. CP Communications’ broadcast plan calls for two lead trucks and six motorcycles, which require gasoline if they are to follow more than 40,000 runners for 26.2 miles.

“We filled up all the trucks and motorcycles down in Philadelphia, and now we’ve got the empty gas cans that we need to fill up again,” says Heitmann. “We’ll probably have to drive a couple hours away with one truck and load up all the gas cans, because you can’t get gas anywhere in this area.”

Once again, CP Communications will have three receive sites located throughout the course: the CitiCorp building, Bay Ridge Apartments, and the GM Building in Manhattan. Bay Ridge will handle all the signals from the start through mile eight. From mile eight through mile 20, the CitiCorp will take charge. GM will offer support for miles 8-18 and then take control from mile 20 through the finish line. Transporting equipment to these rooftops has posed a significant challenge for the company due to another shortage: crew.

“We usually use a company called Sound Moves to help us load stuff up to the rooftops, and the [day laborers] all live in Queens and Brooklyn, so they couldn’t get in,” explains Heitmann. “We did get five guys at GM, [but] at CitiCorp and Bay Ridge, none of the load-in guys showed up [because] they couldn’t get there and we couldn’t get in touch with them.”

Electricity at these three receive sites has returned, so the company will not need to resort to generator power. However, the DSL lines throughout New York City are down, leaving the company without its traditional backbone for VoIP and data. Last year, CP Communications created a 3.5-GHz virtual private network with 100-Mb links that connects the HDRF5 to the GM Building, and the GM Building to CitiCorp and Bay Ridge.

In addition to the three receive sites and HDRF5, CP Communications will use two ENG vans supplied by WABC: one a First Avenue in Manhattan, which will transmit to GM, and another at 4th Street and Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, which will transmit to Bay Ridge. Two helicopters will cover the Marathon from the sky, feeding signals to the GM building that are then muxed to HDRF5 at the finish line.

This year, for the first time, the New York City Marathon will be broadcast in HD. Each of the motorcycles — Motos 2, 4, 5, and 6 — will be outfitted with Sony HD 1500 cameras, while the two lead trucks — Moto 1 (women’s lead) and Moto 3 (men’s lead) — will carry gyro-stabilized Cineflex HD cameras. Also new to the HD workflow are embedded audio and MPEG-4 encoding.

Although CP Communications did not learn that the race would proceed as scheduled until Tuesday night, the company was already heavily involved in logistics planning when it received the news. Heitmann admits that  New Yorkers along the route have not reacted positively to his crew’s setup; however, the crews still have a job to do.

“We’ll support the Marathon like we always do,” says Heitmann. “We’re just curious to see how it’s going to be supported out there in the world.”

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