Run-Up Activities Before Big Events Get Big-Sound Treatment

The NHL’s Winter Classic, the NBA All-Star Game, the Daytona 500, and, of course, the Super Bowl are major events for broadcast sports. Increasingly, the run-up to such events has featured an ever deeper array of precursor events, most of which are getting their share of the broadcast-audio assets deployed to cover the main event.

Speedweek events preceding the Feb. 22 Daytona 500 included the Budweiser Duel At Daytona, the twin races that determine most of the starting order for the main race. These were framed by events in Daytona Beach, including two nights at the Oceanwalk venue featuring performances by Little Big Town and DJ Girl Talk; Kid Rock’s prerace four-song set in the raceway’s infield was broadcast on Fox Sports.

The NHL’s Winter Classic, shown on NBC, booked a steady stream of entertainment, including Billy Idol, Gavin DeGraw, Lee Greenwood, and the U.S. Army Chorus ahead of the Jan. 1 match at Nationals Park. Events prior to the NBA All-Star Game on Turner started four days before the Feb. 15 game at Madison Square Garden: the All-Day Dunk-a-Thon, the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, and music performances by Christina Aguilera, Ariana Grande, and others.

The Super Bowl, on Feb. 1 in Phoenix, shut the city down for nearly a week before the game, with a combination of sponsored sports and non-sports events: The NFL Experience Engineered by GMC; two golf events (The WM Phoenix Open and the Super Bowl Celebrity Golf Classic); player appearances at various fan fests; several fashion shows; concerts by Dierks Bentley, Imagine Dragons, Tiesto, and Fall Out Boy with Charli XCX; the Bud Light House of Whatever; and the Puppy Bowl all set the stage for Katy Perry’s halftime show.

One Big Show
Karl Malone, director of sound for NBC Sports Group, says the prelude to Super Bowl LXIX surprised him a bit, but that didn’t stop him and his staff from getting most of what would be broadcast out in 5.1 surround, which reflects the extent to which the run-up events have become part and parcel of major sports events, increasingly grand spectaculars merging sports and entertainment in an effort to keep fans glued to the screens well before the main event.

“It’s a way to extend the experience of the main event,” Malone observes. “What this tells us is, they want visibility, from a broadcast point of view. It gets the fans corralled into activities and keeps viewers interested.”

He recalls a “beautiful” set at Super Bowl Central in downtown Phoenix, where the city cordoned off nine blocks for entertainment and activities for visiting football fans. “Our set was right in the middle of it, alongside the fans, with our own 40- by 30-ft. football field and with a backdrop of activities, such as a climbing rock wall and fountain, as well a performance stage. It creates a vibrant background to mix our talent in.”

NBC’s Pro Football Talk was produced as a 5.1 surround sound live program from NEP’s ND6 with A1 Sean O’Gorman piloting the Calrec Artemis. The onsite edit rooms produced 5.1-surround pieces as well as taking finished 5.1 clips via file transfer from NBC’s Stamford, CT, production base.

“We had Audio-Technica BP-4029 stereo mics covering the crowds and AT4027s on the jibs and Steadicams as well as the surrounds, picking up the ‘ding ding’ of the passing trams,” Malone recounts. “We were on-air for seven days from that location and employed DPA d:fine headset mics on BSI RF packs, the headsets being preferred in order to cut down on the ambient noise, particularly the up-to-95-dB SPL level coming from the stage. We employed a Cedar DNS also to clean up some ambient waterfall noise.

“For the last segment of the [Pro Football Talk] show, the football talent relocated to the football field, and the NHL hockey talent got in place at the set for their live program. Their RF mics were muxed on camera feeds back to Stamford, where the show was produced, with the talent in Arizona getting their cues and communication from Stamford.

“The same happened with a very early Arizona start time for British Premier League on the day before Super Bowl Sunday,” he continues. “Once again, talent was onsite in the very early hours, with production coming from NBC’s Stamford studios. Our Bosch/RTS communications were trunked back to Stamford, in addition to utilizing RTS RVON 16 cards, which helped in having effective, familiar, and fast communication between Stamford production and Arizona talent.”

On Fiber
Malone adds that NBC took signal in via fiber cable from Phoenix’s downtown convention center, where the temporary theme park The NFL Experience was housed, using the feed during Pro Football Talk muxed through ND6 from Radio Row to Stamford. This fiber connectivity terminated to a Lance ADX-140 Cobranet unit with redundant network switches, providing four mic/line inputs, two IFBs, and two partylines over Ethernet. Also at NFL Experience were two temporary talent sets with Lance ADX-140s to provide two camera standup positions with football fields and fans as backdrop.

Meanwhile, the NBC crew at Glendale’s University of Phoenix Stadium were setting up all week for both the six-hour NBC pregame show Football Night in America and NBC’s game coverage of Super Bowl XLIX. The pregame show was mixed by Football Night in America regular A1 Mike DiCrescenzo at a Calrec Alpha in NEP’s SS24. A1 Lee Pfannerstill was the A1 in NEP’s ND4, which was used as an add-on truck, providing extra cameras and tape as well as game backup. Wendel Stevens mixed the game feed, with Ryan Outcalt submixing field effects (both coming off the regular football season as A1s in NEP’s new ND1 truck with its Calrec Apollo 72 and Beam 48).

Broadcast in 5.1 surround sound, the six-hour pregame show combined audio from talent, field and stadium sets, and large sets on the lawn in front of the University of Phoenix Stadium. There were fiber runs to nearby standups at the Renaissance hotel overlooking the stadium and to a set built in the VIP entertainment section, which was used for guest interviews.

“As with all downtown and pregame locations, there were a lot of fans involved in the experience, and we wanted to ensure we bring the excitement of the set locations to the viewers at home,” says Malone. “The natural-effects mics are all stereo AT-4027s and AT-4029s and used to create a wide or narrow sound imaging in the front left and right speakers to keep the center clean for talent and speech microphones. There was an enormous amount of connections between trucks for both audio and communications, but having a fiber infrastructure and the ability of utilizing Hydra 2 plus MADI meant there was not so much heavy lifting as in the past.”

One of the biggest changes in the sound of the game was the doubling of parabolic microphones along the sidelines, from the usual six to a dozen. That was due to the switch from wireless to wired microphones in the parabs, as a result of RF constraints.

“Instead of being able to move laterally 10 yards or so each, they could only pan the parabs left to right from a single point,” Malone says. “So we simply needed more of them.”

The next major shift in NBC Sports network audio will be the transition of Indycar, NASCAR, and F1 from stereo to 5.1 surround this year, starting with the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix March 13-15. And yes, there will be run-up events, including the IPL 500 Festival Parade the day before the May 23 race, which NBC will broadcast.

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