On the Gridiron: Chicago Bears Fuel Content Train With Remote Workflows, Safe Crewing at Soldier Field
Zoom-based player interviews and an effort toward normalcy on game day are key initiatives
Many professional sports have opted for a return to play inside a sanitized bubble. Not the NFL. Without skipping a beat, the league is soldiering on with regular-season games in all 30 stadiums across the country. Similar to our At the Ballpark series, On the Gridiron examines the new routines, habits, and production philosophies of in-venue personnel on any given Thursday, Sunday, or Monday.
“I don’t know how this is going to go.”
That was a common thought as the sports-video–production community experimented with new ways to produce and distribute live content during a global pandemic.
It was certainly the thought echoing in the mind of Rommel Paraiso, manager, game presentation and production, Chicago Bears, the first time he and his team sat down to interview a player over Zoom, a service that many had barely considered an option for internal meetings. Now it was being used for top-tier content creation.
Then, something happened: it turned out fine. A safely and simply executed interview was dressed up with some graphics, and the fans gobbled it up they way they always do.
“I thought it went really well,” says Paraiso. “Also, I felt like the players embraced it because we did the interviews from their home. They had fun. They were laughing, and they seemed really comfortable. We just kind of [looked] at how we used to do things and then figured out, ‘Hey, how can we do this with existing technology and adapt?’”
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Keeping Soldier Field’s Iconic Soul Alive
With the Bears — and the rest of the NFL — nearing the midpoint of the season, Paraiso and the Bears’ Events and Entertainment Team (headed by department Director Tanesha Wade) have become pros at churning content through remotely controlled production methods and have used that to support their complex operations on game days at iconic Soldier Field, one of the many NFL venues that have yet to welcome fans back inside. Even so, the creative team behind the in-stadium videoboard show have done their best to bring a sense of normalcy to a bizarre environment.
“For the most part,” says Paraiso, “we’ve done what we have in the past. It’s a team effort. Everybody has made this happen. It was really hard. It’s a difficult task because nobody has ever experienced it. And nobody had previous knowledge of [this]. Everybody adapted. Everybody was flexible.”
Although some obvious fan activation, such as Fan Cams and the like, has been stripped out of the production for the time being, the Bears have done their best to keep their in-venue entertainment offerings as close to “normal” as possible while integrating some new wrinkles to deliver in a barren fan environment. The show still includes plenty of replays, stats, out-of-town scores, and music playlists tailored to player tastes.
It has been supplemented with alterations to other activations not possible under current league-wide COVID guidelines. For example, the singing of the National Anthem is recorded on the field midweek and played on the stadium videoboard prior to opening kickoff. Normally, the Bears honor a local member of the military at every game, welcoming them onto the field. That event has been replaced with a video feature on the service member and also expanded into other areas to celebrate frontline workers (medical professionals, childcare services, grocery-store clerks, etc.) during the pandemic. Paraiso and his team have also gathered video messages from many players’ family members to play on the videoboard when a player makes a big play or scores a touchdown.
The production crew is also using Zoom to offer unique experiences for season-ticket holders who can’t be in the building on game day. They can watch the game together in an exclusive Zoom Meeting Room, and their video feeds can be pumped onto the videoboard in a mosaic to bring authentic fan cheering into the stadium bowl.
Our guy @TarikCohen makin’ a cameo on the fan cam. 😄
Miss ya, 2️⃣9️⃣! pic.twitter.com/lmwHBUMuad
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) November 1, 2020
Logistically, the Bears have made alterations to the videoboard-control room inside Soldier Field to ensure the safety of its crew. That has included more-widely spaced workstations and plexiglass barriers between them. That has helped the crew continue to leverage its production tools, which include a Grass Valley Karrera production switcher, three Evertz DreamCatcher replay systems, Click Effects PRIME from ChyronHego for graphics generation, and a Ross Xpression Tessera system to feed the stadium’s biggest video displays.
How Does This Shape the Future of a Resilient Crew?
Although much has gone well for the Bears Events and Entertainment group, Paraiso acknowledges that there are plenty of portions of his job that he hopes can return to normal when fans can once again attend games and the crew can freely work at club headquarters Halas Hall (which is located north of Downtown Chicago in Lake Forest, IL).
For example, yes, the Zoom-based workflows have worked, but Paraiso still believes that personal interaction with the players and the ability for his staff to use their highest-end video-production gear add a differentiator to the video content.
“I don’t know if it’s something that, ‘Hey, I want to take this and do it all the time moving forward,’” he says. “If you’re asking me, I would love everything to go back, because that in-person relationship and the quality of the shots — obviously, with a better camera — make a difference. But maybe there’s a player that we need and he can’t be in-person and he has to do it remotely. It looks great; the quality is good. I think it’s something that we could still do.”
In the meantime, the Bears staff continues to make the most of a challenging situation. Paraiso notes that many have played a critical role in getting the Chicago Bears back up and running amid the pandemic. On the video front, that has included SVP, Marketing and Communications, Scott Hagel; VP, Content and Innovation, Greg Miller; VP, Fan and Brand Development, Fernando Arriola; Director, Content and Production, Dan Barile; Manager, Entertainment, Katlin Strange; Manager, Events and Hospitality, Elizabeth Peters; Graphic Designer/Producer Michael Vasquez; Motion Graphic Designer Jordan Alexander; and Talent and Entertainment Coordinator Bobby Hack.
“I think we all did a good job — everybody, honestly, everybody across sports,” says Paraiso. “You’re watching it on television, you’re watching live broadcasts and every sport. Everybody’s doing an amazing job.”
On Sunday, the Chicago Bears are on the road for a 1 p.m. ET kickoff in Nashville to face the Tennessee Titans. They next play at Soldier Field on Monday, Nov. 16 when they host the Minnesota Vikings.