Super Bowl LV: NFL Films Ready To Deliver Big Game Around the Globe Despite Pandemic Challenges

A slimmed-down crew will serve up world feed and plenty of cinematic action from the field

Each year at the Super Bowl, NFL Films is tasked not only with capturing cinematic shots of action on the field — a staple of the Big Game for nearly 60 years — but also with producing a world feed and serving rightsholders around the globe.

NEP Supershooter 9 and ST9 are on hand to support NFL Films’ world-feed production along with Supershooter 22.

This year in Tampa, both roles have been complicated exponentially by the pandemic, which hindered site surveys, shifted in-person meetings to virtual, and significantly reduced the onsite crew. However, despite the challenges, the NFL Films team is up and running in Tampa at the socially distanced international broadcast compound ready to deliver more iconic moments to fans.

“The biggest difference for me has been the virtual nature of this year’s event,” says Jeremy Swarbrick, executive in charge, production operations, NFL Films. “The Super Bowl is a collaborative experience by nature, with meetings, site surveys, and a lot of interaction with everyone onsite. It has been a big adjustment. Our team has been great in the way that they handled their business. I am proud of the way that we all took care of one another so that everyone could stay in the game.”

World Feed: Producing for 50 Broadcasters, 190 Countries, 25 Languages

Inside NEP Supershooter 9, the home of this year’s Super Bowl world-feed production

NEP Supershooter 9 (with ST9 as a B unit) is on hand, serving the world-feed production for the first time. In addition, NFL Films brought back Supershooter 22 from previous years’ world feeds to allow social distancing of the production crew.

“Crew seating is broken up, splitting EVS [operators] and APs in different trucks, so that losing a truck does not wipe out the entire show,” says Jeff Lombardi, senior director, international production operations, NFL Films. “For some of our key positions, we’ve booked active backups. We have extra people here just in case the TD, director, producer, or talent have a positive test or are tagged for contact tracing. That way, we would be able to bring [the backups] in and still provide a show.”

Lumen Technologies is also in the compound with a fiber transmission unit for the world feed, and STS Global has a satellite uplink.

In addition to receiving a clean feed of the host broadcast from CBS Sports, the world feed has five unilateral cameras to supplement its production: 50-yard-line broadcast and reverse angles, a slash position, a roving handheld on the field, and a beauty cam inside the stadium.

NEP has installed fiberglass between positions at the front bench, and NFL Films has backup crew available for key positions.

“There’s actually a greater need for the world feed this year since there is a reduced international presence onsite because of COVID travel restrictions and quarantine guidelines,” says Lombardi. “For the first time, we’re providing additional iso feeds — an all-22 and a beauty shot — along with our dirty-game broadcast to Europe, Asia, North America for [rightsholders] to supplement their own productions. Those are things that they would have access to in the compound, but, since they’re not here, we are providing it to them.”

This year, the SBLV world feed will be delivered to more than 50 partners broadcasting in more than 190 countries and territories and in 25-plus languages. Australia, Japan, Mexico, and UK will have representation onsite at Raymond James Stadium.

“The biggest difference this year would have to be trying to produce our largest event for the world amidst a global pandemic,” says Lombardi. “We’ve had to find efficiencies with personnel and facilities onsite in Tampa, while also enlisting additional personnel and facilities as backups in case we’re impacted by positive tests or through contact tracing. The teamwork to get this far through the season has been nothing short of extraordinary.”

International Rightsholders: Serving Partners in a Socially Distanced Compound

Despite a smaller crew onsite, the international-broadcast compound is actually larger this year due to social distancing.

Although fewer international rightsholders have trucks onsite and NFL Films’ credentialed crew was reduced from 350 people in a typical year to between 200 and 250 this year, the international-broadcast compound is roughly 25% larger than usual in terms of overall footprint. That’s due to the strict social-distancing guidelines in place onsite and an effort to spread people out in multiple trucks.

Seven rightsholders are physically broadcasting from Raymond James Stadium this year. Four trucks are onsite — vs. 12 last year — housing Fox Sports Mexico, ESPN International (Latin America and Australia) operations. Meanwhile, TUDN-Mexico, NHK, Sky Sports, and Seven Australia are using LiveU and TVU IP-based transmission systems to send signals back home over the open internet for their respective Super Bowl broadcasts.

“We have fewer trucks this year, but we definitely still have a lot of [broadcast partners] here that are sending signals using internet from various broadcast locations around the stadium,” says Lombardi. “This helps reduce not only their production/crew footprint but also the amount of broadcaster services needed on our  end for support.”

NFL Films Deploys New Tactics To Cover the Game, Shoot All-Access Footage

NFL Films has had to get creative when it comes to camera positions as a result of the new safety protocols.

The NFL Films production team has been hindered by the pandemic throughout the season but has found new ways to obtain the intimate access and cinematic shots it is known for. That effort culminates this week in Tampa. Typically flush with production projects at the Super Bowl, Swarbrick says, NFL Films is deploying its limited onsite personnel to focus on roughly five assignments this year.

NFL Films is working out of NEP’s Super B truck, will have 33 cameras shooting the game, and expects to transfer a total of about 7.5 TB of material to its home facility in Mt. Laurel, NJ, where an army of media processors, editors, and footage loggers are waiting.

“We will have a lot of coverage at the game. It will just be a little bit different from the past,” says Swarbrick. “We won’t have as many people on the field or as much field access as we normally have, but we’ll have cameras all over the stadium to cover the Super Bowl like we do every year. Even though our field access has been limited, we’ve never seen more footage of playoff games than we did this year. We’re just finding new and creative places to put cameras and shoot games.”

NFL Films kicks off its world-feed production this weekend from Tampa.

At each Super Bowl, NFL Films also produces a daily 30-minute video news feed that is distributed to media and rightsholders around the world. This feed — press conferences, team practices, player and community events, and other Super Bowl festivities — is typically produced and edited onsite. However, in an effort to limit crew this year, NFL Films is capturing content in Tampa and sending it to Mt. Laurel via file-transfer for editing.

“With everything going virtual this year, it just made sense,” says Swarbrick. “We are recording the Zoom press conferences and virtual events, we’re getting footage shot by the NFL Network, and the clubs are helping us out with material, too.”

With Super Bowl just days away, Swarbrick says he will look back on the most challenging season of his career — likely, in the history of NFL Films — positively as a result of all the hard work by the team.

“Everyone has had to make sacrifices for us to get to this point where we’re just days away from finishing out the football season in such a challenging time,” he says. “I’m tremendously proud of everyone that’s had a hand in getting us through the entire season at Films and especially the crew that’s working onsite here. I’m just impressed with the commitment and sacrifice to get us to this point.”

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