2022 Winter Classic: In Record-Breaking Cold, Turner Sports Rises to the Occasion of Its First Marquee NHL Event
Crews withstood sub-zero temperatures to deliver unique regular-season event
With an official temperature of minus 6 F at puck drop, the 2022 Winter Classic, at Target Field in Minneapolis on Saturday evening, established a new record for the coldest outdoor game in the history of the National Hockey League.
For Turner Sports, taking on live production of the unique and prestigious annual event for the first time, it was a baptism by … fire?
“We’ve had our bit of cold nights on baseball, and it can get chilly, but by no stretch have we ever experienced that type of cold for an outdoor production,” says Chris Brown, VP, operations and technology, Turner Sports. “It was definitely very different, but it was a good different. It lends a lot of perspective. I think It took a lot of the older Turner folks back to the days of doing the NFL.”
Over the first 12 Winter Classics, dating to New Year’s Day 2008, previous rightsholder NBC Sports had its fair share of cold, but the temperature never dipped below zero. The coldest Winter Classic game prior to Saturday was the 2014 edition at Michigan Stadium, when the temperature hit 13 F (with snow). Of the 33 total outdoor games the league has hosted, only one was played in zero degree temperature: the Heritage Classic at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, AB, in November 2003.
So, though thrilled to be covering its first Winter Classic, the Turner Sports crew was sure going to earn it in their rookie season.
According to Brown, necessary protocols were put into place to ensure the safety of personnel and equipment throughout the game. Crew members weren’t afraid to speak up, and, when someone needed a break to warm up, one was granted without question.
The crew was made up largely of Turner’s standard traveling regular-season crew, with locals filling in where needed. For many, the thrill of working the event was only amplified by the extreme temps.
“The cool thing,” says Brown, “is that people really wanted to be a part of it. I think there was a willingness to endure the cold — up to a certain point.”
As for the gear, the operations team deployed everything from space heaters to heated blankets to keep equipment operational. The cold did present some challenges, including with the on-ice shallow–depth-of-field rig, on which both the gimbal and camera battery struggled to perform in the cold. The camera was still used throughout the broadcast, just not for stretches as lengthy as the production team would have liked.
“You worry about lenses sticking and servos slowing down,” says Brown. “Where applicable, you try to apply heat to help some of that out. But, by far and large, everything performed pretty well.”
Cold aside, Turner Sports rolled in with a production complement befitting one of the most eye-catching events in sports television today. More than 30 cameras were deployed; according to game director Paul Hemming, 36 camera angles made it to air. The complement included 12 manned-robotics cameras (provided by Fletcher), five unmanned robos, four hard cameras, three handhelds (RF was supplied by CP Communications), POVs mounted on each bench and penalty box, a Skycam (which has not been deployed many times — if ever — at Target Field), and a fixed-wing plane from Winged Vision (piloted by Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer Bob Mikkelson).
Since this was Turner’s first foray into the event, the production and operations teams relied heavily on NHL guidance in drawing up the production plan. The league picked a number of potential camera positions and presented them to the production team for review. The crew — including Turner Director, Technical Operations, Lee Estroff — also visited Minneapolis for two site surveys in the last few months of the year. Turner Tech Manager Eric Grossman is a veteran of the NHL and brought a lot of experience with outdoor events of this nature.
“It’s a balance,” Brown says. “We want to be able to push the boundaries on a game like this but with the reminder that this is still a regular-season game. We can’t break a number of rules as if this is an exhibition game. So there’s a healthy mix of respecting the game, and, while it’s supposed to be fun for the players and the fans, there’s a boundary of respect that needs to remain.”
In the truck compound outside Target Field, the game was run out of NEP Supershooter 8. The IP-based, 4K- and HDR-capable truck typically works the NBA circuit for Turner Sports, but a bit of a break in the schedule made it available for this event. Also onsite was NEP ND6, which is slated to take over as the primary truck for the second half of the NHL season through the Conference Final.
All in all, the event certainly presented a substantial challenge, but the Turner production team met it impressively, even with some last-minute adjustments due to rising COVID numbers across the country. The future remains bright for one of sports TV’s most mesmerizing spectacles, which appears to be in good hands for at least the next six years.
“For Turner Sports to get the Winter Classic is a major win,” notes Brown. “We know how important and special this event is to the NHL and the hockey community. To have the privilege to put this particular event on and to work with the NHL to continue the tradition of this event is incredible. It makes us excited about the number of possibilities that are on the horizon for Turner Sports and the NHL to continue to make the Winter Classic a world-class event. The NHL is so receptive to ideas and what we can do together to continue to push this event.”