Live From Super Bowl LVI: No Place Like Home for NFL Media as it Tackles Super Bowl Programming, Halftime Show, NFL Honors from Home Facility
The Los Angeles Rams aren’t the only ones playing at home this weekend in Super Bowl XLVI. The NFL Network’s home production and operations center, NFL West, is located right next door to SoFi Stadium. The 450,000 sq. ft. facility opened in September and with 74,922 sq. ft. of studio and studio support space it gives the NFL Media production team to be more creative this week and the technical team to be more responsive.
“It’s one thing to do the Super Bowl, which we do every year from whatever city the Super Bowl is in,” says Dave Shaw, NFL Media, VP, head of media operations. “But it’s another thing to do it from our own facility. We have had some curve balls as there were things we planned for and then other things that were added, like doing the Halftime Show from here and supporting NFL Honors. But our whole team has kept focused and everything we planned is coming through.”
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The facility is busy enough during a regular week let alone a Super Bowl week. The NFL West production space houses five stages and six production-control rooms and audio-control rooms that serve the five stages and the podcast studio. The studios are led by the 5,970-sq.-ft. Studio 1, which serves as the primary studio for NFL Total Access, Good Morning Football, and Super Bowl Live this week. On Thursday night a control room produced NFL Honors all told the facility cranked out 90 hours of coverage leading up to Super Bowl Sunday which sees the Network offer up live coverage from 9 am to 5 pm EST and then NFL GameDay Final after the game.
One of the big challenges this week has been accommodating a lot of one-time requests. Jessica Lee, NFL Media, senior director of operations, has been tasked with managing those requests and making them a reality.
“When you go around the facility, we have production teams that just want to shoot everywhere because of the decor all over the place, the backdrops of the stadium, and it’s just a beautiful place,” she says. “Whether it’s an ENG shoot or an event, everyone just wants to be here as we’re so close to the stadium. So, it became a natural thing when our partners were looking for what they wanted to do during Super Bowl week to look here. They’re doing events, whether it’s football ops doing different events or the social team doing things to service clients or partnerships. That’s all the extra stuff that really came with the Super Bowl.”
Shaw says managing those requests required a committee to be formed as requests were coming in from all directions.
“We kind of sorted them by events that needed to be televised and needed our technical facilities or things like a pure party,” he says. “It’s been a stress but a fun one.”
A big part of the facilities capabilities is a result of a COTS IP routing switch featuring the Magellan SDN Orchestrator (SDNO) to manage the mix of SMPTE ST 2110 IP and HD-SDI baseband infrastructure. To serve the various operational needs throughout the building beyond just the video-production portion, the NFL created three separate IP networks at NFL L.A. that interconnect with one another: an IT network for back-office needs, a SMPTE ST 2110 Amber/Blue network for broadcast ops, and a production network that connects to NFL Media’s media storage and handles user authentication. The NFL L.A. building also boasts a dual-power A/B plan with UPS and generators with original power backed up by separate city substations.
Bruce Goldfeder, VP, Engineering, NFL Media, says being at the home facility instead of on the road has offered an extra level testing and making sure things were good to go.
“We could check all the fibers ahead of time and last week we checked our cameras on everything around the place,” says Goldfeder. “We’re using about 60% of the 1,400 strands of fiber we have as we’re supporting a lot of different entities that are cross patching because the stadium did a good job fibering inside the stadium but the only fiber outside the stadium is ours.”
Tony Cole, NFL Media, Vice President, Media Operations, says the big advantage of being so close to the actual game site is that when production comes up with a new idea that creates the usual series of technical requests it is easier than ever to fulfill them without having to bring in extra gear.
“We have something technically that can match the production needs,” he says. “Creatively there’s hardly anything that they can’t request that we haven’t been able to respond to and that’s pretty darn unique.”
AJ Wainwright, NFL Media, director of technical operations, says other events that were handled out of NFL West include the NFL Commissioner’s press conference while the halftime show press conference was done at the Convention Center, but the signals were transmitted back to the NFL.
“From a transmission perspective we have such flexibility with signal management for any entity and that has been a huge advantage,” he says.
Adds Shaw: “The Commissioner presser was a full-blown production that looked awesome. And Opening Night was also different this year as the teams did their own parties and fanfests.”
The Los Angeles Rams, for example, found themselves unable to host Opening Night at the stadium because the focus was on getting it ready for the big game. So, looking to do something different they decided to tie in with the youth and hold it at a high school.
“AJ had to get the uplink lined up and then we ended up renting equipment and working with the events team so they can do their in-house show,” says Shaw. “It kind of tested us right away which was good.”
Lee says the Super Bowl efforts began with Inside the NFL shooting on site followed by the load in for NFL Honors and the groups that were building out the Honors infrastructure in studios two and three.
“Our Super Bowl week has really been two weeks,” she says.
The NFL Media team has plenty of great shooting locations within its own building but that didn’t prevent them from building out one more: a small stage built out over the water on the Lake next to their facility and the stadium. Shaw says Mark Quenzel, NFL Media, Senior Vice President, Head of Content, wanted to take advantage of the Lake (manmade) which is located next to the stadium and also works as a cooling station for the stadium.
“What’s so unique about the stadium is the lake that’s right in front of it,” says Shaw. “Mark wanted to show it off, but if you want to do that you don’t want to just put a big box on it. You want to feel like you’re floating in the water. And that was the impetus for it.”
Adds Cole: “Having that site line really gives you the dramatic effect of the stadium day and night and the lake and the whole background. That’s something that a lot of people haven’t seen yet; they’ve seen games in the stadium, but they haven’t seen the whole complex.”
Super Bowl Sunday will begin early for the team as the first show it’s the air at 6 am EST and the main studio, the Lake Set, and Champion’s Field will all be in play. Augmented Reality will add a little more sizzle to the shows, with AR coupled to a jib on Champion’s Field as well as on a robo that is covering the Lake and AR from a drone.
“The stadium set is going to come into play around 10 am,” says Lee. “We’ll also have a desk at the stadium but there are a couple of other locations we can do. We’ll really showcase everything: our facility, Hollywood Park, and the Stadium.”
Helping in those efforts is that Goldfeder and his team also built three portable flypacks, each comprising four cameras and six microphones, that can roll out anywhere in SoFi Stadium or across the Hollywood Park complex. They have played. a bit part in the Super Bowl LVI programming and being located next to the stadium has given the team the chance to test things out well ahead of the typical test phase for a remote production.
Goldfeder has been working closely with one of the big changes to a typical Super Bowl workflow: the halftime show. Traditionally the halftime show is produced out of its own separate production truck units but this year the show will be cut out of NFL West.
“They are using Production Control Room D, one audio room, and a quarter of Studio Two for camera shading,” says Goldfeder. “They’re bringing the Sony Venice cameras up in S-LOG and then putting a LUT (Look Up Table) on them to convert to Rec 709 [color space] and then they set the levels. Then it comes to us, and we turn the signals into ST-2110 IP so it can go into the production switcher.”
Shaw says handling the halftime show and NFL Honors is one of the advantages of the new facility: the ability to bring in outside entities.
“It is still our first year and everything is still waking and coming up,” he says. “It’s been a lot of work to coordinate the halftime show because they are used to having the same truck every year.”
Could the halftime show become a permanent fixture? Shaw doesn’t think so as there is a big difference between bringing signals from a long distance as opposed to a few hundred yards. But the nature of the halftime show also requires the production and technical teams to be in close contact with each other, the talent, performers, and the venue.
Cole says that when it comes to looking to the future and how Super Bowl operations may change this week has proven out that a lot of things are possible.
“This lays the groundwork for bringing a lot of things back in the building,” he says. “We’ve proved it out this year. We know what the connectivity is. So next year I don’t think there will be hesitancy to bring things back.
Adds Shaw: “Also our digital teams now have all the assets instantaneously and they can use it for editing, for social, and digital. They creators can really start creating more.”
Super Bowl LVI will cap what is arguably one of the most intense seasons ever for NFL Media. Launching a new facility in the midst of a pandemic, getting out all of the kinks, and then getting ready for the biggest sports event on the U.S. sports calendar challenged all the employees. And while usually only a handful of staffers get to experience a Super Bowl week it’s something everyone has been a part of.
“I think it’s been an extra special thing for the employees,” says Shaw. “The NFL made sure that every employee got tickets to the NFL Honors. And every employee got tickets to the NFL Experience. So, everybody feels a part of it and that’s the excitement, that’s the difference. And being that this is the first Super Bowl here in SoFi it’s pretty special and one we are going to remember.”