Live From 2022 NFL Draft: NFL Media Stitches Together City-Wide Canvas With Powerful Connectivity, Broadcast Tech
The league’s centerpiece is located on the waters of the Bellagio Fountain and Caesars Palace
Whether it’s the arrival of the Raiders in 2020, the Pro Bowl in 2021, or the future site of Super Bowl LVIII in 2024, Las Vegas has become a major hub of activity for the National Football League. Always seen as one of the more ambitious productions on the league’s calendar, the 2022 NFL Draft is in Sin City this weekend. Both at-home and in-person fans will be dazzled and entertained, and that’s a testament to the hard work of NFL Media’s production and operations teams.
“We try to have a presence that shows off the flavor of the city,” says Dave Shaw, VP/head of media operations, NFL Media. “It’s going to be an amazing show, and we’ve given our fans a really great event to enjoy.”
MORE FROM THE 2022 NFL DRAFT
- ESPN Goes All-In on Three-Day Party in Las Vegas
- Van Wagner Looks to Bring Vegas Style to On-Site Show on the Strip
- Bleacher Report Streams Live From Newly-Design Set at New York City Headquarters
- NEP Is Out in Force With U.S. Mobile Units, AVS, Bexel, BSI, Fletcher
- Game Creek Video To Support NFL Network’s Studio, Flashy Red-Carpet Programming
- Wrangling Audio Challenges Live on the Air and on the Strip
Planning in the Desert: Operations Mixes New Ideas With 2020’s Original Idea
Every single NFL Draft is meticulously sketched out in advance, but this year’s edition has had the longest run time in terms of planning. It was slated to be held in April 2020, and NFL Media Senior Director, Media Operations, Adam Acone and the rest of his team began making the blueprint for this spectacle in early 2019. After numerous site surveys of locations both on and off the Strip, the crew began the next stage of making the concept into reality. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic halted the plan and prevented further progress on the project, going to a fully virtual Draft. Even though the logistics, digital renderings, and original ideas aged over the two years, the focus on the Las Vegas project remained the same.
“We started coming back here in early fall of 2021, and much of the setup was still the same,” says Acone. “The overall planning from an events perspective hadn’t changed much, but the Bellagio Fountain became our anchor to showcase Las Vegas.”
Some highlights from the 2020 plan didn’t make it into the final edition, including players’ being escorted to the Red Carpet stage by boat. Although this item was left on the cutting-room floor, NFL Media is taking highly-visible real estate on the corner of South Las Vegas Boulevard and West Flamingo Road. The activation’s centerpiece is a large stage that floats in front of the famous fountain. The structure will host the pre-Draft Red Carpet and other performances that capture the essence and eccentricity of the city. Down the road, NFL Network’s main set is another stage floating above the surface of the water with the façade of Caesars Palace as a dramatic backdrop. Through diligent work with Filmwerks, which constructed both sets, and a team of specialists who scuba-dive underwater to maintain the Bellagio Fountains, the set gradually came into being piece by piece.
“This will be the first time that any media has ever built a studio set on the fountains,” adds Acone. “We’re really excited about that opportunity.”
The setup will be the home of NFL Network’s main broadcast crew, featuring 2022 Sports Emmy nominee and the longest-tenured current Draft host, Rich Eisen; Draft expert Daniel Jeremiah, analyst and CBS’s No. 2 NFL team analyst Charles Davis, and Stanford Head Coach David Shaw. The quartet will report live from the desk starting at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday, April 28. Coach Shaw will be replaced by Fox Sports lead college football analyst Joel Klatt on Friday, April 29 at 7 p.m. ET. Peter Schrager will assume Klatt’s role for coverage starting at noon on Saturday, April 30.
The scenes at the Bellagio Fountain and Caesars Palace are gaining a lot of attention, but it’s not the only fixture that NFL Media has planned for covering the league’s next class of superstars. Positioned adjacent to the High Roller — a 550-ft.-tall, 520-ft.-diameter Ferris wheel — the network will have another set with the main Draft stage as its backdrop. Built with the help of event planner C3, this structure will host Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner and Klatt on Thursday night and Chris Rose and Schrager on Friday night.
From a planning perspective, stitching these two locations together was a concern. Notes Acone, “Our primary challenge is connecting both sets to make it a seamless experience for fans watching at home.”
Tech Foundation: 36 Onsite Cameras Include Live Drone, Shallow–Depth-of-Field
To cover the large area, NFL Media is deploying a handful of technologies for its onsite studio shows. A total of 46 cameras — 36 dedicated, 10 shared with ESPN — will be deployed in Las Vegas, with some of the more notable toys providing different angles on the festivities. At the Bellagio Fountain and Caesars Palace, a live drone will be flown by Kaze Aerial Productions Director, Photography, Lewis Estes. On the sidewalk, camera operator Rhett Nielson will control a jib camera with a wide-angle lens that sweeps over the water and onto the Red Carpet stage. On the actual stage near the front, Fox Sports Technical Director Jarrod Ligrani will be manning a shallow–depth-of-field camera. Camera operator Richie Lieble will join Ligrani on stage with a Steadicam.
NEP’s BSI is handling all RF capabilities. A trio of robotic cameras will flank the floating sets: a Sony HDC-P50 with 40X lens on a balcony of The Cosmopolitan, another Sony HDC-P50 with a 40X lens on the west side of the set for a reverse shot above the lake, and a Sony HDC-P50 with a 95X lens on a 6-ft.-high camera mount at Treasure Island on the east side. NEP’s Fletcher is providing all three robos. At the Draft Theater, camera operator Ray Hoover will be running a robotic JitaCam suspended from the ceiling.
More than 200 crew members will be onsite in Las Vegas. In the television compound behind the Draft theater, NFL Media’s production personnel will be housed in Game Creek Encore’s A, B, and C units and Edit 3. Graphics will be handled onsite, but a majority of NFL Media’s EVS replay machines will be in its NFL West facility in Los Angeles.
Bridging the onsite compound and the main set on the Strip posed a bit of a challenge. Despite the High Roller’s being visible from the Bellagio Fountain and Caesars Palace, the two areas are nearly a mile apart. To provide not only bandwidth for its own coverage but also onsite coverage for ESPN and for Van Wagner Sports & Entertainment’s in-house show, all participating entities worked towards installing connectivity to link both locations.
One early plan was to park the mobile units behind the fountains on Bellagio Drive,” says Acone. “We all identified what our needs were, and we worked with the city to install 240 strands of fiber between here and the High Roller location.”
Remote Integration: 53 Additional Camera Feeds Bring In Offsite Prospects, Club Draft Rooms
After the cancellation of the event in 2020, the league took what it knows about the Draft and flipped it on its head. Tapping remote camera feeds and virtualized workflows, NFL Media and its partners produced the real-life magic the best they could. More-traditional forms of broadcasting have returned this year, but lessons learned two years ago are playing a vital role in the televised show. ESPN’s 70-camera show and NFL Network’s coverage will be augmented by 53 other feeds — 32 signals from every club’s Draft Room and 21 signals from prospects who decided to spend the big weekend at home. These setups comprise iPhone kits shipped to each prospect’s residence and each team’s headquarters.
With Shaw and Acone managing the onsite infrastructure, Senior Director of Operations Jessica Lee is at the helm of the massive remote effort. Using TVU Network’s TVU Anywhere remote production app and the TVU Grid cloud-based video-distribution network, Lee is sifting through more than 80 simultaneous video feeds and routing them to the correct destination. For example, eight feeds from a team’s Draft room and feeds from the green room are being sent to Los Angeles. Since ESPN’s production team can handle a finite number of feeds, Lee is keeping an eye on what should be sent to the mobile unit and what should be kept out of the production switcher. While she leads this aspect of the show from Las Vegas, a Los Angeles-based team features VP, Engineering Bruce Goldfeder overseeing overall engineering; Director, Technical Operations, AJ Wainwright overseeing the transmission plan; Senior Manager, Studio Operations, Madelyn Grassi overseeing studio operations; and others.
Besides assisting the linear broadcast, Lee is working with NFL Media’s digital team for the production of Draft Central. Accessing these virtual feeds, social-media–centric fans will get an inside look at their favorite team’s Draft room two picks before they’re on the clock and two picks after making the selection is made.
“We’re capturing the key decision-makers like the head coach, GM, or an owner if they’re in the room,” says Lee. “That’s what fans want to see, but we also have to be very cognizant of their Draft boards and other sensitive information.”
As the industry continues to harness remote workflows and blend them with onsite operations, Lee sees future NFL Drafts becoming hybrid events.
“Ever since we were forced into a full remote show, we’re seeing the best of both worlds,” she says. “You have the excitement of being onsite with the 20 in-person prospects but also the people joining from all over the country.”
Expecting the Unexpected: Crew Prepares Contingency Plans
As with any live event, the folks working in Las Vegas are expecting the unexpected. With 32.2 million tourists visiting Vegas in 2021 and a projected attendance nearing 1 million, large crowds of fans bring a large possibility for error. Despite the unknowns of bringing a large-scale event with multiple locations to a city, this weekend’s endeavor has years of experience behind it. Once annually produced at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall, the NFL transformed this event into a travelling show. In 2015, Chicago became the first city to host the Draft, but the 2017 Draft in Philadelphia was the start of something special. The 2019 edition in Nashville — a location known for its loud music and raucous energy — catapulted the production to a whole new level.
“The biggest thing with these types of events is that we’re walking into a living and breathing environment,” says Acone. “We’ve made a plan, but we were also expecting nothing to be the same when we got here.”
Having devised a backup plan for thunderstorms in Nashville, the crew has a contingency plan for high-speed winds in Vegas. If they exceed 40 mph, the onsite team would evacuate, and the Draft would continue in the Caesars Forum next door. If onsite operations go offline, crews in Los Angeles are ready to go in every available control room at a moment’s notice.
“There’s also a disaster-recovery plan back home in Los Angeles where we have a studio and talent standing by,” says Shaw. “This is one of the more complex shows that we do, but our teams adapt extremely well.”
Constant Improvement: NFL Media Continues To Raise the Production Bar
Never afraid of a challenge, the league’s media arm is always pushing the technological and logistical envelope. For many, the COVID-19 pandemic was a dark cloud hanging over the heads of the sports-video-production industry, but, on the other side, the critical lessons have enabled NFL Media to work with an invigorated spirit.
“We’ve become a lot more efficient,” says Shaw. “We’ve taken this to another level, and we’re at a better place because of it.”