Charlotte FC Ramps Up Fan Experience With Mixed-Reality Graphics for Local Broadcast, Videoboard Show

Raycom Media, The Famous Group play key roles in creation of MR elements for Tepper Sports & Entertainment

Until recently, mixed-reality and augmented-reality graphics were a rarity in regional sports coverage and were typically reserved for high-profile national broadcasts. However, the technologies are increasingly deployed in live sports production as evidenced by Charlotte FC’s local home-game broadcasts on stations across the Carolinas.

The Charlotte FC broadcasts and videoboard show feature a wide variety of mixed-reality (MR) graphics powered by The Famous Group’s technology: upper-deck signage, starting lineups on the field, matchup animations, hero-board graphics, “takeover moments” for key points in the game.

“It is our goal to deliver a high-quality broadcast to our great Charlotte FC fans across the Carolinas,” says Mike Bonner, senior director/executive producer, game presentation and production, Tepper Sports & Entertainment (TSE). “The enhancement of mixed reality integrated with the energy brought by our passionate fans is a great combination. The sweeping shots from our jib through the supporters section with the mixed reality incorporated are outstanding.”

From Panthers to Charlotte FC: TSE Is All About Mixed Reality

Charlotte FC plays its home matches at Bank of America Stadium, which is also home to the TSE-owned Carolina Panthers. Last season, the Panthers game-day–presentation team deployed a mixed-reality panther at home games, creating one of the most viral moments of the NFL season.

“We started conversations with Charlotte FC, and the initial conversation was around activating at their games,” says Andrew Isaacson, EVP, business development, The Famous Group. “It just so happened that the NFL season started before the MLS season, so the panther came first. The incredible success and magic of the panther only reinforced the excitement to do this with Charlotte FC.”

Bonner adds, “The mixed-reality panther proved to be an incredible season-long test run for what we were planning for our Charlotte FC broadcasts. The results were truly viral and make us proud of the unique mixed-reality deployments by both professional teams within Tepper Sports & Entertainment.”

Mixed Use of Mixed Reality: From the Upper Bowl to the Pitch

Since the upper-bowl seating at Bank of America Stadium is not used for Charlotte FC games, the production team looked for a way to make the space dynamic rather than empty. To that end, The Famous Group created an upper-deck MR signage system comprising 14 giant videoboards used both as virtual scoreboards and for sponsor promotion.

Starting lineups appear virtually on the field at the start of each match via sponsored pop-up CG players composited into MR. The Famous Group also built an automated system that allows Charlotte FC to change out the players depending on who is in the lineup.

In addition, The Famous Group has created floating billboards that come up at center field for matchup animations and score displays. Other key MR elements include hero-board graphics displaying tweets and statistical information, as well as “takeover moments” for key points in the match, such as goals, wins, and hero moments.

“Our collective goal was to elevate the entire broadcast,” says Isaacson. “The team wanted to make a splash and recognized that MR was a great approach to amplify the broadcast. MR always generates a ton of buzz and provides an additional opportunity for sponsorship.”

The Backend: Delivering MR to Both the Broadcast and the Videoboard

The backend workflow is similar to that of the MR system used for Panthers home games, except that MR is sent to both the videoboard and the broadcast (Panthers games feature MR only on the videoboard).

In addition, whereas two cameras are used for Panthers games, TSE and TFG have added a third for Charlotte FC matches: a 30-ft jib capable of capturing epic sweeping angles of fans. The two existing cameras are often used both for broadcast and in-house; the jib is operated by a broadcast-camera operator. A clean feed with no MR from the jib is sent to the in-venue–show control room, and the MR is incorporated in-house and fed down to the truck. As a result, it is a usable asset for both the videoboard show and the broadcast.

TSE shares resources with the Raycom Media broadcast-production truck and the in-house–production control room. The Raycom Sports mobile unit spent a week at Bank of America Stadium to integrate the technology into the production ahead of the first home game. The broadcast is overseen by director Ken Neal and producer Jim Daddona, along with Bonner.

“What a thrill it is to partner with Charlotte FC on using mixed reality from The Famous Group for the inaugural Charlotte FC season,” says Rob Reichley, SVP/executive producer, Raycom Sports. “What an electrifying visual fan experience, with game and team information floating above the pitch and sponsored, team logos, and goal animations ringing the upper deck.”

Working from the production truck, Bonner communicates to the MR operator, in-house camera ops, and in-house videoboard show that the shared in-house resources are going live to the broadcast.

The TSE production team changes content from game to game, often using MR to incorporate themes of the day (for example, Mother’s Day) or provide stats or social-media enhancements. According to Bonner, the excitement of the game is conveyed directly to the viewing audience when a Charlotte FC goal is scored or the team is victorious and his team incorporates “Goal” and “Win” animations into the MR shots.

“[Mixed reality] has helped to provide an outstanding broadcast,” he says. “Tepper Sports & Entertainment is always looking to innovate, and the use of mixed reality in the local broadcast is just one example of that innovation. Mixed reality paired with our unique camera angles for our local broadcasts has helped to deliver a high-quality production to the fans of Charlotte FC.”

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