CrossFit Games 2022: Production Team Is Once Again Onsite in Full Force
Six trucks, a crew of 250, 35+ cameras, and campus-wide fiber are deployed
After more than three years fraught with front-office shakeups and pandemic-related hurdles, the CrossFit Games are back at full strength this week at Alliant Energy Center in Madison, WI. And the production team is onsite at full strength, returning to 2018 equipment levels with an army of CrossFit Games production vets. Deploying six mobile units, a crew of more than 250, 35-plus cameras, and a comprehensive campus-wide fiber backbone, this year’s operation is on par with the massive productions seen during the CrossFit Games’ peak.
“We’re basically back full strength compared to where we left off in 2018 before the nature of the Games changed,” says Senior Coordinating Producer Joe Novello. “And it’s exciting to have all the greatest talent that we have been able to recruit over the years back again as well. Walking in the compound this year put a huge smile on my face because it looked so much like where we had left things at the end of 2018, and I immediately felt like we were truly back.”
Teaming Up: Hamilton Road Productions Takes the Lead
CrossFit worked with Hamilton Road Productions and its HRP Live division to produce the five days of live streaming and broadcast coverage, which began yesterday and will culminate Sunday in a two-hour broadcast of the individual finals on CBS. Prior to HRP’s arrival in 2019, CrossFit produced the Games internally (although most of the freelancers from those years are still part of the core crew).
HRP Owner/Executive Producer Charlie Dube is a longtime CrossFit Games production veteran, as is Lead Director Mike “Rothy” Roth, who has worked the CrossFit Games broadcasts since 2011. This week marks the culmination of months of work for HRP, which also produced the CrossFit Games Open and Semifinals, as well as the Miles to Madison behind-the-scenes docuseries.
“We’ve had three cracks at this already, since we’ve been working together on the Open, then the Quarterfinals and Semifinals and now the Games,” says Dube, who has been a producer on CrossFit Games since 2013. “As a result, the same faces keep showing up at each event, so there’s a lot of shared learning across the board.
“We’re in this for the long-haul,” he continues. “Our goal is not to build one great show this year — though we obviously want to do that — but rather to build something that is more [sustainable] long term so we don’t have to re-create the wheel every year. I think that’s going to allow us to react quicker and be more agile when a curve ball is thrown at us, which happens a lot [at CrossFit Games].”
This year’s broadcast production deploys 36 cameras, including two drones, six robos, six wireless RF cameras, and 13 bonded-cellular systems. Since competition formats change from year to year and always produce surprises, Roth says, it’s critical to have a large arsenal of cameras to adjust quickly and capture the action.
“It’s a hard sport to cover because you don’t know how it’s going to play out until you actually see it live. So we have to be absolutely covered,” he explains. “Things are always changing right up until the start of the Games, so we have to be ready to adapt and have all the necessary equipment to [pivot] at any moment.”
‘One Big Happy Family’: Broadcast, Campus Ops on a Single Fiber Backbone
NEP Supershooter 4 (A, B, and C units), Supershooter 8, and ST8 are parked in the compound. CP Communications, which is handling all RF and bonded-cellular needs in Madison, is also onsite with a 53-footer. Arctek Satellite Productions will have two C-band satellite trucks (Arctek black and purple) handling the back haul for the CBS broadcast on Sunday.
CrossFit and HRP Live worked closely with NEP’s Creative Technologies (CT) division and CP Communications to create a unified fiber backbone to serve both broadcast and on-campus operations across the sprawling Alliant Energy Center campus. For more than a week prior to the start of the Games, the fiber crew was onsite, running hundreds of miles of fiber across the campus, which comprises the NOBULL Coliseum, ROGUE North Park Stadium, and numerous fan-activations and festival-style installations.
“Our goal this year was to integrate all of the on-campus and broadcast [infrastructure] under one umbrella,” says Roth. “In the old days, if we wanted to talk to somebody about the audio level at one of the venues, we had to have someone from our team talk to someone from that team, and it was a huge hassle; now everybody’s on the same team. That has allowed us to be a lot more efficient in terms of equipment and manpower and eliminated a lot of the issues we’ve had in the past. There aren’t silos anymore, just one big happy family working together.”
On the audio/comms side, the entire CrossFit Games operation is running on a single Dante-over-MADI IP network for both broadcast and on-campus audio needs.
In addition to the live operation, HRP has rolled out its documentary crew to capture footage for the Miles to Madison series and other original-content efforts. Armed with 10+ RED cinema cameras and a Phantom ultra-high-speed camera, the crew ingests content into a NAS tied directly to the broadcast team’s EVS IPDirector.
“With the way it’s set up, [the live-production team] has access to everything the documentary crew shoots,” notes Dube. “They’re out there shooting behind-the-scenes content, beautiful scenics, and dramatic shots on the field of play. We can use that in our pre- and post-shows, and we get to roll all that into our CBS show on Sunday, which gives us an extra level of quality.”
In addition to the expanded technical infrastructure, Novello says, this year’s CrossFit Games production has benefited from a more defined leadership structure.
“HRP Live has been able to recruit a lot of the best talent we’ve ever had at the Games and put those senior people into key leadership roles,” he says. “[Previously], we weren’t able to do that internally within CrossFit because we’re not a traditional production company. This has allowed those people to participate in the design phase of setting up the CrossFit Games rather than just showing up and figuring out once they get here.”
Bonded Cellular: Aviwest Takes the Games Beyond the Campus
Although specifics for CrossFit Games competitions are always kept under close wraps, Novello says this year’s event will expand beyond the two primary venues. With that in mind, bonded-cellular mobile-production systems will factor heavily into the live coverage of the new events.
“We are being asked to do some new things offsite that we’ve never done before,” he says. “Those challenges have raised the stakes for the production and engineering teams, and they’ve come up with some terrific solutions. The new events that we brought on board this year has required us to start using bonded cellular to help us get off the campus and be able to cover events in a unique, different way.”
CP Communications is providing a total of 13 Aviwest (recently acquired by Haivision) mobile IP-based video-contribution systems. In addition, a 14th system is on hand for ENG work, allowing reporters to deliver hits from anywhere around the grounds.
“By using bonded cellular,” says Roth, “we could keep all of our production facilities here on campus but send people and gear wherever they need to go without having to park a truck somewhere. We’re able to use the same people and facilities but still go pretty much anywhere we want. We’ve done cellular tests all over town, and CP’s experience and expertise with [bonded cellular] gave us the confidence to go with the technology.”
Looking Ahead: Expanding Ecosystem Will Require Expanded Production
Although all eyes are focused on Madison this week, big things are ahead for the CrossFit Games. Under new GM, Sport, Justin Bergh, CrossFit is looking to grow the competitive ecosystem, and Novello’s production team is preparing accordingly.
“It has been a long road the past few years,” says Novello, “but I can promise you this: we are committed to the CrossFit Games, and we are committed to growing the sport of competitive fitness. We are going to be increasing our commitment and have expansion plans for both the way we cover the sport and the number of events. From a production and engineering perspective, we have to be ready to adapt and be flexible so we can be prepared for anything that comes our way.”