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FOX Sports' Wave of UFL Tech Innovation Crescendos With Championship Game This Weekend

14/06/2024

FOX Sports' Wave of UFL Tech Innovation Crescendos With Championship Game This Weekend The production team's mantra is to put cameras, mics almost anywhere' By Jason Dachman, Editorial Director, U.S.

Friday, June 14, 2024 - 10:00 am

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Over the past 11 weeks, FOX Sports has embarked on an odyssey of technical innovation during its inaugural United Football League campaign, building on two seasons of USFL spring football. Those efforts - deploying live drones, Helmet Cams, Ref Hat Cams, Skycams, all-access audio, and much more - culminate this weekend with the UFL Championship game in St. Louis.

The great part about our partnership with the UFL - and with the USFL before that - is that we have the ability to put cameras and microphones almost anywhere we want as long as we don't interfere with play in any way, shape, or form, says Brad Cheney, VP, field operations and engineering, FOX Sports. When you have the drone, Skycam, Helmet and Ref Hat Cams, the level of audio access, and those other pieces of technology, it allows our production team to pick and choose their angles and get looks that are truly impactful to the viewer at home.

In the Middle of the Action: Fox Transitions From HRP to Onsite Model After producing all regular-season games as Home Run Productions (HRPs) remotely from its L.A. broadcast center, FOX Sports' team is fully onsite for the semifinal and championship games. Game Creek Video Gridiron (A and B units) are on hand in the compound.

Live drone captures UFL Arlington Renegades action at Choctaw Stadium in Arlington, TX.

We have the largest [remote productions] today with UFL, says Cheney, but, when you start expanding the show beyond our [regular-season level], it becomes much more of a challenge to pull it off remotely. In creating a show as large as this, it does make sense to bring everyone together.

Bulking Up: FOX Continues To Push Technology for Title Game This Sunday's 1080p HDR production will be equipped with live in-game drones from Beverly Hills Aerials, ActionStreamer Helmet Cams, C360 PylonCam goal-line and line-to-gain systems, Skycam wired aerial systems, Referee Hat Cams from CP Communications, and an adapted RF Megalodon camera (not configured for shallow depth of field) for full on-field capture between plays. Inside-the-game audio will also continue, with 12 players miked for each game, along with access to all coach and referee communications.

We had big shows for the regular season, Cheney notes, but we have certainly ramped it up for the playoffs. We are aiming for all the available angles we can get on the field, with all the microphones and audio capabilities that we've had all season. We've worked well with the UFL technology group all season, especially when it comes to dialing in the coach and player comms.

He credits A1 Mike Del Tufo and his audio team for crafting the soundscape of the UFL this season and CP Communications for providing the tools and technology to make it all happen. In addition to miked players and coaches, Cheney says, parabolic-mic operators have also played a key role in capturing audio from the line of scrimmage without hindering team personnel.

It's not just access to mics on players; it's access on the sidelines, he explains. Being able to traverse the sideline up and down, while staying out of the coaches' way, and working with the teams has been spectacular. The goal is to allow the viewer at home to hear what football sounds like if you're right on the sidelines, and this team has done a phenomenal job of delivering that consistently week after week.

Beyond the UFL: Will We See This Tech on NFL and College Football? The UFL season comes to an end this season, but these production technologies are likely to live on in other FOX Sports properties. Although nothing is definite, Cheney says, the unique camera angles and all-access audio could be seen at some point in the future on FOX's NFL and college-football coverage.

An operator pilots a live drone during a UFL game.

I think we've proven over the last three years, starting with the USFL and now with the UFL, that we are capable of deploying technologies that are well outside the box of traditional football coverage, he says. Now that you've seen the consistency of the technology - whether it's the audio or the images - I think that could open up new opportunities for the NFL, college football, and other sports.

[With the UFL] it's not just the broadcast side, he continues. It's all the things that the UFL is doing behind the scenes: giving the coaches ways to communicate better and [enabling] players on the sidelines to see video faster. That all comes back to what we and ESPN are doing to produce a show. It gives them the ability to see all those angles and have all that access. It all provides [teams] with better tools to call and execute plays on the field.

The Promise of Spring: For UFL, the Future Looks Bright It has been a long, arduous road for spring pro football over the past decade, but the UFL looks to be the most promising league to date, according to early returns.

A UFL official sports a Ref Cam to pick up on-field angles and sounds.

UFL regular-season viewership was well above spring-football efforts in recent years, with regular-season games across FOX, ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, and FS1 averaging 816,000 viewers this season. Not only did the league beat 2023 numbers for the USFL (601,000 viewers) and XFL (622,000 viewers), but it also bested the USFL's performance in 2022, when it was the only spring league (715,000 viewers).

The increase in eyeballs provides a sense of validation for the production team -led by director Mitch Riggin and producer Mark Teitelman - and the operations team
LINK: https://www.sportsvideo.org/2024/06/14/fox-sports-wave-of-ufl-tech-inn...
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