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USFL Championship 2022: FOX, NBC Wrap Season 1 of Sports' Live Production Laboratory

30/06/2022

USFL Championship 2022: FOX, NBC Wrap Season 1 of Sports' Live Production Laboratory Plethora of specialty cameras, 100+ microphones cover the field for finale in Canton By Brandon Costa, Director of Digital

Thursday, June 30, 2022 - 11:37 am

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At a championship, the conversation around the live game production is typically what wild, new, eye-catching technologies the broadcaster is throwing at the event to make it an exciting and memorable viewing experience.

That's decidedly not the case with the first championship game of the rebooted United States Football League (USFL), which airs this Sunday on FOX at 7:30 p.m. ET. That's because since Opening Night, live game coverage of the USFL has been an all-out live sports production research lab on steroids.

The Birmingham Stallions and Philadelphia Stars will meet in the USFL Championship Game on Sunday (7:30 p.m. ET, FOX) from Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton. Among the camera arsenal are Helmet Cams (pictured) which will be worn by select players on the field. NOTE: The helmets pictured are of the Tampa Bay Bandits (left) and Philadelphia Stars. (Photo Courtesy: FOX Sports)

From headline grabbers like live drones and Helmet Cams to behind-the-scenes work pushing the boundaries in transmission, a joint effort between FOX Sports and NBC Sports has produced a truly unique sports television production and operations experience that will see its first season come to a conclusion this Fourth of July Weekend. It's also a big onsite effort as a crew of nearly 180 will be onsite for the finale that pits the Birmingham Stallions up against the Philadelphia Stars.

We are going in with what we've had since Day One, says Brad Cheney, VP, Field Operations and Engineering, FOX Sports. It really is the culmination of executing everything that we have learned and used. It's surrealistic because you are able to throw any idea at it. We've thrown some things that have made air, not made air. It's tough to even remember [some things] are there because there's so much stuff.

A Championship Camera Complement

Sunday's game will see a total of 56 cameras in all shapes and sizes cover the field. That tally includes many notable acquisition tools that have garnered the USFL attention all season long, like a live drone (from Beverly Hills Aerials), two SkyCams, multiple Pylon Cams, multiple hard and handheld super slow-motion cameras, an on-field Steadicam, a Megalodon (FOX's iteration of the mirrorless camera of a stabilizing rig shooting in shallow depth-of-field), Helmet Cams (embedded within select player helmets), and Ref Cams (affixed to the hat of the umpire in the defensive zone).

Manning cameras on the sideline cart are Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer Don Cornelli (top) and veteran FOX camera operator Mario Zecca. (Photo Courtesy: FOX Sports)

The USFL season has seen both FOX Sports and NBC Sports throw a seemingly endless list of unique acquisition devices at the live game production; some granting access that many major sports leagues that both networks work with on a regular basis might be hesitant to allow.

In addition, Cheney notes, that the environment has allowed for some innovations more opportunities to fail before they succeed - something that might not normally happen on more established sports properties.

In most cases, you get to try something out for a week or two and if it really doesn't shine, it gets thrown in the trash bucket, says Cheney, because whatever you're trying to do is so difficult and so costly that you just can't do it anymore. Whereas on this sport, we're able to actually get to walk things through a full season.

Cheney pointed to the live drone as a perfect example of that. While the angles pulled in by the drone garnered plenty of attention from viewers and on social media in Week 1 of the season, it took well into Weeks 3 and 4 for both FOX and NBC crews to really get a feel for where it actually fits best into the show when balanced with all of the other tools. What makes the drone different from, say, the SkyCam or a blimp (which will be in use on Sunday's championship)?

The primary game truck for the USFL Championship on Sunday is Game Creek Video's Gridiron. At the front bench for Sunday's game will be producer Mark Teitelman and director Mitch Riggin. (Photo Courtesy: FOX Sports)

It's a unique challenge for the front bench to balance all of those resources and find the best use for tools like the drone or the Helmet Cam. On Sunday's game, producer Mark Teitelman and director Mitch Riggin - both of whom regularly work on NFL shows for FOX - will be calling the shots. They will be joined by technical director Lindsay Ploszaj, lead replay op Phil Link, lead graphics op Nick Crawford, lead utility Ben Beal, V1 Darrin Peterson, and EIC (engineer-in-charge) Bryan McKenzie.

For Cheney, while he finds many of the acquisition experiments that the broadcast has rolled out this season to be exciting, it's the Helmet Cam - which is embedded into the front forehead of the helmets of select players on the field - that has gotten him the most excited.

When you see a good run or a good interception off a Helmet Cam, it's spectacular, he says. Seeing the speed at which they're running past people and understanding how somebody could have missed somebody or how they found the lane to run through to the end zone, it's just mind boggling as you see it. That's what's really spectacular. It's great for the broadcast and it's even better for digital and for places like Twitter.

Much of what has been tried is made possible by the combined leadership team of the FOX Technical team: Cheney; Director, Field Ops and Engineering Phil Abrahams; Fie
LINK: https://www.sportsvideo.org/2022/06/30/usfl-championship-2022-fox-nbc-...
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