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On the Gridiron: Baltimore Ravens Adjust In-Stadium Operations To Feed More Content to Digital, Social Platforms

29/09/2020

On the Gridiron: Baltimore Ravens Adjust In-Stadium Operations To Feed More Content to Digital, Social Platforms COVID protocols have team getting comfortable with workflows it likely would not have used before By Brandon Costa, Director of Digital

Monday, September 28, 2020 - 4:16 pm

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Many professional sports have opted for a return to play inside a sanitized bubble. Not the NFL. Without skipping a beat, the league is soldiering on with regular-season games in all 32 stadiums across the country. Similar to our At the Ballpark series, On the Gridiron examines the new routines, habits, and production philosophies of in-venue personnel on any given Thursday, Sunday, or Monday.

Monday night's mouth-watering Week 3 matchup between the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs and the unbeaten Baltimore Ravens was the date that everyone circled on the calendar when the NFL announced its 2020 schedule in May.

Although the play on the field promises to be spectacular, there's no sugar-coating it: the atmosphere in M&T Bank Stadium tonight should be electric. It should be a playoff atmosphere in September on primetime national television. Instead, with no fans in the stands due to COVID-19 protocols, the media group within the Baltimore Ravens will be working in overdrive to deliver an in-stadium experience that brings an energy to the field on this huge night.

It's weird when you're used to producing for 70,000 fans and you're used to feeding off that energy and doing different things in our broadcast to enhance that energy, Jay O'Brien, VP, broadcasting and game day production, Baltimore Ravens, said to SVG following the team's Week 1 home victory over the Cleveland Browns. Getting into a game day and not being able to feel the crowd and make decisions of our broadcast based on the crowd was a bit odd.

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A Game Day Unlike Any Other

The Ravens had to hit the ground running in that Week 1 home date against Cleveland, and it put O'Brien and his team in a position to create a completely different videoboard show for a stadium restricted from hosting fans.

Despite the wildly unique atmosphere, O'Brien says, he tried his hardest to keep the energy up with his team and maintain a sense of normalcy.

The Baltimore Ravens have redesigned the control room at M&T Bank Stadium to meet social-distancing guidelines. That includes installing plexiglass barriers between operator work spaces.

We tried to keep our show for pre-game and in-game as close to normal as possible, he explains. We want to be ready if and when fans return to the stadium. We didn't want to lose the energy either: the excitement in the control room and the momentum that usually build as a season goes on.

To that end, the Ravens have kept its pregame hype at a fever pitch, maintaining player intros and dramatic countdown-to-kickoff music and video content. That includes plenty of highlight-reel edits and team prompts to fill the bowl with some desperately needed fire.

The crew was able to deploy additional robotics in key positions, such as the player entrance tunnel, and to find ways to acquire compelling content even at a time when positions for crewed cameras are limited.

In the control room, the entire staff wore masks, and each of the positions was redesigned to include plexiglass barriers to separate crew members.

In addition, the control room was repurposed in portions to produce a live, 45-minute pregame show from inside the stadium for consumption on the club's various digital and social platforms. That was something the team had never done from the stadium, challenging the crew to produce, essentially, a side-by-side show in pregame for the in-stadium videoboards and digital.

During the game, content was largely focused on replays after every snap and providing multiple angles for every play. O'Brien acknowledges that the biggest changes in content came during commercial breaks, where, traditionally , the content is fan-focused in the form of direct messaging to various elements of the Fan Cam.

The lack of a need to create some of that fan-centric content has led to a slight trimming of the control-room staff. Such positions as an editor for an around-the-league highlight package, selected stats producers, replay operators, and video shaders have been lost for the time being. In addition, the in-venue video team no longer has the four handheld-camera operators typically deployed on the field in a normal season.

On the positive side, O'Brien's group does have a number of staffers in Tier 2 of the league's protocol, granting them socially distant access to the team to capture content. Senior Videographer Eddie Coughlan and Cinematographer Nick Modisett are among the exclusive few and have been logging countless hours pulling in content for the media group to share with fans.

Stadium Practices Offer Huge Rehearsal Opportunity

According to O'Brien, a huge factor in the Ravens media team's Week 1 success was a series of stadium practices that allowed the crew to get familiar for their new normal surroundings.

Prior to the start of the team's Week 1 home matchup with the Cleveland Browns, the Ravens produced a 45-minute pregame show that streaming to the club's various digital and social platforms.

Not only did it allow them to get their reps in and rehearse with new video elements on the boards,
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