Sports Production Goes All In: Next Level Technologies Drive the Viewer Experience

Published on in Advice / Tips & Tricks

We have to start with the Super Bowl. Every year millions of viewers gather in living rooms and man caves all over America and the world to soak in the spectacle that has become one of the most-viewed sporting events of the year. Think about it. Two weeks of pure hype leading up to Super Bowl Sunday. Five Million Dollars for a thirty-second spot. Countless hours of pre-game analysis and breakdown of almost every aspect of what is to come. A whirlwind symphony of production personnel by the hundreds and new technology with one goal. That one goal is to make the viewer experience unforgettable.

The immersive “feel like you are in the game” technology implemented for the Super Bowl this year is off the charts.

Of course, when we are talking about latest technology used we are not just talking the Super Bowl. Most major sporting events and productions today demand the absolute best gear and the brightest minds in production and engineering to make it all happen. But before we get to some of the cool stuff of the Super Bowl and beyond, let's sneak in a little primer.

The “No Pressure” Primer

Whether you have ever been in a live truck or not there is such a learning curve that goes with all production “live” or not. Remember that first couple of shoots and how nervous you were?

(ProductionTruckJPEG)Had you one camera or maybe two or three on location tops? Sure. Then that thing called momentum happens and your viewers wanted more. Ok, add more cameras? Sure. The production just got a more complicated. Instant Replay? Graphics? Audio? It’s all good as you plow through a D2 college football game with up to10 to 12 cameras. But let's not stop there. Let’s go ahead and go all in for the Super Bowl or any other major sporting event.

Now add 100 million plus viewing at home or elsewhere. Now add approximately 75 cameras or more. Lastly, add more incredible complexity with the number of cameras growing exponentially from every angle as Virtual Reality works its way into the overall production mix. Oh, one more thing.

Again, it is all live! But before you pass out from fright know this one thing. Producing or directing, even crewing a live sporting event is a rush like no other production gig in the world. Read lots of work, lots of fun. Seriously. Once you go live, you may never want to go back to post again. But we digress, so on with the show.

The Here and Now

For some time now sports production pros have been pushing boundaries when it comes to getting the audience to engage in the experience. It is so easy to see (no pun intended) that production technology makes huge strides every two years with the broadcasting of the Olympic Games.

My favorite is when they attach cameras all over the downhill skiers and even at the gates. It is about as close as I would ever want to get to flying downhill at breakneck speeds.

But even that pales now in comparison with the work done as in with on boards like GoPros and drones. Of course, drones are so cool right now they even have their own races!

Believe it or not, however, it really wasn’t that all that long ago that professional sports were a passive viewing experience delivered to the house. That has changed. Maybe it was the invention of the in-car camera in auto racing. 

Now the viewer could “be” the driver. How cool is that? But that was taking an existing technology and changing the application. In my opinion, the games like Madden were the real catalyst that made change happen. 

For example, look at how pro football and in some cases pro baseball and more is covered now. Where is that money shot? More and more it is coming from a SteadyCam operator or a Skycam shot from an overhead cable. I remember recently seeing a Steadicam guy running down the third base line of an MLB game following a runner after a home run. Great shot…but get OUT of the shot. But being closer to the action by looking over the driver's shoulder or running next to a pro baseball player as they cross home plate as good as that might be, isn’t quite enough. Check it out.

Intel and FOX Score Big with “Be the Player”

Using technology provided by Intel, FOX Sports introduces the “Be the Player” enhancement, a feature that displays a POV perspective from any player on the field without ever having a physical camera attached to the player.

“We tasked Intel to push their amazing Intel 360 Replay technology to the limit of what it could do, using their array of cameras circling the stadium to synthesize a player’s view on the field,” said Michael Davies, FOX Sports SVP of Field & Technical Operations. “The cameras, backed up by a huge bank of Intel computing power, allow a moment to be recreated in 3D space, so that a ‘virtual camera’ can be placed at the player’s eye line -- not unlike how limitless camera views can be created in video games.

“From the beginning, seeing and breaking down the play from the player’s point of view is the undiscovered country of sports broadcasting,” Davies added. This broadcast enhancement is like no other. It literally brings the audience down to the viewpoint of the player at the critical decision-making moment. Here is a sample provided by Fox Sports.

The FOX Sports Super Bowl LI production effort included more Super Motion and 4K cameras and used three production trucks and more than 30 cameras to deliver more than 20 hours of programming daily from Discovery Green in Houston, in addition to 70-plus cameras at NRG Stadium covering the game.

“We, as broadcasters, are always trying to provide the viewer with something they’ve never seen before,” said Zac Fields, FOX Sports SVP Graphic Technology, and Innovation. “With this new ‘Be the Player’ technology, it is now achievable and we are incredibly excited to debut this at the Super Bowl on FOX.”

Of course, the Super Bowl isn’t the only major professional sport with their hand in the viewer experience. Tuesday Night NBA action is also in the mix with Virtual Reality as part the sports viewing.

Can you imagine the feeling of being on the court or having the view of Steph Curry dropping a three pointer from downtown? That is the kind of experiences viewers want. All the major sports have a hand in the sports production action. PGA Golf, NASCAR, NCAA, MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL MLS and that is just here in the domestic US market. Overall according to the sports market in North America alone is expected to be worth 73.5 billion dollars by 2019.

Production People Make It Happen

So now that you have the big picture on how you are going to wade into billions of dollars in the sports marketplace, it’s time for a reality check. First of all, you absolutely have to love what you are doing.

Shooting and working in sports production is an all in sort of proposition. Like other film jobs, it can mean early call times, hours on your feet, and maybe working in not so great weather. But that's part of the allure. The all in part. Being there for a once in a lifetime opportunity game or event is a no-brainer. I spoke with two people (sworn not to reveal their identity) who are in the know about the sports end of the production space. One has a Super Bowl ring. The other has enough awards to choke a horse. Smart people who love what they do and want other to be successful.

So here are some takeaways from what they had to say about it all.

Show up on time. Be ready to work. Listen more. Talk less. If you have questions, make them smart ones and ask them at the right time. Confidentiality is important. Even for this article, I was sworn to secrecy by my sources. Take pride in your work. I can remember going to an important race thinking I was going to run a camera.

Nope. I ended up driving a mean golf cart. At first, I was mad. But then I said hey, I am working so who cares? I decided to be the best golf cart driver. So when one of the camera operators fainted, I took his spot. Not because of anything special but being polite, on time, and professional was noted by the producer. One other thing. You MUST have a sense of humor. I was on a crew that covered a pro sports franchise that was terrible for years. Humor was our only solace on those long losing days. Here are a few of my other recommendations for being in this crazy line of work.

1. Learn how to cover your sport. Watch others and follow them.

2. Dress for the elements. Foxboro is oh so cold in December.

3. Know your gear and know how to wrap a cable. Not kidding.

4. Find out what is expected of you.

5. Make a dozen checklists if you have to.

6. Always have water, an apple and a Snickers bar. Always. 

7. Don’t text and run the camera. 

8. Understand if the director asks people to shut off their headsets that it is his/her way of telling everyone to shut up.

9. Think like the viewer. What would they want to see? 

This is really important if you are shooting single camera. Creative is great. Having the right content to cut together? Priceless.

10. Have an escape route.

I learned this as a handheld operator on the NFL sidelines. Large people can’t slow down well and you don't want to get squished between them and the camera cart.

11. Feed the Crew. My own personal and professional mantra.

It is very simple. Treat everyone who either works for you or with you with respect and dignity. Do anything you can to make the work experience rewarding. Good food and a big Thank You go a long way when you push the crew(and yourself) to do your best.


Sports productions can be a very complex production process or as simple as you and the pro out on the course shooting and producing a golf lesson. Understanding your sport and the goals of the production are going to be a key part of your success. The prep work that you put in ahead of time will pay dividends when you are called on to deliver that game winning shot. Good shooting and see you out on the field!

About the Writer - Mark Foley 

M. Joseph Foley is the Technology Editor for ProductionHUB. As an award-winning producer/director/videographer, he has worked on sports for the NFL, NASCAR, CBS, ESPN, and Pro Boxing. Additionally, he has covered the Olympics and other high-profile sporting events. His current sports work includes a documentary on the 5 time Americas Cup winner The Herreshoff Family. His idea of fun is to go as fast as humanly possible upside down and backward

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