BIRMINGHAM, Alabama.— Halfway through the inaugural season of the United States Football League (USFL), the well-known television production technique called REMI, or Remote Integration Model, once again proves invaluable, but this time with a twist.

Rather than simply offering an alternative to traditional on-site television production, the same REMI implementation serves centralized production control in Los Angeles for FOX Sports and Stamford, Connecticut, for NBC Sports as well as the league itself in Los Angeles. , feeding into the USFL replay. , which is done under contract by Fox.

“To do this really required an absolute plethora of transmission equipment and a real deep knowledge of the network both [network television] workflows and concepts,” says Brad Cheney, vice president of field operations and engineering at Fox Sports.

Over 120 streams leave Birmingham via 19 gigabits of bandwidth, a combination of private and public circuits as well as satellite backup. About half lands simultaneously in Stamford and Los Angeles and the other half is separate for each location. Even though separate game productions are done in Stamford and Los Angeles, remote replay on the West Coast means both locations are still active.

(Image credit: Fox Sports)

“Even when NBC does a show, you can’t just flip the switch and send the whole transmission to NBC and call it a day,” Cheney explains. “These cameras are coming back in real time to LA for the replay center…. All of this depth of access that we’ve built for the show interacts full-time with NBC Stamford. From this level, the integration is absolutely peer-to-peer at all times. »

The “new” USFL and television production
The “new” USFL kicked off its first season in April with eight teams playing a 10-game schedule. The word “new” is applied to this incarnation of the league because the idea of ​​a second professional football league has been around for decades. The USFL traces its historical roots to 1965 when David Dixon, a New Orleans businessman, conceived the idea of ​​a professional league that played during the summer in the NFL and football off-seasons. university. This league actually formed and played three seasons, 1983-85, before folding.

The new league, which is reportedly owned by Fox Sports through a business entity called The Spring League, is led by co-founder and president Brian Woods and USFL executive vice president of football operations and former Cowboys Daryl Johnston. from Dallas. guard who played on three Super Bowl championship teams.

All regular season games are played in Birmingham. Three postseason games will also be played, culminating July 3 with the USFL Bowl, which will be played at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio, adjacent to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The teams are split into two divisions, which include the Michigan Panthers, New Jersey Generals, Philadelphia Stars, and Pittsburgh Maulers to the north and the Birmingham Stallions, Houston Gamblers, New Orleans Breakers, and Tampa Bay Bandits to the south.

Centralizing regular-season play in one city — instead of playing in four different cities each week — meant there was no need to drive traditional self-service trucks across the country from venue to venue. the other. REMI was a good choice, Cheney said.

The first week of the season was an exception with traditional mobile facilities on site at the 47,000-seat Protective Stadium where the University of Alabama Blazers play in Birmingham. Legion Field, the former home of the UAB Blazers, is also used.

However, remotely produced items were added for the first two games of the inaugural weekend. NBC Sports added quarterback stats, scoring bug, production and commentator telestrators, from Stamford. This weekend’s Game 3 between the Philadelphia Stars and the New Orleans Breakers was produced entirely at Stamford.

Fox Sports began preparing for USFL production preparations in December 2021. Two weeks later, the sportscaster’s CEO Eric Shanks and Brad Zager, its president of production and operations/executive producer, came to see Cheney and his team with a new development.

“They said, ‘Hey, by the way, we have a second television partner, NBC, and we’re going to do everything together,'” Cheney recalled.

Enter NBC Sports
Fresh off its straddling production of the Beijing Winter Olympics and Super Bowl LVI from SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, NBC Sports has taken on USFL game production in partnership with Fox Sports.

For its productions, NBC Sports uses more than 68 video paths from Birmingham to Stamford, says Craig Bernstein, the sports broadcaster’s vice president, technical operations and remote engineering.

Relying on a combination of compression codecs including JPEG2000, HEVC and H.264, NBC Sports reduced the latency between the stadium and Stamford to “almost a non-factor”, he says.

From a production perspective, broadcasters use nearly 60 cameras to cover the biggest games — comparable to the number used for NFC and AFC championship games — and as many as 30 for others, Cheney says.

(Image credit: Fox Sports)

In the case of Fox Sports, 70 microphones capture audio from the field. NBC Sports added three additional stereo microphones – Left High End Zone, Right High End Zone, and 50 Meter Mezzanine Level – to create and capture enhanced sound. The broadcaster creates a 5.1.4 mix at Stamford, which is downmixed to 5.1 for the air, Bernstein says.

Games are shot in 1080p HDR. NBC distributes 1080i HD to viewers, Fox distributes its shows in 4K to affiliates and cable partners. Most Fox affiliates convert to 720p for broadcast, but some also air in ATSC 3.0, which supports 4K. “I think some of them are doing that as well (streaming the games in 4K) and some are leveraging their cable partners,” Cheney says.

New perspectives
Specialized cameras play an important role in game production. The helmets are equipped with cameras just like the caps of the referees. There are also line-to-gain wireless tower cameras, drone cameras, says Bernstein. Ump cameras are particularly valuable, adds Cheney.

(Image credit: Fox Sports)

“One thing people forget… [with] the helmet camera is when you run with a soccer ball, your helmet moves from side to side, because you’re looking ahead to see what’s going on, see where that hole is, while you you move,” Cheney explains. “While we get some really amazing things, it can also give you motion sickness at the same time.”

On the other hand, the referees remain still and concentrated. “You really see the head game coming your way,” he adds.

Among the most notable shots are those of a dual SKYCAM setup, one positioned high and the other low, similar to what NBC Sports uses in its “Sunday Night Football” productions. While the use of two SKYCAMs isn’t new to football production, the impact of positioning one defensively and the other offensively “is enormous,” Cheney says.

With the SKYCAM Defensive Side, producers can zoom in and ISO on players running towards the camera, “something we’ve never been able to do before,” says Cheney.

“Now suddenly we have a moving end zone camera,” he says. “We put a 24x lens on it, and it’s in people’s noses. And because of the other cover cameras there, even the low-sky camera on the offensive side of the game spins lower, doing more and pushing things a bit.

While producers and technical staff hail from different networks, NBC Sports and Fox Sports have worked well together, learning from each other and synthesizing new perspectives in the production of each of their shows. Even with the production of the opening game – a simulcast by Fox and NBC – the two parties worked closely together.

“That night we were kicking off this simulcast, Brad Zager and (executive producer and president of NBC Sports, producing) Sam Flood were sitting next to each other the whole time, discussing what to do. do – how to do the show,” says Cheney.

Bernstein echoes Cheney’s comments. “Working with our partners at Fox has been both a unique and rewarding experience, including working together to design dual solutions using a common set of equipment and personnel. I look forward to continuing the partnership as the league continues to gain momentum,” he said.

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