NFL hits Wembley for fifth annual game

The Buccaneers lost for the second time in three years at the fifth annual international game at London’s Wembley Stadium on Sunday. And while they might not be too eager to journey across the Atlantic again in a hurry, the NFL is, with rumours circulating of a second annual Wembley game to join the fixture list. “We’ll come over here any time. You guys make us feel at home and we would love to do as many as we can,” says Michael Davies, Fox Sports, VP of Technical Operations.

Sunday’s game, which saw the Bears hold on to win 24-18 and was noticeable for such English additions as a squirrel and a streaker on the pitch, was the fifth to be held at the stadium and the first produced by Fox Sports since the inaugural game back in 2007. CBS has been in the driving seat in the interim, but consistency has been maintained at all points in the production.

“We’re happy to be back,” says Davies. “We’re using the same equipment and facilities providers that we used back then – and they’ve also been doing it ever since for CBS – and that’s CTV. They’re very much ingrained with the process and with the technical ins and out of NFL football as it’s produced here in the UK. And not only do they do the television broadcast, they supply the integration for the NFL broadcast infrastructure for replay and the other technical concerns that the NFL needs fulfilled.”

Transplanting any production 3500 miles from its homeland is a tricky process, but maintaining that continuity of facilities provider over the years has certainly helped.

“We had the unique perspective of doing this the first time and CBS and does things very much the same way we do,” says Davies. “All the initial camera positions that we picked – that are non-standard for covering soccer – needed to be invented. Since then they’ve been refined and made more or less standard by CBS in subsequent years.”

Apart from having to construct a new broadcast gantry to accommodate the different camera positions, Davies says that Wembley is a good fit for the NFL after five years of honing – in fact he describes it as almost a plug and play experience nowadays.

“In terms of facilities, the stadium is relatively well cabled up top,” he continues. “What we lack is all of our field level stuff; things like wired handhelds, and we also have a fairly extensive reporter position on the field, so all that needs to be run. So, the fibre and copper infrastructure up top is quite complete but we have to home-run everything down below.”

Some kit and crew is shipped over, some is sourced in the UK and beyond, with the Netherlands being a particularly fecund source of crew with experience of working on American Football.

“We’ve got all the comforts of home here and that includes some of our speciality cameras. We’re using Sony 3300 super-mo, an Inertia Unlimited X-MO that we bought from the States, and we’ve got all our standard audio gear, things like parabolic microphones that they don’t have over here, we’ve got SkyCam, while wireless is done by CTV and their sub-hires for various frequency reasons. Basically,this looks and feels like any large NFL game played at home.

Graphics elements are also portaged over on Fox’s own Vizs for what Davies refers to as various configuration reasons. As to the people, Fox brings over its normal core crew over, 16 people spread between camera, audio and tape operators, and that complement is filled out with local crews who have worked on American Football in the past (mainly supplied from Cinevideo in the Netherlands, which gained a lot of experience with the sport during the NFL Europe series which ran from 1991 to 2007. “We’re pretty confident that all of the crew have done some football in the past, and they’re just as good as some of the people we use in the States,” says Davies.

As to the differences in working between the two continents, the trucks here are wider but people still sit in roughly the same positions. According to Davies, the main thing that you have to keep an eye on is standards and conversion.

“You just have to be mindful of bringing things over in the right format, while we’d like to do everything in our home format, because of things like unilaterals and the things that the NFL is doing, it’s easier to produce in a native European formats.

“Compared to Year One though, this is now much more of a plug and play experience, and more of a plug and play experience than if we had to go to a new venue. The people at CTV provide a great bridge and have a great wealth of knowledge, so that when we drop in there’s not a lot we can do anymore to completely surprise them.”

You just can’t allow for those squirrels…

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