Producing a School Sporting Event

The production of high school sporting events generates a high degree of interest among student  production crews.  The production of these events can be as simple as a single camera to a multi camera production with a full range of special effects.

Single camera productions

Single camera productions provide an interesting training opportunity for student videographers and announcers. This limited crew must solve all the technical and production problems. Particularly if covering an event at another school where they must make arrangements in advance, locate a convenient parking spot, quickly scout the location, find a location in the stands and locate an electrical outlet.

Basic Equipment

Such a production can be done with the simplest of equipment if it is done correctly. One obviously needs a camcorder with a microphone jack.   In addition, power cords long enough to reach from an electrical outlet to the stands. Due to the length of most games, an external power supply is a necessity.  For events that are likely to run more than an hour, an external digital recorder such as a FireStore is a handy device to have. 

A steady tripod with a smoothly operating pan head is critical for any video production.  A cheep camera on a good tripod will look better than a good camera on a cheep tripod.  Tripods designed for still photography are not designed to smooth panning and tilting. 

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In many broadcast booths, it is difficult to locate a tripod so that the camera can pan the field of play.  You can save time and effort by installing a post that will accept your tripod head.           The posts are electrical conduit pipe secured with a "U" bolt.

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For "away" venues, we have mounted a board on two adjustable wood working clamps (orange) and installed a pan head on the board.  With this device, the camera can be clamped to any window.  This works particularly well in locations where there is only a narrow window or a counter in front of the window.  Note that there is also a video monitor mounted on the base.

A DVD recorder is an option but they are know to fail so it is best to use two.   DV can be fed from the camera or the camera and an audio mixer can be fed to the analog inputs.  To manage the DVD recorder's menus, an external monitor is required.   Intros can be pre recorded on DV tape and added before the game begins.  Since most DVD players will only repeat "chapters", you can only use the PAUSE control during the event.  A player that can repeat all the TITLES on the disk can eliminate this problem.  To save disks do to technical glitches or human mistakes, DVD-RW disks that can be reformatted are preferable.  They also seem to be a little more reliable.   

If more than one recorder is used, it is better to use an inexpensive Radio Shack Distribution amplifier.  (Never use an RCA "Y" adapter which will double terminate the camera and lower the signal strength by 50%.  You can "Y" audio.)  Looping the video through multiple devices decreases the quality.   Looping also runs the risk that a failure or accessing a menu on the first devise will be captured by the second machine.  A simple A/V switch will allow you to monitor each device independently.

The camera must have an external microphone jack and some form of audio output. Whenever one uses an external microphone, you have introduced a number of elements for potential failure. The microphone, cables and connections can all fail. For this reason, whenever an external microphone is uses, headphones must monitor the audio.

Many cameras provide a headphone jack that solves this problem. Others provide only an RCA jack providing only a line level output that will not drive a set of headphones. In this case, a small amplifier is required to drive the headphones. Radio Shack makes a small audio amplifier  that is ideal for such applications. An RCA male to 1/8" male adapter cable is required to connect the camera to the amplifier. Since the announcer may be a distance from the camera, a cable with an 1/8" male plug one end and a female jack compatible with your headphone at the other. A "Y" adapter installed at the amplifier provides a second set of headphones for the camera operator.

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To save time wiring the DVD or VCR, audio mixer, monitors and electrical power connections, construct a rack from a small adjustable shelving unit reinforced with 1/2" PVC tubing.  Secure the "elbows" with self taping screws rather than glue so the rack can be disassembled or modified.  The shelves can slide up and down on the PVC tubing so the equipment is well secured.   The configuration above shows two VCRs and a DVD recorder.  The audio mixer, meters distribution amplifier and output switch are on the top shelf.

Simple Production Values With a Simple System

With this equipment, the production team can produce a reasonably watchable program. However, the camera operator must constantly zoom and pan from one center of interest to another.  It takes some time to master the technique but it can be done. 

No viewer of a replayed game likes to wait though a timeout break.  When there is a break, the camera operator should stop the tape or pause the DVD and give the announcer a chance to take a break. . To do this, the camera operator needs to communicate with the announcer. This can be done with a simple IFB intercom system, hand signals or a slap on the back.

Consider a break in the action where the camera operator decides to take a shot of the scoreboard. This requires slowly panning the camera and zooming in on a well-composed shot of the board. Then he must zoom back to the court. The above is time consuming and it is difficult to execute smoothly. A better technique would be to pause the camera, compose the scoreboard shot and restart the camera. At this point, the announcer should make comments relative to the information on the scoreboard. When the announcer is finished, the tape should again be paused, a shot of the court established, the tape is restarted and the announcer cued. This is difficult to execute when the camera operator and the announcer are operating independently. What is required is a better form of communication between the technical crew and the announcers.   Most video cameras have a "photo" mode that takes a six second still image.  The camera operator can take a still shot of the scoreboard and then compose the next shot by aiming the camera in the general direction by visually siting over the camera.

    Announcers are one of the most critical elements of any sports production
      See:  The Care and Feeding of School Sports Announcers

Production Communications

All professional announcers are in constant communication with their production crews via a system call "Interruptible Fold Back" or IFB for short. The "fold back" is the announcer’s own audio which can be "Interrupted" by the technical crew.

An IFB system requires three elements.

The switch is wired so that in the normal position, the audio from the camera is fed to the announcers. When the switch is thrown, the audio from the producer’s amp is routed to the announcers. With this arrangement, the camera operator or the director can cue the announcers when to pause or cue them to resume.

Multi-camera Productions

Using two cameras becomes considerably more complex.
Additional equipment that is required:

The entire crew needs to be familiar with equipment so it can be set up quickly at the remote venue. In many situations, it is simpler to set up the production equipment on a table rather than in the stands.   As noted above.  It simplifies the setup procedure to have the recorders, monitors and other production equipment prewired in their one racks.

The cameras and announcers are usually remotely located from the production equipment so cables must be constructed for:

Such a cable should be about 150’ to 200’ in length depending on the venues where it will be used.  Old garden hose reels mounted on a wood base are great for winding up cables.   Never wrap cables around your arm!  This introduces twists not only in the wires that make up the cable but also the conductors with in the wires.  It is best to fold the wires in half and then in half again and then tie them with a soft cord.  Duct tape make a stick mess.   Storing short cables in a suite case saves tangles.

Cabling the Wires
Standard PVC sticky tape rarely works well and degrades rapidly. Self amalgamating tape is a polyisobutylene tape which has no adhesive but over a period of hours adheres to itself and forms a single amalgamated rubber molding conforming to the shape of the items it is covering.. It does not adhere to the substrate so can be cut away with a sharp knife if access is
required later. Once in place for more than about 30 minutes it cannot be unwrapped but must be cut away. Once left for a few hours the tape bonds to itself to form a shaped rubber molding resistant to water and most solvents. It remains stable over a wide temperature range and degrades only very slowly (several years) in sunlight.

Wrapping Up a Cable
      Short Video or Audio Cables - Fold in half and half again.

     Long Cables

Use a short releasable wide-profile cable tie to secure the mixer-end of the cable in a circular loop about half a meter across (or less if it's a short cable). Then roll that loop hand over hand winding up the cable ensuring that each turn of the loop does not increase or decrease in size compared with the first.  When it's wound up, use a longer cable tie around the whole thing to fix it in place (maybe sometimes another cable ties on the opposite side of the loop if necessary). Obviously unwinding involves the reverse procedure. So it's like as if it were on a drum, but you don't have the additional bulk and weight of a
drum to heave around. 

Always coil cables the same way. This avoids kinks and tangles-and will increase the service life. Coil clockwise because of the way the conductors spiral inside the cord set. Others like to coil video and audio cables "over & under" like . That's fine, too, just be consistent. If you fold a flexible audio cable or extension cord in half several times, it will always bend in the same

Remember to NEVER leave any power handling cable coiled when under electoral load! The induction current can cause it to dangerously overheat. To keep it neat, "Figure 8" the excess cable in any run.

Permanent Installations

If you are going to do it more than once, then consider installing permanent cabling in your gym, auditorium or football field. The time and effort expended in such an installation will be repaid in the time saved in setting up for programs.

Jack boxes for the cameras and announcers can be constructed using PVC plastic electrical boxes. These are available in single and double gangs depending on how many jacks are required. These boxes have flat plastic covers that can be easily drilled for the required jacks. Plastic is ideal sine it is best not to have video or audio lines connected through to each other through a metal plate. Use a " or " spade bit" to remove the unneeded posts used for installing electrical switches to make more room for jacks. " conduit pipe can accommodate several cables for the announcers or a single camera. These boxes are also available for 1" conduit.

Route the conduit to jack boxes located in a room adjacent to the gym. However, all the equipment still needs to be moved to and setup in this location. While you are at it, consider running the cables from your remote facilities back to your studio. Route the cables through the crawl spaces under the school or above a suspended ceiling using students as free, no-union labor. RG-6 cable allows cameras to be located up to 600’ or more from the mixer. Once installed, setting up for a remote production is a simple as moving the cameras and patching your studio production equipment to the remote lines.

Gym Installations

Rather than setting up in the stands, consider a platform to provide a convenient location for your announcers and camera in the gymnasium. Use a 4X8 platform (steal one from your stage sets!) Use several heavy-duty hinges to attach the back edge of the platform to the gym wall with toggle bolts. Alternatively, attach them to the top bleacher seat if they are solid enough to prevent bouncing when the crowd jumps to their feet. Install two or three front legs so they fold down to support the front of the platform on the bleachers. Use a lock hasp with the ring installed on the wall so the platform folds up and locks in place when not in use.

Make provisions for installing an older camera as a scoreboard camera.

Crew Responsibilities For Producing a Multiple Camera Football Game

----------- THE DIRECTOR ----------

The director is the boss but must balance authority with a willingness to listen to input from the other members of the crew.

Since this is a student production, he/she must be a teacher, not a boss, realizing that members of the crew are in the process of learning the craft as is the director.


Things that REALLY annoy the viewing audience






---------- TECHNICAL DIRECTOR ----------

The Technical Director has the responsible for caring out the technical commands for the director. He is also responsible for technical quality of the program. Part of his job is checking that the equipment is functioning properly. White balance, video levels and focus are very important to the viewers. If the show is worth doing, it is worth doing right! If the cameras are not aligned technically, viewers will not bother to watch no matter how exciting the event. The TD can assist the director by previewing shots sold by the camera operators.




--------- AUDIO OPERATOR ----------

Sound is the most important production value. If all else fails, we can still do a radio show!
The operator should listen to the announcers and watch the game to alert the crew for: First downs, Player numbers, time remaining, kicks on 4th down. Show will sound "dead" with out crowd noise but too much will override the announcers. PA system overpowers crowd microphone in broadcast booth so rely on the microphone on the field camera. However, listen for voices of people too close to the camera microphone. Sound should match picture so bring up field camera microphone when it is on air. Use PA announcer for pre-game and player intro.





--------- GRAPHICS ---------

Graphics help tell the story for the event and provides visual interest. Many times the director will call for a specific graphic but at other times the operator should 'free lance' graphics such as player numbers (try to use everyone’s), First-and-10, upcoming games and replay times etc.




Freelance graphics:


CREDITS over end of game.   Student crews like to see their names recognized.
Begin running credits as the annoumncers are wraping up so the viewers will not change channels befor they run.
Run "Rewinding tape" Graphic at end of tape and during rewind.
SAVE any updated graphics - got to PAGE 00 for name.
Turnoff power supplies. Unplug computer and place in big, brown suite case.


---------- CAMERA ----------

Camera operators must be both artiest and scientist. They must follow directions that are sometimes unclear and at other times use their best judgment to help the director by SELLING SHOTS. Camera closet to the play should cover action. Camera farthest from action should sell COLOR SHOTS. Other camera should get HERO shots at end of play.






---------- VIDEO TAPE ----------

MASTER TAPE If the tape does not work we have no re-broadcast! Master tape needs to be under two hours so it must be paused at all breaks in the action and RESTARTED

REPLAY is a major production value and should be used on all plays that gain or lose 5 yards.





 ---------- ANNOUNCERS -------

The quality of the announcing crew sets the tone for the entire broadcast. This is a craft that is learned only by practice and the ability to review each broadcast. People forget the visual image but do not forget what they hear.

One off color comment can be destroy a whole show. When several announcers are working together, all of are equal importance but each should perform a different roll.

One announcer should call the Play-by-play and the other provides the COLOR and commentary. Do not STEP on each other! When the action becomes exciting, do not shout! Some times it is best to be quiet and let the action speak for itself. Use vocal inflection and choice of words to convey the dram of the situation. Remember that the viewers can see the game. Avoid words like "Oh!", "Gee". Speak formally not in sloppy slang.

Announcers are to report the action as facts. It is up to the viewers to determine what is important. Therefor, announcers should not use adjectives which make a value judgment.

I.e. "That was a STUPID call" - "what was he thinking!"

If the team is loosing, do not get down on them. Report positives for both teams.