Welcome to a Big Show: NFL Combine

BY ALEX KARTMAN | Director | Ball State Sports Link

In Sports Link, we try to always provide a basis for what we do from real world experience. Nothing can teach live sports like sitting in a director’s chair with 4 seconds left until air. Covering every sport possible gives different avenues of experience to students. However, nothing can prepare students for an event like the NFL Combine.IMG_8552

The Combine is completely unique in the events covered, the camera assortment, the production scale, schedule, and hours of live broadcast. Over Spring Break 2017, instead of vacationing on a beach, I found myself in the bowels of Lucas Oil Stadium serving as a relief technical director for NFL Network.

My role, in the scheme of the event, was minor. I sat in the TD chair when to provide lunch and bathroom breaks to the main TD. The experience, however, opened my eyes to the scope of a major production. The NFL Combine is only comparable to massive broadcasts, like NFL Playoffs, Golf Majors or NASCAR racing.

However, I now have the claim to fame I was in the hot seat when John Ross ran the fastest 40-yard dash in NFL Combine history. I just happened to be giving the main TD a break during his run.

To give scope to the requirements for the show, 39 cameras were used, 7 EVS machines, 4 graphics channels, 12 channels of SpotBox for effect animations, and 2 full broadcast trucks (one for NFL Network and one for NFL Now and NFL.com). The broadcasts also featured 4 set locations around Lucas Oil Stadium, including talent booth, 2 concourse sets, and a sideline social media corner.

Believe it or not, this was a scaled back event from 2016, which featured 2 more broadcast trucks to broadcast live studio shows. Being the largest event I’ve worked truly brings a Sports Link production with 5 cameras into perspective.

The front bench of NFL Network’s coverage of the 2017 NFL Combine

What the event teaches though is the importance of preparation and crew management. While the director had 20+cameras just covering the field, he worked with producers to figure out which cameras best serve individual drills.

Some cameras were never used live on air, simply fed to provide replays. Such was the case with bench press coverage and press conferences. Cameramen and women each had to understand their role to cover the event.

The rewarding experience of the event was seeing 2 Sports Link student working the event alongside me. JC Obringer and Morgan Landes served as runners for the broadcast and carry a new sense of scope to Sports Link productions.

21 total hours of live television later opened my eyes to the scope and needs to deliver the spectacle fans expect from the NFL. Never settle for the standard. Always push to find a more innovative way to tell the visual story. Whether it’s camera positioning, a better replay angle, more informative graphics, or technological innovations, there is always room to evolve a broadcast for the better.

Inside the NFL Now and NFL.com production truck

But no matter the scope, the skills, cadence, and rhythm of the broadcast matches a Sports Link production. Cameras must be in focus with proper framing. Graphics must be spelled correctly and sold to the producer. The director calls the show the exact same as we teach students: “Ready 2… Take 2…Ready Replay to Red… Effect to Red…”

The weekend confirmed we put the right foundations in place in Sports Link productions. Everyone knows their roles going into an event and executes to their full abilities. We continue to push our boundaries as the professional world does.

Author: Alex Kartman

I am the Director of Digital Sports Production and Ball State Sports Link. I produce, direct, and film sports ranging from feature stories to live broadcasts. I freelance as a technical director for the Indiana Pacers, ESPN, Fox Sports and other regional TV. I also love film and attempted to be a critic in a past life.

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