The Baltimore Ravens broadcasting team produces the team’s preseason games in-house, preferring to oversee production responsibilities rather than putting the show in the hands of a local affiliate or production house. But, for a team that delivers a “network-level show” on its stadium video boards at every home game as well as original Ravens programming nightly for Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic all season, the jump to producing live games for television has been virtually seamless.
“I come from a [broadcast background], and we have the same philosophy here, the same disciplines, gear, and crew as you would have for a network-level broadcast,” says Ravens VP of Broadcasting Larry Rosen. “The philosophy is that the folks that are paying the money to come to the stadium are getting at least an equivalent or better [video] experience as they would get home on their television.”
M&T Enters Year Two in HD
Prior to last season, the Ravens’ M&T Bank Stadium was outfitted with a comprehensive new HD video system that includes a Daktronics video board at each end zone, a new routing infrastructure, and an HD control room integrated by Diversified Systems (VPC was also an integrator on the project).
The control room features a Sony 8000 switcher, EVS servers for slow-motion replay, Chyron HyperX3 graphics, and a Ross Video Soft Metal Server. Rosen & company deploy a substantial camera complement on game day, including five Sony HSC300K HD cameras with Canon HD lenses and a wireless SteadiCam system from RF Central.
“It’s not like the old scoreboard days; we are truly doing a network-level HD show,” says Rosen. “The only difference is that, in an [in-stadium] environment, you are your own wide shot, so my job is to get everyone close and make people feel like they are on the field.”
In a twist, the Ravens camera operators shoot their game-day show in 16:9, but the new Daktronics displays are 4:1. The 4:1 configuration was due to the team’s inability to make any structural changes to the video-board areas in the stadium, which would have resulted in substantial seat kills and construction costs. However, the result is a distinctive cinemascope-like experience for the fans.
“It becomes more of a horizontal aesthetic, like in a widescreen film, and it’s amazing,” says Rosen. “As long as we train and shoot to that mentality, you get a lot of stunning shots. We have [our camera operators] shoot 16:9 in the viewfinder, but I [insert] on their viewfinder a window that shows what the 4:1 image will display. So they keep any critical game action within the 4:1 viewable window.”
Preseason Telecasts Get Regular-Season Treatment
The Ravens broadcasting team has brought the same network-level philosophy to the production of three preseason games (a fourth was picked up by ESPN), which are televised on WBAL-TV Baltimore, CSN Mid-Atlantic, WJLA Washington, and WHTM Harrisburg-Lancaster-Lebanon-York, PA.
“I have pretty much everything a network show would have,” says Ravens Director of Broadcasting Administration Don DiRaddo. “The team puts a lot of resources towards the preseason games and believes in having a quality first-class program. I’m given a lot of stuff so the show better be good because I don’t have any excuse if it’s not.”
NEP and NCP are providing full HD mobile units for each game (NCP 12 and NEP SS-18 worked the first two preseason games), while DiRaddo and his 40-person crew deploy a total of nine cameras and four EVS servers. The Ravens will also bring back a customized graphics package that was unveiled last year.
The games are simulcast on TV and on WBAL 1090 AM with the regular-season radio announcers — play-by-play man Jerry Sandusky and analysts Stan White and Qadry Ismail — in the booth. The Ravens also produce a half-hour pregame show and a postgame show that leads affiliates into their 11 p.m. newscasts.
Although the Ravens have been producing their own preseason games for several years, the off-season lockout severely complicated DiRaddo’s attempts to book a truck and crew for the games.
“Preseason football is not something that you can start planning three weeks before,” he says. “We needed to have a contingency plan so we ordered the truck and secured the crew with the understanding that, the closer we got to the game date, the more it would cost to cancel. But otherwise, we moved forward as if [the preseason] was definitely happening, because we had no choice.”
Ravens Programming Becomes a Daily Affair
Once the regular season commences next month, the five-person Ravens broadcasting department will fall into its weekly routine of producing a half-hour of weeknight programming for CSN Mid-Atlantic and WBAL Plus.
Each weeknight at 5 p.m. and 12 midnight, CSN Mid-Atlantic, which recently renewed its contract with the Ravens, will air a half-hour Ravens program: 1 Winning Drive (Monday), the new Ravens One on One (Tuesday), Game Plan (Wednesday), Ravens Report (Thursday), and Purple Passion (Friday). WBAL Plus airs the same programming at various times.
Each show is shot and produced at the Ravens’ team facility in Owings Mills, MD, where the team has a radio studio outfitted with cameras as well as a small television studio.
“I look at the five shows as one show with varying segments,” says DiRaddo. “On Comcast, we’re on at the same time every night with a different show. So it’s a genuine strip of Ravens programming for fans every single [weeknight].”
The Ravens take on the Washington Redskins on ESPN on Aug. 25 and will close out the preseason in Atlanta against the Falcons on Sept. 1. Raven’s weeknight programming will return for week 1 of the regular season.