The Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans is the largest fixed-dome structure on the planet. It covers 13 acres and has a 273-ft. dome stretching across a diameter of 680 ft. Needless to say, the dimensions can pose challenges for broadcasters during New Orleans Saints games, as well as during special events, such as this weekend’s Final Four.
Operations have been particularly tricky for CBS Sports because, last year, the Superdome was undergoing renovation and was unable to host 2011 NCAA Tournament Regional Finals, which, as has become customary under the “monster configuration,” take place on a court centered under a dome. Ken Aagaard, EVP of operations and production services for CBS Sports, notes that lack of a trial run made things harder.
“This venue requires a lot of extra cabling,” says Aagaard, who brought a small crew in a few days early to get a head start on wiring the structure and truck compound. “When I say that it’s harder, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s bad. It’s just more, and, because we haven’t done it before, everyone is not familiar with the cable runs, and you’ve got to put a lot of labor against it.”
By the time Friday’s open practices arrived, though, CBS was ready to go and prepared to roll out some exciting new elements.
Sparkling New Set
Like most networks with major events, CBS has made it a tradition to take its studio set on the road for its Final Four coverage. This year introduces a new set positioned directly between two student sections behind the west basket.
“The new desk has gotten a lot of attention,” says Aagaard. “We were finally able to get enough money to put something together, and I think it looks pretty good. Whenever you put up a new set or a new desk, though, there’s always something that isn’t right, so the last couple of days [prior to Friday] have been a bit of a scramble.”
Most of that scramble, again, has to do with the Superdome’s size. Cabling to the set was a challenge because it is located at the end of the dome away from the truck compound, where the A unit, F&F Productions’ GTX-15, is parked.
“Now when you have a problem over there, we’re got a longer run to fix it,” notes Aagaard. “So the troubleshooting is a little more difficult.”
Actioncam Takes to the Skies
Also capturing the attention of fans both at home and in the arena is the aerial camera system Actioncam.
Based on a four-point system, Actioncam features high-strength cables fixed at each “point” at a rigging tower. The camera then has the freedom to fly within the area inside the four points via a series of motors and a joystick controller operated by a pilot located in a box in the upper reaches of the Superdome.
Having deployed Actioncam in the previous four Final Fours, CBS stepped up its use in 2012, adding systems at all four Regional sites. The crew operating it in New Orleans is the one that worked with CBS coordinating producer Bob Dekas and director Bob Fishman on the Regionals in Atlanta.
CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus noted during a media conference call that reception to the angles from Actioncam have received both positive and negative reviews from viewers. However, Dekas and Fishman use the camera sparingly and don’t let it interfere with important game action.
“Some of the directors hadn’t used it before, and it took a little while for them to get used to how to use it and where you can use it,” says Aagaard. “We also have to play within some rules that the NCAA has set forth for us. So it was a bit of a learning experience, and, frankly, early on, we didn’t quite get everything right. But we worked on it and got better.”