Behind the Scenes of the Most Spectacular Show On TV

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By Ketrin Agustine

Behind the Scenes of the Most Spectacular Show On TV

Arrowhead Stadium, the home of the Kansas City Chiefs, the N.F.L.’s defending champions, is a very loud place. Players say that when the noise reaches top volume, they can feel vibrations in their bones. During a 2014 game, a sound meter captured a decibel reading equivalent to a jet’s taking off, earning a Guinness World Record for “Loudest crowd roar at a sports stadium.” Chiefs fans know how to weaponize noise, quieting to a churchlike hush when the team’s great quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, calls signals but then, when opponents have the ball, unleashing a howl that can even drown out the sound of the play call crackling through the speaker inside the rival quarterback’s helmet.

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There are others whose work is complicated by the din. Around 11 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 7, Brian Melillo, an audio engineer for NBC Sports’ flagship N.F.L. telecast, “Sunday Night Football,” arrived at Arrowhead to prepare for that evening’s Chiefs-Detroit Lions game. It was a big occasion: the annual season opener, the N.F.L. Kickoff game, traditionally hosted by the winner of last season’s Super Bowl. There would be speeches, fireworks, a military flyover, the unfurling of a championship banner. A crowd of more than 73,000 was expected. “Arrowhead is a pretty rowdy setting,” Melillo said. “It can present some problems.”

Melillo was especially concerned about his crowd mics — three stereo microphones intended to catch the ambient oohs and aahs of fans, mounted atop 16-foot-high painters’ poles that he and a colleague had secured to the railing separating the seats from the field. These needed to be kept at a distance from exploding pyrotechnics and angled away from the blare of the stadium’s public-address system. A perhaps greater hazard was overzealous fans, who are prone to shaking the poles or even pulling them down. “You’ll get people who’ve been tailgating for five hours,” Melillo said. “I might have to bribe some people to stay off those poles.”

Melillo and his microphones were part of a huge deployment of personnel and equipment descending on Arrowhead that morning. Broadcasting a football game on live television is one of the most complex technical and logistical challenges in entertainment. The task is magnified in the case of “Sunday Night Football,” which is known for sparing no expense to deliver the most comprehensive coverage and the most arresting spectacles.

For the Kickoff game — one of three 2023 regular-season broadcasts by the “S.N.F.” team that do not take place on Sunday — an NBC Sports work force of 200 traveled to Kansas City. A convoy of 10 trucks made the trip: four mobile production units, an office truck, a generator in case power went down, a truck for the “Football Night in America” pregame show and three haulers packed with sets, cranes and dozens of cameras. There were hand-held cameras, cameras that sit atop mobile sideline carts, robotic cameras that record “beauty shots” of the stadium exterior, ultra-high-resolution 4K cameras that yield super-slow-motion replays. Suspended from a web of fiber-optic cables, more than 120 feet in the air, was Skycam, ready to zip-line over the field at up to 20 miles per hour. Another camera would arrive later to provide a still loftier vantage point from a fixed-wing aircraft.


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