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Turned Inside-Out

How ESPN’s Monday Night Football Production Crew Adjusted to the Metrodome Roof Collapse

Producing a live event the size of Monday Night Football is hard work. Under normal circumstances the production crew will begin game preparations on Thursday for a Monday night game. Imagine that, it takes 4 days of preparation, set-up and testing for one game.

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But don’t kid yourself, it is time well spent.

In 2008, Monday Night Football on ESPN was the most-watched series on cable television. In 2009, the Vikings – Packers Monday Night Football game achieved the highest rating of any program in ESPN’s 30-year history. The top 10 most-viewed programs in cable television history are all Monday Night Football games on ESPN. That’s higher ratings than any episode of ‘Mad Men’, ‘The Closer’ or ‘The Shield’.

Monday Night Football is more than just important programming for the worldwide leader in sports, it makes or breaks careers.

There were not normal circumstances for the final game of week 15 . The battle between the Bears and Vikings couldn’t take place at it’s scheduled venue inside the temperature controlled Metrodome, the roof had collapsed under the weight of a snowstorm and wasn’t going to be fixed in time for Monday Night Football. The setting had to change, the game was moving outdoors to TCF Bank Stadium.

brian hegner espn director in remote truckThe Monday Night Football Production crew got thrown an audible, no time to complain, only time to work. Brian Hegner, ESPN Director II gave SportsTVJobs.com an exclusive look into how his team weathered the storm:

On December 16th it was officially announced that the December 20th Monday Night Football game, the Bears versus the Vikings, would be played at TCF Stadium, on the campus of the University of Minnesota.  Through the next 72 hours, the Monday Night Countdown crew put together a show in some of the most adverse conditions we’ve ever encountered.

When we arrived at TCF Stadium on Thursday the facility was under a massive snow removal process with a crew of approximately 150 people shoveling, hauling, melting and clearing thousands of pounds of snow and ice.  On the field was over of 16” of snow that fell over a week before, the same snowstorm that crushed the Metrodome roof.  My technical manager, operations manager and I surveyed possible locations for our set throughout the stadium.  We want to be close to the action so we looked at the field, the concourses and the press box.  Finally deciding on setting up on the field, we started our process of planning the rest of the weekend of work.tcf bank stadium under snow prior to Monday Night Football

Friday is when all of our equipment arrived on a total of nine trucks for Monday Night Countdown and Monday Night Football.  The trucks parked in a maze of production trailers, cabs and office trailers.  This is a normal process each week, but with the snow on the ground and temperatures hovering around 12°F the procedure took all day.

We got our first glimpse of a clean stadium on Saturday.  All the masses of snow had been removed and crews were working on clearing ice from the metal seats.  We had a short day to keep our crews warm and rested.  Working inside the stadium we avoided too much exposure to the harsh elements.  When dealing with extreme heat and cold it’s very important to keep safety at the forefront of everyone’s minds.

On Sunday the real work began as our entire infrastructure was created and a working television compound was operational.  Due to team practices on the field we were able to see a field without a tarp at the beginning of the day – this is the last time we would see the bare field before Monday late afternoon.  We carried all of our field equipment: cameras, audio gear, fiber connectivity, lights, monitors, set pieces and chairs to the field. A field now covered with a tarp.  Usually on Sundays we spend all day looking at camera angles, set placement and field conditions. espn lighting director in snow With the tarp on the field we could do none of these things and our day was cut short because of poor weather conditions.  All of work must now be done on show day, arriving only 3 hours before our first live production.

Game day brought with it a forecast of a lot of snow with warmer temperatures.  When we arrived the snow had been falling for several hours to the tune of about an inch.  This was only the beginning.  The tarp still lay covering the field accumulating the snow, quickly.  Our crew went to work setting up an area to start doing live hits from with our two reporters.  This was fairly simple as it only involved one camera and two microphones.  The main set still lay under cover with all of our other gear, waiting to be set on the field, which was to be removed 90 minutes before our show.  As the 90-minute mark approached we found that instead of an hour and a half, we would only have, at most, 45 minutes to prepare ourselves.

I was the director on the field placing the set, cameras, lights and monitors.  Simultaneously there was a second director in the truck working with our studios and our truck crew to get prepared.  It is not normal to have two directors on site, but I was training the other director on the show and he was thrown in to the seat due to the conditions.

The snow was now coming down mercilessly at a rate of at least an inch per hour, all of it piling on top of the tarp and our equipment.  With an hour to our first show from our main set, the tarp began to come away.  Removing a tarp is no quick event; it is a slow precise movement that can take over and hour to complete. suzy kolber steve young matt millen on monday night countdown setWith 25 minutes to our production, the tarp by our set started to come off.  We sprung to work.  The audio complement came flying out as it rests the farthest from the cameras, followed by the set.  Cameras, monitors, and lights were in tight succession before the signs, heaters and research area were set on the field.

A team of six people manned our light four-person desk to position it just right to complement the background; not only of our main camera, but for the angles for each person on the set. 
A constant countdown to air was echoed from the truck to the stage manager and A2 on the field.  With 10 minutes to air we had everything in place to start lighting, seating our talent and cleaning up our location.  Brooms were sweeping artifical turf as space heaters and heating pads started getting warm. 

The stage manager mangled a piece of paper to level off our set sign as camera 2 moved 1” to the right.  Someone shouted “Two Minutes!” and, although we were confident, the pace of the remaining work escalated. brian urlacher on set of monday night football post-game Our talent was going through traffic with the producers in the truck and they all got the last dab of makeup and we cleared the desk of snow.  With :30 seconds to air we all did a scan of the area – was the desk level, was the background clear, can everyone hear and see what they need and are we all ready to take direction from the truck…yes.

Our production continued up to the kickoff of the game without a hitch.  Post-game we produced 90 minutes for SportsCenter. After our pre-game fire drill it was all business as usual for one of the best small crews in the business.

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