Setting the Stage for Super Bowl 2023: Behind the Scenes in Glendale, Arizona
We headed to State Farm Stadium to take in the 94 cameras, 37 miles of fiber optics, eight production trucks and one amazing retractable field.
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
Before the crowds descend for Super Bowl LVII, State Farm Stadium is eerily quiet. I'm here in a sort of liminal space, a vast arena up for tens of thousands, but currently only populated by a few hundred. Everyone here on the ground seems tense, knowing they only have a few days to set up the greatest show on earth.
I traveled to Glendale, Arizona to document how Fox's crew prepares to broadcast the game, and I feel like an interloper. My badge was checked by four people before I even entered the building. I see pockets of activity everywhere as people test lights, sound and of course, myriad cameras. Do the crew members giving me glances sense that I'm not there to help them set up? My job is to take photos of people doing their jobs.
I try to stay out of their way. After all, everything has to be perfect for the Super Bowl. Fox's broadcast will be watched by millions of people all over the world, and it all comes down to a relatively small number of seasoned professionals making sure it goes off without a hitch. This story is about them.
Explore the Cameras, Trucks and Retractable Field at Super Bowl LVII
There are 94 cameras around the massive State Farm Stadium. That includes 44 cameras around the field for the game, 18 in various pregame areas and 16 robotic cameras. Ten are fully wireless, a rarity for this kind of event. There are cameras in the end zone markers. There are cameras suspended by wires from the rafters. There are even cameras in the passageways between the locker rooms and the field. And these are just the ones I noticed.
Most of the cameras might never be used during the broadcast, but ask any director and they'll tell you there's no such thing as too much coverage. Michael Davies, senior vice president of field operations at Fox Sports, gave me a great reason why as he gave me a tour. He was here in 2008, and said only one camera was able to capture the definitive view of the famous (or infamous, depending on your team) helmet catch made by New York Giants receiver David Tyree. That camera was on the opposite side of the field from all their others, and wasn't considered "important."
Walking around with Davies felt a bit like following a celebrity. He seems to know everyone. People stop him to say hello or to pass on a bit of time-sensitive info. This is a huge undertaking, yet if he's stressed, I can't tell.
Not shot in 4K, but still cutting-edge tech
Despite all these cameras, once again the Super Bowl won't be shot in 4K. Instead, it will be produced in 1080p with HDR, including Dolby Vision, and then upconverted to 4K resolution. That's a bit disappointing to the purist in me, but since most people won't be able to get a 4K feed at all anyway, it's not surprising. It does allow Fox to do some technical things that would otherwise be extremely expensive -- or technologically difficult in 4K -- including special replays, augmented reality (AR) graphics and more.
And that's not to say there won't be 4K cameras. There are eight of them around the stadium, plus one 8K camera. These will allow for zooming in digitally without a loss in quality. Thirty-two of the cameras are also high-frame-rate "SuperMotion" cameras that allow super-smooth slow motion replays.
Out of the World Cup, into Daytona
I talk with a few people who are setting up. Only the ones not obviously busy, of course. These are some of the best in the world at what they do, and it shows. I sense a calm seriousness and an absolute focus. For many, this isn't their first Super Bowl. For all, this isn't even their biggest project. Most of the Fox crew were in Doha for months working on the World Cup. The 70-degree weather of an Arizona winter is probably a welcome change. Next week, they'll pack it all up and head to Florida for Fox's broadcast of the Daytona 500.
While up exploring the "cheap" seats ($950, minimum) I meet Steve, who describes himself as "a carpenter in a building with no wood." His primary job is to maintain the 66,000 plastic and metal seats throughout the stadium. He's a jovial type, and shows me how to remove the seats. He says in a typical game he might have to replace two to three seats, but it only takes him about a minute.
I think of this stadium as new, but Steve keeps referring to it as old. At 17 years I suppose it is, or at least, to someone who needs to repair it. My first sports arena was the Boston Garden, which I think was 1,000 years old by the time Bird played there. So maybe my perspective is off.
A field moves in from the sun
State Farm Stadium is one of just a handful of retractable-pitch stadiums. It has a novel way of allowing real grass in a covered stadium: the entire field rolls outside. Mounted on a series of rails, it has spent the last few days moving in and out, trying to keep the grass alive but also letting people rehearse and block out on the actual field. I lucked out and was there when the field rolled in for the last time.
The field will stay here until the Wednesday after the Super Bowl, only getting sun from the open roof, which this time of year can only supply part of the field with direct sunlight. This partial light makes some aspects of the broadcast more difficult, since one part of the stadium is significantly brighter than the rest. The open roof makes the sound a bit better, though.
Coming soon to a Super Bowl party near you
The video resolution of the Super Bowl is going to vary a lot depending how you get your TV. Generally, it's going to be 720p, as that's what Fox broadcasts. You can get the upconverted 4K via the Fox Sports app and via certain providers that offer a 4K upgrade, including YouTube TV, Fubo TV and some cable providers. Comcast customers can see the game in Dolby Vision. It can vary a lot, so check your current provider.
While true 4K would be great, the high-frame-rate cameras and HDR should at least make for great-looking content, resolution aside. The augmented reality graphics, powered by none other than the Unreal Engine (yes, the one used in games), should look impressive too.
As for the Fox crew, there's no rest in sight. After the game they've got to pack everything up and head to Daytona and do it all again. And again and again and again.
Check out the gallery above to see what goes into putting on a show this big, and then tune in on Sunday to see the results.