Editor’s note: For the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) game against Panama in Orlando, World Soccer Talk’s Kyle Fansler was invited by TUDN to get a unique, behind-the-scenes study of what it takes for a major television broadcaster to air live coverage of a massive World Cup qualifier.
TUDN’s World Cup coverage for USMNT games resembles more of an army than it does a production team.
In Sunday’s fixture between the U.S. and Panama, a team of 35 to 40 TUDN employees worked together to bring the broadcast into more than half a million Spanish-language households in the nation. In fact, the Spanish-language broadcast on TUDN and UniMas averaged 503,000 viewers. It would normally have been more, but Honduras-Mexico was happening at the same time.
To fit the task of catering to the Spanish-language households watching U.S.-Panama, dozens of cameramen, editors, producers and other staff collaborated on a live broadcast where the fate of the USA’s chances of World Cup qualification was on a knife’s edge.
On the screen, it looks simple enough. There is one main camera and several others throughout the stadium. However, the complexity goes down to the details for each camera. Plus, the complexity rises when you consider that TUDN also uses cameras from FOX Sports, which carried English-language coverage of the game.
There is a certain give and take. For example, TUDN uses three cameras specifically provided by FOX. These are the main camera and the two behind each goal.
Yet the decisions to switch cameras rapidly in the game to go along with replays comes from outside the stadium in the TUDN truck.
This is just an example of the ins and outs of what it takes to broadcast a USMNT game for the Spanish-language audience. There are also studio shows, on-site desks and a four-man broadcast team in the booth to put out the game.
Chronologically, here is the breakdown of coverage on Sunday night’s game that saw the U.S. beat Panama, 5-1.
TUDN World Cup coverage from Exploria Stadium
For Sunday night’s game, TUDN held an hour of dedicated pregame coverage as well as an hour of postgame coverage. However, the analysts and studio hosts from Exploria Stadium had hits throughout the day. Therefore, their day truly starts over five hours ahead of kickoff.
The talent, which for this game featured a four-man broadcast booth, showed up to Exploria Stadium in Orlando at around 2 p.m., five hours before kick off. For this game, that meant Tony Cherchi, Luis Omar Tapia, Ramses Sandoval and Marcelo Balboa arrived at Exploria Stadium well before the party got started.
The reason for this is so they can understand the rundown of what will be covered during pregame. Also, these commentators perform two- to three-minute hits for TUDN’s pregame show.
Remember, TUDN, has its World Cup studio coverage away from the stadium, down in Miami at its headquarters. While the actual dedicated pregame show did not start until an hour before kickoff, whatever programs ran by the broadcaster featured little snippets of content from the desk at Exploria Stadium. This could be one question Ramses Sandoval asks Marcelo Balboa or just a conversation between two behind the desk.
However, this is carefully orchestrated by the producers, including Alejandro Lodeiro. At Exploria Stadium on Sunday, the questions that Sandoval asks or the sideline reporter asks a player as they enter the stadium are pre-planned. Lodeiro and others at TUDN carefully planned out a rundown for the show weeks in advance, and those questions fit that organization.
Things will change going into the game. For example, the U.S. picked up a draw at the Estadio Azteca, and Gio Reyna made a headline-grabbing mazy run from one box to the other.
So, when putting together this run down, there were things that were already established. For example, the history of World Cup qualifiers between Panama and the United States. Or, a special on Panamanian Román Torres, who scored a brace in the last match of the 2018 qualification cycle to send Panama to its first World Cup.
These require extensive research and production, and time to put together. However, in order to not date itself, TUDN air content that changes just hours before it goes live. For example, the sideline reporter interviewed Jesús Ferreira when the starting lineups came out. An unexpected start, producers believed fans would be interested in how the Colombian-born attacker would take the opportunity.
The aforementioned effort by Gio Reyna was a major talking point. In fact, it signaled a potential return to the starting lineup for Gregg Berhalter. However, when TUDN learned he would remain on the bench, it took away some magnitude from the special interview they had with Reyna once the U.S. returned from Mexico. Regardless, the piece aired during the TUDN dedicated pregame World Cup coverage.
While viewers watch the pregame and are set for kickoff, the craziness amplifies for the production crew at the venue. The truck, which houses the director and producer, replay organizer, audio and video crews, sits in the parking lot just minutes from the field.
Inside the truck, over ten people operate boards that control how the viewers at home experience the game. However, it is not as simple as one person directing someone to change the camera that comes back on the main feed.
Let’s start with the cameras. As stated previously, TUDN and Univision use a set of camera provided by FOX, US Soccer and Exploria Stadium. Furthermore, Univision uses the main feed from FOX throughout most of the game. Still it is up to the director, Dacio Alonso, to make the decisions.
For reference, he estimates that Sunday’s game had 3,000 cuts between cameras during the broadcast. That does not include the cuts from FOX, which provides the world feed for the game in terms of video and audio.
Video and audio
FOX’s cameras and TUDN’s cameras may not always look the same. That could be due to the sunset game and the fact that brightness and exposure change as the lighting shifts from daytime to night.
To fix this, one operator uses joysticks to change filters to ensure proper lighting and color. Also, he ensures it is consistent across all the cameras in the stadium.
That way, the director does not have to call out changes to ensure better picture quality. Rather, he sees the polished product and chooses from there.
On the other side of the truck, the audio team perfects the sounds of the game. While the audio and video automatically synchronize, TUDN takes certain considerations into effect. For example, TUDN opens up the microphones on the field to capture more ambient and crowd noise.
The crowd, ball contact, referee whistle and even players yelling are audible throughout the game. Univision and TUDN create a more authentic experience for the viewers at home.
Capturing the emotion
A trend consistent among asking the talent, producers and directors from Univision and TUDN is capturing emotion. In the Spanish culture, it inherently exists based off of verbiage and tone. Yet, Univision increases this sentiment.
Audio and video certainly contribute to that. As does commentary. The four-man commentary team is a busy room. But, it allows for more casual conversation regarding the game rather than obscure facts.
Each member of that team puts together statistics and puts in hours upon hours of research and game film to prepare for the game. However, once the game starts, the chemistry allows for something more akin to a friendly discussion, not simple commentary.
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