Harrison Butker has earned his reputation as one of the great kickers in the NFL. The two-time Super Bowl champion made all 14 of his kicks in the Kansas City Chiefs’ playoff victories this season and has become as reliable in his craft as Stephen Curry is in his.
But in a great irony, it was a missed field goal by Butker during last year’s Super Bowl that prompted a revelation from Jason Cohen, CBS Sports’ vice president of remote technical operations.
With 2:24 left in the first quarter of Super Bowl LVII between the Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles, Butker’s 42-yard field goal attempt smashed off the top of the left upright at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona (a said Fox broadcaster Kevin Burkhardt in describing the piece: “So a good walk ends with the ‘doink!'”
The kick is not good, still a draw.
– NFL (@NFL) February 13, 2023
It just so happened that Cohen and Mike Francis, vice president of engineering and technology at CBS Sports, were sitting in the end zone where the kick was missed. As the sound of the miss echoed through their section, Cohen and Francis looked at each other excitedly.
“The ball ricocheted off the post and made a very loud sound, a ‘doink,'” Cohen recalled this week. “We looked at each other and I said, ‘We need a camera in the uprights.'”
Immediately after Butker’s miss, Cohen texted NFL senior broadcast director Blake Jones who was working. He excitedly told Jones he wanted to put a camera in the uprights at this year’s Super Bowl, when CBS was broadcasting the game. Jones, amused, immediately responded to Cohen and told him they should talk after the Super Bowl.
Months of planning and testing produced a “doink” camera package for Sunday’s game. The CBS broadcast will feature six 4K cameras in total that have been inserted into the Allegiant Stadium uprights in both end zones. Two of the cameras on each post are positioned to face the terrain at a 45-degree angle. Another faces directly inward to get a profile shot of the ball as it passes through. They feature high-resolution zoom capabilities and super slow-motion playback capabilities. CBS will be able to get fantasy replays of any basket or extra point, but the dream will be if someone hits the post for the doink.
“The camera doink isn’t just about whether it hits the amount,” said Harold Bryant, executive producer and executive vice president of production for CBS Sports. “If there’s a tight basket, we have three different angles on each upright, so we can see it in three different positions.”
Immediately after texting Jones, Cohen began searching the Internet and found a company, Sportsfield Specialties, that designs and manufactures sports construction equipment, including soccer goal posts. He sent a LinkedIn request during the game to the company’s sales manager. Cohen and his team ultimately spent months drafting technical drawings and schematics to ensure the integrity of the studs would not be compromised. Sportsfield assisted CBS with engineering the pole and cutting the holes. Cohen said Fletcher Sports, a camera capture company that often works with CBS Sports, designed the inserts that go into the posts and figured out how to fit the cameras.
The proof of concept initially took place during a preseason game between the New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers on August 19 at MetLife Stadium. Cohen and his group consulted with kicking analyst Jay Feely to get his take on where he thought might be a good spot for the cameras.
“We presented our ideas pretty early on about it and we had a preseason plan,” Cohen said. “The NFL has had time to evaluate the plan and then provide us with feedback after preseason testing.”
The next live test took place at Allegiant Stadium in October for a Week 6 game between the New England Patriots and Las Vegas Raiders. There was a lot of trial and error to get to this point, but the Doink cameras made their television debut for a successful stunt.
Ryan Galvin, the lead producer of this year’s Super Bowl replay, explained how the process of broadcasting a replay through a Doink camera would work in practical terms. During the Super Bowl, production specialist Amanda Smerage will operate the machine that controls the six cameras from the stands. They call it “DOINK” in the production truck. Steve McKee, who normally produces the team of Andrew Catalon, Matt Ryan and Tiki Barber but works as a replay producer for this year’s Super Bowl, will monitor those cameras. He will alert Galvin if DOINK produces anything memorable.
Galvin, who has around 60 replay feeds, ultimately has to decide which replays to use, including Doink cameras, in real time throughout the game. Galvin loves the technology, but is quick to point out that ultimately, you have to produce the game in front of you and rely on the people around you.
“A whole new look for the viewer can be tricky,” said Galvin, who will be playing in his seventh Super Bowl. “Will it be a little confusing?” Can people “get it” in six seconds? I’m not smart enough to answer that. I know that Jason Cohen and our entire operations team are working incredibly hard to fill a toolbox of cameras and replay machines for our team. My job is to get the best replay on air, if any.
Jones said the NFL is always trying to identify the next innovation in broadcasting. For example, the pylon camera is now standard for major NFL games across all broadcast partners. The Super Bowl often provides an opportunity to do something unique, and sometimes what debuts at a Super Bowl can become a standard production in the game.
Ultimately, these broadcast innovations are driven by the networks because they are the ones who have to invest the budget and the research and development. If the public immediately falls in love with a certain camera, the NFL’s other media partners will certainly take notice.
“Previously, the Sky Cam was something you only saw during big, prime-time games,” Jones said. “Now we are moving into the more regular Sunday afternoon games. We will learn a lot after this week. Ultimately, these are network decisions that we support and facilitate rather than necessarily saying you have to have X, Y, and Z cameras. This one is a pretty unique use case, and you need a certain part of the game to perform in a certain way to get that “wow” factor. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.
“There’s no story to rely on for what the perfect camera is to capture the perfect finger,” Cohen said. “Part of it is going to be luck. Where will a bullet hit? What I will tell you is that we put the cameras in different positions for the preseason game in August and the preseason game in October, where we looked at every angle possible, trying to see what the advantages were. and the disadvantages. …What we found is what we think is the ideal lens in terms of height, angle and wide angle.
Cohen said testing found it was not just the image of the ball coming towards viewers, but viewers also had to see the other goal post as a frame of reference to see if the ball happened or not. Sportsfield Specialties was able to place the cameras where CBS wanted them with a custom fit. There is a cylindrical camera tube with a piece of shatterproof plexiglass that slides into the post through a rear opening in the post. “Think of it like there’s a little door or a chamber on the back of the jamb, and this little camera slot is kind of inserted inward,” Cohen said. “Then a piece of plexiglass that is bent and pushed forward so that it is completely flush with the rest of the stud.”
The Doink cameras and appropriate wiring were placed inside the uprights at Allegiant Stadium on Wednesday. Testing was scheduled for Thursday evening, when final field installation will take place. There will also be a review on Friday. Cohen said he would be sitting in one of CBS’ production trucks on Super Bowl Sunday with other CBS executives. He admits he’s looking to get laid.
“Look, you never worry about anyone else’s misfortune, and I don’t want to put bad karma on the world and I hope the kickers don’t do their job,” Cohen said. “But it’s the kind of innovation that if someone hits the post and our cameras get a good look, it will make us really happy about all the work and effort we put into coming up with that angle.” As they line up to play on Sunday, I’m definitely going to hold my breath a little.
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(Photo from the top of a monitor showing the view from “Doink Cam” during a test during a preseason game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Jets: Courtesy of Jason Cohen)
Note: The content and images used in this article is rewritten and sourced from theathletic.com