Harrison Butker has earned a reputation as one of the NFL’s great kickers. The two-time Super Bowl champion has made all 14 of his kicks in the Kansas City Chiefs’ postseason victories this season and has become as dependent on his art as Stephen Curry is on his.
But in a bit of great irony, it was a missed field goal by Butker in last year’s Super Bowl that sparked an epiphany from Jason Cohen, vice president of remote technical operations at CBS Sports.
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 broke the top of the left upright at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. (Said Fox host Kevin Burkhardt when describing the play: “So a good trip ends with the ‘doink!’”)
The kick is useless, the game is still tied.
-NFL (@NFL) February 13, 2023
It just so happened that Cohen and Mike Francis, vice president of engineering and technology for CBS Sports, were sitting in the end zone where the kick was missed. As the sound of the young lady echoed through their section, Cohen and Francis looked at each other with excitement.
“The ball bounced 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 stanchions.’”
Immediately after Butker’s ruling, Cohen texted NFL senior broadcast director Blake Jones, who was, well, working. He excitedly told Jones that he wanted to place a camera in the stanchions at this year’s Super Bowl when CBS was broadcasting the game. An amused Jones responded to Cohen immediately and told him they should talk after the Super Bowl.
Months of planning and testing have produced a set of “doink” cameras for Sunday’s game. The CBS broadcast will feature six total 4K cameras that have been inserted into Allegiant Stadium uprights in both end zones. Two of the cameras on each upright are positioned facing the field at a 45-degree angle. Another looks directly in for a side profile shot of the ball as it flies. They have high resolution zoom capabilities and super slow motion playback capabilities. CBS will be able to get fantastic replays of any field goal or extra point, but the dream will be if someone hits the post.
“The camera doesn’t just doink if it hits the upright,” said CBS Sports executive producer and executive vice president of production Harold Bryant. “If there’s a field goal that’s tight, we have three different angles on each post, 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 goals. He sent a LinkedIn request during the game to the company’s sales director. Cohen and his team ultimately spent months composing engineering drawings and schematics to ensure the integrity of the studs was not compromised. Sportsfield assisted CBS with post engineering and hole cutting. Cohen said Fletcher Sports, a camera capture company that often works with CBS Sports, designed the inserts that go into the uprights and figured out how to make the cameras fit.
The proof of concept initially occurred at a preseason game between the New York Jets and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on August 1. 19 at MetLife Stadium. Cohen and his group consulted with kicking analyst Jay Feely to get his perspective on where he thought might be a good spot for the cameras.
“We presented our ideas early enough to have a preseason plan,” Cohen said. “The NFL had time to evaluate the plan and then come back to us with feedback after preseason testing.”
The next live test came 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 doink cameras made their television debut to a hit.
Ryan Galvin, the lead replay producer for this year’s Super Bowl, explained how the process of airing a doink camera replay would work in practical terms. At the Super Bowl, production specialist Amanda Smerage will operate the machine that controls the six cameras from the stanchions. She calls him “DOINK” on 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 more than 60 replays at his disposal, ultimately has to decide which replays to use, including doink cameras, in real time throughout the game. Galvin loves technology, but he is quick to point out that ultimately you have to produce the game in front of you and trust the people around you.
“A completely new look for the viewer can be complicated,” said Galvin, who will be working 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 Jason Cohen and our entire operations team work incredibly hard to fill a toolbox of cameras and playback machines for our team. My job is to get the best replay on air when appropriate.”
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 the opportunity to do something unique, and sometimes what debuts in a Super Bowl can become a standard in-game production.
Ultimately, these innovations in broadcasting are dictated by the networks because they are the ones who have to invest the budget and research and development. If the public immediately fell in love with a certain camera, the NFL’s other media partners would certainly take notice.
“It used to be that the sky camera was something you only saw in the big games in prime time,” Jones said. “That applies to the more regular Sunday afternoon games. We’ll learn a lot after this week. In the end, these are networking decisions that we support and facilitate rather than necessarily saying you have to have cameras X, Y and Z. This is a pretty unique use case, and you need a certain part of the game to happen in a certain way to get that “wow” factor. “It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.”
“There is no history of what is the perfect camera to capture the perfect movement,” Cohen said. “Apart from this there will be luck. Where will you possibly hit a ball? What I will tell you is that we put cameras in different positions for the August preseason game and the October game where we looked at every possible angle, trying to see what the pros and cons were. …What we came up with is what we think is the right height, angle and wide-angle lens.”
Cohen said what the tests revealed was that it wasn’t just the image of the ball coming toward the spectators, but that the spectators also needed to see the other goal post as a frame of reference to see whether the ball passed or not. . Sportsfield Specialties was able to place the cameras where CBS wanted them through a custom fit. There is a cylindrical camera tube with a piece of unbreakable plexiglass that slides into the post through a rear opening in the stud. “Think of it as if there’s a little door or a camera on the back of the stud, and this little slot for the camera inserts inward,” Cohen said. “Then a piece of plexiglass that is curved and pushed forward so that it is completely flush with the rest of the stud.”
Doink cameras and proper wiring were placed inside Allegiant Stadium on Wednesday. Testing was scheduled for Thursday night, when final field installation took place. There will also be a review on Friday. Cohen said he will be sitting in one of CBS’s production trucks on Super Bowl Sunday with other CBS bosses. He admits that he’s supporting an asshole.
“Look, you never support someone else’s misery, and I don’t want to put bad karma in the world and expect field goal kickers to not do their job,” Cohen said. “But this is the kind of innovation that, if someone touches the pole and our cameras get a great view, it will make us feel really happy about all the work and effort we put into inventing this angle. So as they line up to play on Sunday, I’m definitely going to hold my breath a little bit.”
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(Above photo of a monitor showing the view from the “Doink Cam” during a test at a preseason game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New York Jets: Courtesy of Jason Cohen)