Packers game day: Putting glitz into the show
Editor's note: Ever wonder what goes into producing the full fan experience during a Green Bay Packers game at Lambeau Field? Rich Ryman takes you behind the scenes on a typical game day.
GREEN BAY - With an hour to go before the Green Bay Packers kick off to the Houston Texans at Lambeau Field, Kregg Shilbauer starts working his way through the nine-page production script that covers every minute of the next four and a half hours.
Music, on-field promotions and events, announcements, introductions, videos, advertisements, fan engagement; it's all up to Shilbauer as director of production and game presentation to deliver the sights and sounds of Lambeau Field.
There are a lot of intricate steps that go into creating the game-day experience. If executed properly, it is seamless to 80,000 stadium guests.
The schedule is paramount. It's road map and bible. Everything planned for the day and the order for doing it is in the production script, much of it in 15- and 30-second segments, each one annotated with time of day, clock time and duration, among other bits of information. It is not, however, inflexible. Shilbauer moves segments around as needed, calculating in his head the next three, four or 10 steps that must be altered by what he just did. Small bits of extra time built into each segment provides flexibility for shuffling.
On the field
Kandi Goltz watches as singer Clare Dunn twice practices the National Anthem. Goltz and U.S. Navy Reserve representatives monitor Dunn to work out the timing of a planned flyover that will be ultimately cancelled because of weather conditions.
Goltz has years of experience but still gets nervous about flyovers. The timing is precise, and she has given singers the stretching sign during the middle of performances to get them to slow down when they are out of sync with the aircraft arrival.
Military crews doing the flyovers have spotters on top of the north end zone communicating with pilots, including "singing" along with the anthem performer so the aircraft appears at the specified time.
In the production booth
From the top row of the press box deck on the west side of the stadium, Shilbauer watches over events. The Packers game-day production crew consists of 34 mostly part-timers who manage activities in the bowl, including video board programming, on-field performances such as the national anthem and half-time events, player introductions, promotions, cheerleader and band placement and more. About 80 percent of them are on headsets. Others, such as Lambeau Field announcer Bill Jartz and on-field announcer Joe Calgaro, have assistants with headsets who cue them and make sure they have current copy.
The production booth is packed with computers and monitors, including 16 relaying the feeds of cameras within the bowl, eight operated by the Packers and eight by whichever network is broadcasting the game. There is no camera coordination between the two, but each can access the other's visuals for replays and other uses. The Packers can capture up to 12 views for replays at a time.
The production schedule is full. The giant Mitsubishi Diamond Vision high-definition video boards above the north and south end zones cost the Packers about $13 million, so they wring every ounce of use out of them they can. Once the crew dives into the schedule, it is the last time most of them will leave their station before the game is over. Even halftime is fully programmed.
During the Texans game, the Packers are late leaving the locker room for player introductions. The team can be fined by the NFL if it is late for kickoff, though the league can delay the game if it suits its needs. Shilbauer conveys urgency without panic, even when communications become iffy between the booth and the tunnel, where manager of corporate sales Justin Wolf is directing the players.
"Send 'em, Wolf! Send em, Wolf! Go! Go! Go!" Shilbauer repeats into his headset as each player steps up to be introduced.
It isn't the smoothest of introductions, but only its planners notice, the details too small to be apparent to fans.
"No problem dude," Shilbauer relays to Wolf. "It's all good. We got through it."
There is no time then to contemplate such things. It's on to the next item on the list, the introduction of Dunn to sing the anthem. A quick "Cue Bill" to an assistant sitting next to Jartz in an adjacent booth sets the song in motion. "Transition, and cue Bill," is said a lot.
"All right, let's play some football," Shilbauer says into his mic as Dunn finishes "home ... of the ... brave."
There is no cheering in the press box, but the production booth is another matter. Nobody there is shy about which team they like, though there isn't time for much of that.
"You try not to get emotionally caught up on what's on the field," Shilbauer says. "That's where you get in trouble (staying on schedule)."
Other than Shilbauer constantly talking into his headset, the room is generally quiet, with everyone dialed into their particular tasks. Most of them have or have had day jobs in the industry, so there's a lot of experience in the room and no hand holding.
There are expected but unplanned elements. Shilbauer has a laminated card that details all replays and the number required by the league, such as a minimum of two for every turnover. The NFL has staff at every game to make sure the home team is adhering to league requirements, including, for example, no music when the play clock hits 20 seconds or as soon as the center touches the ball.
Video board programming includes advertisements, team videos extolling the success of the Packers, entertainment and messages encouraging fans to get loud when the other team has the ball, especially when they are in the red zone, or counseling quiet when the Packers have the ball or a player is injured.
They schedule five approximately two-minute breaks a quarter. Four have designated activities and one is left open for a touchdown celebration if needed. Breaks in Sunday's first quarter, for example, include advertisements for Associated Bank and Bergstrom Corp., promotion of radio announcers Wayne Larrivee and Larry McCarren and other promotions and announcements.
Shilbauer prefers back-to-back games because it allows the staff to get into a rhythm. Family Night and a preseason game or two gives the crew a chance to get back into sync after a long summer off.
Back on the field
The sideline can be a dangerous place. It is surprisingly crowded in addition to football players and coaches, with people and equipment moving in many directions at once.
Goltz, manager of fan and game development, was sidelined from the sideline in 2015 when she was run over by a Packers player during Family Night 2015 and suffered a broken leg. She spent the next 12 weeks on crutches and Gabrielle Valdez Dow, vice president of marketing and fan engagement, stepped in to handle on-field duties, which include keeping the booth informed of network decisions on breaks and time remaining in each. Goltz is embedded with network staffers who are in contact with their production control room and have a stop watch to control timeouts.
Normally, Goltz and Dow use electronic tablets to keep to the schedule, but on Sunday the tablets aren't working. They have paper schedules instead, which is somewhat problematic because they are wet from snow and don't keep up with changes Shilbauer is making in the booth, but they also have his voice in their ears to keep them current.
The day after
The post-game meeting on Monday morning recaps the previous day's game and looks ahead to games to come. An inventory list is created of elements that will be included in the next Lambeau Field production, in this case Sunday's contest with the Seattle Seahawks.
The post-Houston review includes a discussion about where to place camera crews and other support staff when the players come out of the tunnel. Dow doesn't like the distracting visual during Sunday's player introductions that showed people other than players using the tunnel during the announcements.
Snow played havoc with the scoreboard's new first down-line feature because the software cues on the field's white lines, a problem that affected the network broadcast as well. The digitally produced yellow line that marks first downs and the "feather" that shows down and yardage — the same as viewers have gotten used to in their living rooms — were added to the video boards this year. It is all part of the NFL's efforts to make game day at the stadium as good or better than the experience at home, Dow said.
Unlike at home, all the sponsored content in the stadium ties to football.
"You don't see those random spots anymore that tells you there's a sale next week at (a clothing store)," Shilbauer says. "It's all related back to football."
By Friday, Goltz will produce a new script covering all activities in the bowl from gates opening to end-of-game music. It will include nine pre-game activities and a dozen in-game promotions, five half-time activities, the flyover, the anthem, fireworks and more.
The schedule will be reviewed by the network and Packers football operations before copies are printed for distribution. Changes will continue to be made until game time.
By 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Shilbauer will have his headset back on, his eyes scanning the monitors in his booth, and Goltz will be on the field reviewing another National Anthem. Kickoff will be an hour away, but for them it's already game time.
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