How the CBS Super Bowl broadcast will have a different look, feel

Tone will be a major focus, as crew members balance the reality of the pandemic with excitement for the matchup.
CBS broadcasters Tony Romo, Jim Nantz and Tracy Wolfson will work Sunday's Super Bowl 55 between the Bucs and Chiefs.
CBS broadcasters Tony Romo, Jim Nantz and Tracy Wolfson will work Sunday's Super Bowl 55 between the Bucs and Chiefs. [ Courtesy of CBS ]
Published Feb. 6, 2021|Updated Feb. 7, 2021

Like so much onsite in Tampa for the staging of Super Bowl 55 during a pandemic, the CBS television broadcast that comes into your home also will be different, with a more reserved feel and a technologically-enhanced look.

“It’s all about tone,” CBS Sports chairman and Super Bowl executive producer Sean McManus said. “Are we going to be excited if (Tom) Brady or (Patrick) Mahomes throws a 60-yard touchdown pass? Or if Tyreek Hill goes crazy? We’re going to get excited, and we’re going to kind of forget our troubles for a while.

“But the tone, I think, is going to be a little bit different this year. The existence of the health care workers (in the stadium), the overhang of the pandemic, it’s all going to make our tone a little bit different. We’re not going to be somber, and we’re not going to be depressing, but I think we’re going to put everything in perspective.”

Another goal, McManus said, is to convey a sense of appreciation for what the country has gone through, and optimism that better times are ahead, with the Chiefs-Bucs game providing a respite.

“America needs this Super Bowl,” McManus said. “It’s an opportunity for the country to come together. I think it’s going to be uplifting, I think it’s going to be unifying. And I think it’s coming at the right time. I really do hope that it’s a celebration for everything that’s great about this country.”

There will be plenty of time to explore those themes and others, with programming launching at 11:30 a.m. Sunday and a formal four-hour pre-game show starting at 2 p.m. from Raymond James Stadium. Coverage of the anthem, coin toss and other ceremonies starts at 6 p.m., with kickoff at 6:30.

The game will have an enhanced look, as CBS makes use of the additional space in the stands (with fan seating limited and distanced) and along the sidelines to position cameras in places they normally can’t access, providing different and closer-than-ever to the action shots. Also a big part of their plans: augmented reality graphics.

“We have cameras that have unique views and never-before-seen perspectives,” said McManus, touting “an incredible technical showcase for the latest state-of-the-art technology.”

Most interesting among toys being used for the first time:

• A “trolley cam” attached to a cable in what would normally be in the eighth row of the seats, capable of tracking plays up and down the field at up to 65 mph.

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The trolley cam, which will be attached to a cable about eight rows into the stands, is one of CBS' new devices for the Super Bowl.
The trolley cam, which will be attached to a cable about eight rows into the stands, is one of CBS' new devices for the Super Bowl. [ Courtesy of CBS ]

• Two “Venice” cameras, typically used in movies and TV commercials, to provide what executive producer Harold Bryant called a cinematic and “almost 3D” shot in tracking players on the field during timeouts.

• A 53-foot “movie bird” crane in the upper concourse to also provide movie-style sweeping shots.

Overall, CBS will have more than 120 cameras — some robotic, some with 4K and 8K technology for extreme close-ups — positioned around, on and over the field and, of course, in the pylons.

“It’s about telling stories, being innovative and embracing the challenges,” Bryant said.

As during the regular season and playoffs, the CBS crew will be following strict protocols, including coronavirus testing and physical distancing. Extra production trucks were brought in to create more work spaces, and some production staffers will work from their homes and the New York office. The usual night-before production meeting of 40-50 crew members was canceled, as was the staff dinner.

The broadcasters also have to stay apart. So rather than spending the whole week in Tampa hanging out, visiting with the teams and production crew, play-by-play man Jim Nantz (who had planned to come in Thursday) and analyst Tony Romo (Friday) won’t see each other until they get in the booth Sunday, taking separate cars from the hotel to the stadium.

“And that’s a bummer,” Nantz said.

The same for reporter Tracy Wolfson who, while happy to be back on the sideline after working most of the season from the stands, said it won’t be the usual Super Bowl experience.

“I don’t know if you’re going to get that huge pomp and circumstance that you’re normally used to,” she said. “It’s going to be a little different. But that doesn’t mean it’s not going to be as great as every Super Bowl we’ve been a part of. And certainly, with this matchup, how can it not be great?”

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