Only 66,200 people will be inside U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday night to see the Vikings and Green Bay play the first regular-season NFL game at the new colossus. While they enjoy the place’s high-tech gadgetry and creature comforts, its designers also want to dazzle a much larger audience: the one sitting on couches all across America, watching the game on TV.
NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” will televise the Vikings’ home opener, putting the new stadium on national television for its regular-season debut. Director Drew Esocoff said the building will be prominently featured in the telecast. In addition to showing off its more attention-grabbing elements, such as its translucent roof, the “Sunday Night Football” crew will take advantage of lots of features designed to make the game look as good on TV as it does from the $400 seats.
The symbiosis between the NFL and the small screen is so strong that the league and its broadcast partners consulted on the design of U.S. Bank Stadium. Those discussions helped shape decisions about sight lines, lighting and specialty cameras. Sunday, all those tools will allow NBC to show every drop of sweat and blade of artificial grass from multiple angles in vibrant high definition.
“What we want is very simple,” said Esocoff, who has directed NBC telecasts of five Super Bowls and 10 seasons of “Sunday Night Football.” “We want unobstructed camera positions at the right angles. It sounds simple, but you still find places that even though it’s built from scratch, it may not be exactly what we’re looking for. I think this one is going to be exactly what we’re looking for.
“The sight lines look great, and the audio-visual looks like it’s going to be amazing. And the exterior is ridiculously cool.”
The modern NFL stadium is equal parts playing field and soundstage for a game that built its brand largely through TV. An average of 22.5 million people watched NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” telecasts in 2015, and 46 of the 50 most-watched programs on TV last year were NFL games. With that in mind, the Vikings invited Esocoff and other network representatives to visit the stadium during construction to offer advice on how to maximize its TV potential.
Esocoff said Sunday’s telecast will add “a little bit of glamor” to the usual “Sunday Night Football” template. The production will employ a crew of about 175, five mobile units and 30 cameras, including one mounted on an airplane that will fly over the stadium and give an aerial view through the clear roof.
Bryan Trubey, a vice president of HKS Architects and the principal designer of U.S. Bank Stadium, said the TV audience has become “a huge consideration” in stadium planning. Part of the move away from cookie-cutter buildings, he said, is because teams want their stadiums to be instantly recognizable on TV both inside and out.
“It’s a practical thing, because 95-plus percent of people who have a Vikings game experience will have it on national or international TV,” Trubey said. “Whether it’s a blimp shot or a camera view inside the facility, it’s equally important. And we know from our close relationships with [TV networks] that the more fabulous we make the architecture, the more [televised] impressions we’re going to get.”
From a technical standpoint, Trubey said, the stadium planners coordinated with the networks to ensure they got the proper camera positions and infrastructure. They also worked together to choose some unique camera locations. A camera in the rafters at the northeast corner points toward the glass for a “beauty shot” of downtown Minneapolis, an ideal visual leading into or out of a commercial break. Another robotic camera is mounted on the ceiling directly above the 50-yard line.
The Vikings added other features that maximize the production quality of both TV broadcasts and their in-house video. The stadium is the first newly built structure in the NFL to use a new LED lighting system that provides the perfect illumination for TV broadcasts. It also is set up to add cameras in places such as rafters, pylons and goalposts, and many in-house shots shared with the networks will be broadcast in 4K.
Bryan Harper, the Vikings’ vice president of content and production, is working with NBC on a special effect used when the Vikings score a touchdown. “You have to make it look good on the TV side,” he said. “The reaction you’re looking for is, ‘I’m watching this on TV, and I feel like I’m there.’ ”
Executive producer Fred Gaudelli said Sunday’s broadcast will show off the stadium’s unique features and architecture. The “Sunday Night Football” crew has done this before; it televised the first games from Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, AT&T Stadium in Dallas and Levi’s Stadium in San Francisco.
Esocoff promised to give the stadium “the first-class treatment,” though he said the focus will remain on the field.
“Now, all you need is a great football game,” Esocoff said. “You could have the most beautiful stadium in the world, but if the score is 40-0 at halftime, nobody cares.”