A staple at the NFL’s biggest game of the year, Van Wagner Sports & Entertainment (VWSE) has become accustomed to different neutral-site locations hosting the Super Bowl. In yet another major event in the COVID-19 era, VWSE is using remote staffers, in-person help from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers staff, and LED technology to dazzle the 22,000 fans at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL, and the millions watching from home.
“It will be a hybrid of our typical onsite workflow and remote workstations,” says Ryan Kehn, creative director, VWSE Productions. “We have our production server in Tampa that networks into the control room for content delivery, but we also have a workflow that goes from the workstation to Amazon S3 as an intermediary, and we’ll use some tools to sync S3 with our server in Tampa.”
Far From the Party: Remote Workflows Link Offsite Workers to Tampa
As the main conduit for the in-venue videoboard show and the overall game-day experience, VWSE is always poised to adapt and adjust to any given scenario. This year, with the COVID-19 pandemic still lingering as a serious threat, the company is pushing a chunk of resources to offsite locations. The objective is two-fold: alleviating congestion in common workspaces in the stadium and deploying a production method that has been routinely used since the beginning of last year.
“We looked at logistics and working in a COVID-safe environment and decided if it was really necessary to bring our full creative-support team that’s usually on-premises,” says Nate McCoart, director, technical operations, VWSE Productions. “We started to investigate different options, such as building a data center that our editors were remoting into or taking the entire workflow to the cloud.”
VWSE ultimately went with a remote workstation explored by the National Hot Rod Association at the beginning of the professional-sports shutdown and by NFL Media during production of the virtual NFL Draft. With any cloud-based deployment, there is a higher risk of connection failure or disruption for myriad reasons. To address such risks, Kehn and the onsite team devised a handful of backup plans.
“We’re being backed up in three places,” Kehn explains. “We’ve got our online block storage that we’re editing from, S3 that’s syncing everything, and that’s being synced back down to the facility.”
Behind the technological structure, remote editors and producers will be working from their respective locations across the U.S. As a nationwide entity producing other high-profile events — College Football Playoff National Championship, US Open tennis, NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship — VWSE has staffers located in New York, Minnesota, North Carolina, and California, as well as in Washington, DC, and even Tampa. The span of locations means that someone is working during all daytime hours. It also means that content deadlines needed to be shifted, but, aside from the time differences, the production teams are experiencing a fairly seamless connection.
“Even though they’re spread all the way across the country,” says McCoart, “the creative team feels like they’re in offices next door to each other. We’re relying heavily on Slack for communication across the board. That includes creative, production, and research teams.”