The game inside the stadiums

BadgerNation.com spent Saturday's game against UNLV with the video production crews at the Kohl Center and Camp Randall to get an inside look at the game-day production. (Photos by AJ Maclean)

When the Badgers and their opponents go head to head on Saturdays, anything can happen. But for Kevin Kluender, the University of Wisconsin's director of marketing and promotions, each game is carefully scripted to his own game plan.

Such was the case Saturday, when BadgerNation.com spent game day with Kluender and his counterpart at the Kohl Center, Steve Ackermann, to get a close look at how the university directs and produces a football game, using video, graphics and music in concert with the action on the field and the cheering of the fans to create as lively a stadium atmosphere as possible.

Kluender produces Wisconsin home games and manages the "game plan." In communication with about two dozen people by radio, phone and in his booth in the Camp Randall Stadium press box, Kluender schedules television timeouts, coordinates on-field events such as Devin Harris' end zone appearance in Saturday's game and cues public service announcements by Badger public address announcer Mike Mahnke. And with the addition of three video scoreboards, Kluender coordinates the new visual element of the game coverage as well.

With three minutes to kickoff, Barry Alvarez appears on the color videoboard that towers above the north end zone, part of a new 50-by-170 foot scoreboard. "Nice job guys, nice job," Kluender says into his radio as the football team emerges from the section L-M tunnel.

When UNLV coach John Robinson complained to the referees about the band playing behind the visiting team bench, Kluender told videoboard cameramen to turn away from the band. "Don't show them walking away," he said as the band filed back to the north end zone.

The halftime "Varsity" tradition is managed in much the same way, as Kluender calls the words in over the radio as the crowd of 82,000 sings them.

"Next. Next. U. Rah. Rah. Next. Next. Next," Kluender repeated in time with the band.

While the coincidence of video and action seems ordinary, it is anything but. The footage is directed to the stadium from almost a mile down Dayton Street at the Kohl Center.


Steve Ackermann
When Kluender is speaking the words to "Varsity" or attempting to give Harris some air time or filling holes for timeouts, he spends much of the game communicating with Stephen Ackermann, the director of the production. Ackermann works in the Creative Services division of Key Frame, a subsidiary of Daktronics—the company that furbished the three new scoreboards at Camp Randall Stadium. Ackermann and his crew set up shop in a video production room on the main concourse of the Kohl Center near section 115. When basketball and hockey seasons roll around, the production room will also control the new videoboard hanging above the Kohl Center floor and the ringbeam that encircles the arena.

Ackermann sits in a black directors' chair throughout the football game, from where he orchestrates much of what the audience sees. He commands a team of six to run a certain replay clip, place a certain graphic on the scoreboard or highlight certain audience members for the video replay board, among other duties they fulfill in a busy day. Simultaneously, Ackermann communicates with Kluender at the stadium, as well as three cameramen on the field.

"I've got one group talking in one ear and another group talking in the other ear and sometimes they all go off at the same time," Ackermann said. "You can't always (make sense of it). Sometimes you've got to tell one group to stop talking and say, ‘Hang on one second' and the trick is trying to determine which one has priority and which one needs to be taken care of right away."

The other six Key Frame staff members, who arrive hours before game time and stay until after the Fifth Quarter ends, each have roles that make the videoboard another form of entertainment for fans. All seven staffers working the videoboard in the Kohl Center have a script that covers the game from 90 minutes before kickoff until the end of the Fifth Quarter and documents each timeout, each time a current or former athlete is being honored, the national anthem and just about everything else that can and does occur.

Four men, all wearing gray t-shirts with "Videoboard Crew" in red and a small Bucky Badger head on the back, sit in a row with small and medium-sized television screens, computers, audio equipment and wires galore.

Will Elmendorf, a television and broadcast engineer who has been in the business for 30 years, prepares an image to be broadcast on the video replay board. He adjusts the image to find the correct amount of color and light and "shades the camera", making sure the signal is correct, that the image is as technically perfect as possible, and that the picture is of broadcast television quality.

Dennis Christensen and Jason Bahling are the V-play operators for the video replay board. Throughout the game, both monitor images from the camera feed at the stadium in order to find the best angles of a play. With lightning-quick skills, Christensen and Bahling must determine who has the best shots from the camera and select the desired replays so that they may be posted on the video board. They each work on computers and have four small televisions above them that plays the camera feed from Camp Randall.

Technical director Ken LaBarre controls the image that appears on the screen and instructs the cameramen to stay focused on a particular shot. During the pregame festivities, when crowd shots are needed and for other special events like the Kiss Cam, LaBarre scans the live video footage for appealing shots of the crowd, the stadium, the team or of the marching band. Ackermann tells LaBarre what he is looking for and LaBarre finds that image on a video feed. He sits in front of two televisions, one with preview images and the other with images that appear on the videoboard. LaBarre selects a preview image and posts it on the videoboard.

Two staffers sit at a desk perpendicular to the main row of panels. Steve Bethke runs the V-clip machines and loads graphics for player statistics, Badger trivia questions, the student races and animations. He also puts up graphics for sponsors of the replays such as UW Health, TDS Metrocom and Famous Dave's.

Mary Kaye Radtke is the final player who works the entire game from the Kohl Center. She monitors eight games around the nation and updates scores that will show up on the videoboard at the stadium. Radtke sits at a computer with a Yahoo! sports update and places scores into two Notepad files, which are sent to the stadium. The scores are typically for Big Ten opponents' games and contests that have implications for UW.

Back at Camp Randall, cameramen patrol the sidelines for video feed. The UW production team can use video from the station carrying the game, this time ESPN, but chooses to use its own footage.

From the press box, Brian Chullino pipes music into the stadium from Franz Ferdinand's "Take Me Out" warm-up chords to House of Pain's "Jump Around" after the third quarter. He also continues the game script during Kluender's breaks.

Ackermann's voice throughout the day was steady and constant, despite unscripted moments in the game, such as the announcement of Harris at the south end zone late in the game. The other staffers, too, react efficiently to changes or small mistakes. They think quickly and recover from making errors.

After Wisconsin's Fifth Quarter ends, the production crews slowly dissipate, calling out goodbyes. Wisconsin faces Arizona on the road next week so they get a week off before covering the Penn State game. Then it's time to run the crowd-pleasing Camp Randall videoboard once again.

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