How are basketball games audio engineered?
February 23, 2016 11:26 AM   Subscribe

I'm curious about two aspects of live sound engineering basketball games: 1. The actual sounds you hear at a game in person. 2. The engineering for broadcasts.

I've found three links that talk a bit about these things. One is an old Ask, which led me to this podcast. I also googled and found this link about microphone techniques and positioning, but primarily for soccer (football) games.

I want details on how basketball games specifically are engineered. I went to one recently and every so often you'd hear this very loud sound of the ball going into the net, except it sounds too loud to be the real sound, along with the fact that there's this massive amount of reverb. It sounds triggered, as if the mic that's up there is replacing the actual sound with a prerecorded one (a sample) so that the audience gets the dramatic effect of a player making a shot. This doesn't always happen, but when it did it sounded the same everytime.

On top of that, is there anywhere to find, or does anyone have, detailed schematics on how a basketball game is mic'd, along with the equipment used by sound engineers, specifically for how you hear it from a broadcast? Do they have some ridiculous console that they use?

And how does one get into this niche of a field?
posted by gucci mane to Media & Arts (3 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm sure someone will have better information than mine, but when I was in college, I interviewed Jay Howard, the then-radio announcer for the San Antonio Spurs. During the interview, we were discussing the sound that he gets at the game (sitting courtside) and the ambient noise for the game. He indicated that sometimes, specifically due to Kevin Garnett's foul mouth, the booth would be required to turn down the on-court mics. I was under the impression that the mics we were discussing were attached to the backboard assembly. The sound was all run through the radio board, and the engineer could adjust the levels depending on what was going on.

I doubt there are in-arena, basketball-only jobs for sound engineering. I suspect, based on the economics of it, that the sound engnieers are arena-based, and not team-based. In fact, here is a cache of an ad for an Audio Engineer for AT&T Center, the home of the Spurs, which says the engineer is "responsible for San Antonio Spurs, Rampage (hockey), Stars (WNBA) or other franchise event set up..." As for the radio side, the engineers are employed by the radio station.

If you have any technical expertise, I would call up the local radio station for your basketball team, and talk to the engineers. (I've been out of the game too long to actually give you their actual position, but if you do an hour of research, you'll figure out exactly what they're called.) They're super busy, but if you're nice, and you luck out, you might get to shadow someone for a game, lend a hand, and maybe make some contacts for the future.

Hopefully someone will have more practical advice and information than the above, but good luck!
posted by China Grover at 12:11 PM on February 23, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Have a look at a book called "Television Sports Production" By Jim Owens - CRC Press.

It's great intro guide to all aspects of shooting and miking various sporting events. Here's the link to the basketball court mic configuration. You can see that there are at least 14 mic's shown.

Contact mic's are attached to the backboard and used to get sound that is conducted through the backboard in addition to the sounds in the air. As you say, many arenas have lavaliere mics (normally used on the clothing of TV anchors and reporters) placed inside the breakaway hinge of the baskets to get those shoe squeaks and other sounds close to the basket. The rest are arrayed around the court (see above link)

Sound engineers are generally mobile unit based and travel from arena to arena. Sound techs in the arena generally perform "house sound" or PA sound. Some arenas have production studios built in and have their own crew, many don't and rely on the aforementioned mobile trucks. And as always there are exceptions to all these assignments. It's very dependant on market size and team and broadcast budgets.
posted by Zedcaster at 9:33 PM on February 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

So I know a couple of guys who have done the live in-arena audio engineering for home Cleveland Cavaliers games. I've shot them both an email, here's the first reply (note, edited somewhat for anonymity and clarity, I've put a couple of my own interjections/interpretations in italics below):

From D - (late 40's, been working as a live sound engineer as a freelancer or for various live event production companies in the Northern Ohio area for 20 years. He only worked the basketball games, nothing else in the venue.)

"When I was working at the Q, I only did the sound in the arena, nothing to do with the broadcast. When ABC/ESPN, TNT, etc. come in, they use their own cameras and mics for what is seen at home, separate from what is seen and heard in the venue. We had mics on the backboard that fed to the audio console, one for each backboard. I can not recall what model or manufacture they were, shotgun type. There was no sampling or triggers of any kind in use. The console now is a Yamaha M7CL, used to be an analog Soundcraft. Got changed out when they put a new scoreboard and sound system in. As far as what the person inquiring was hearing [your question about using triggered samples for the ball going into the net], I can't say for sure. Perhaps the sound person at the venue was using some reverb to create a more dramatic effect?

As far as broadcast, they have their own mics for their announcers,etc. which goes to the broadcast truck (a 53 foot tractor trailer). I have seen anything from studio type consoles to Yamaha PM5D (non RH, they don't need to recall the head amp). Not sure there is a standard, as some trucks are older than others. It gets mixed (audio and video) in the truck and then sent via uplink to the satellite.

I'll try to remember the inputs. As I recall there was 4 channels of wireless (two for emcees​). Four for Anthem (as needed) [Anthem Medical being one of the area's big Blue Cross medical insurance providers, I'm assuming they would sometimes provide people to do "live commercials" ], Announcer, Rim mics, sound effects/sound clips (these came from two different sources, and sound effects were things like siren noises, not enhanced game noises), DJ, playback [any music or audio clips not from the DJ]. There were inputs that were used just for hockey, I never had to deal with them. The way the system was setup, the referee mics were only going to speakers that were shooting straight down onto the floor. They did not go thru the sound board.

As far as any schematics, not really, very similar as any other show, but with the audio being much more distributed,(arena floor, concourse, suites, video feed, etc.) [Note: largely what he means by this is that there are many different speakers distributed throughout the arena, so there's a lot of output processing and routing to the different areas and speakers. Part of the gig is checking that all of these systems are working properly, and fixing/MacGyvering them if they're not. This is not something you'd have to tweak real-time while the game is on, so much - more part of the initial set-up pre-game.]

I was there for two plus seasons, pretty sure was the Q building management that was on the pay stub. Believe it was considered part time freelance. I was brought in via [large local live event production company that he had done lots of work for.] Prior to me there was no dedicated sound person doing the games, they had guys that worked there that knew how to setup the console, do patching, etc., but were not sound people.

Typical day was usually like this; staff meeting three hours before tip-off, (producer, director, video crew chief, camera crew chief, lighting person, LED person, playback person, announcer, etc., etc.). After meeting eat dinner, then go to you positions and be ready when doors open to start. Would do all the pre game things that happen, then the game. Everyone was on headset intercoms, the director would call the show. I had to keep hands on the faders and be ready. When the director could they would try to give a heads up on what audio and video source would be coming next. Wasn't always possible for that to happen due what would be happening in the game. Then there would be some sort of halftime entertainment. Second half of game, followed by people leaving. We would then pack up our respective gear and store it. Sometimes there would be something after the game where people could go onto the floor and shoot basketballs. When those post game events would happen I would be there about an hour after the game ended. Rarely did I get to stand there and watch the game. There was always a lot going on, trying to listen thru three to five conversations going on at the same time in the headset. Often I would hear the crowd cheer when a play had happened and have to watch the replay on the LED wall."
posted by soundguy99 at 8:49 PM on February 29, 2016

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