Will the Premier League embrace the Megalodon?

Date published: Friday 7th January 2022 8:36 - Editor F365

Megalodon camera rig

After debuting in the NFL, the Megalodon has crept into real football. Premier League next?

In an NFL game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Washington Football Team in December 2020, broadcasters Fox debuted a new, cutting-edge, state-of-the-art camera rig. The Sony a7R IV was paired with FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM lens and mounted to a DJI Ronin-S gimbal – the name given to it was the Megalodon. Some thought it created shots like those seen in a movie; others felt as though it was a scene from a video game.

The man behind it all – Jarrod Ligrani, a technical director for Fox – got the idea to use the camera in live sport broadcasting after being impressed whilst filming his first-born son.

The camera provided a depth-of-field effect, and the shots’ high stutter speed means that the shutter exposure for every frame is much shorter, so there is less motion blur, making shots look vivid and appealing to the television eye.

It was first in use by cameraman Mike Smole, who zoomed in on the face of rookie receiver Freddie Swain (who plays for the Seattle Seahawks) as he removed his mouthpiece and raised his arm. The empty seats at the FedEx Field, where the game was held, blurred behind him and Russell Wilson, who passed the ball to Swain, entered the frame from the left, making a cinematic shot. ESPN’s Mina Kimes was immediately a fan. ‘Why does this Seahawks Washington game have the best cinematography I’ve ever seen in my life,’ she tweeted. ‘It feels like a Christopher Nolan movie,’ read the top reply, from The Athletic’s Michael-Shawn Dugar.

While this isn’t something that cannot be done with many other modern-day cameras or by any other person involved in filming or videography, it’s ground-breaking in the world of sports broadcasting, making it such a revered piece of equipment. After that December NFL game, it was used in the Green Bay Packers versus Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFC Championship match, giving it a much greater audience.

Contrary to its name, the Megalodon isn’t that big a piece of equipment. It’s actually quite small, portable and easy to move around, making it such an accessible item for fast-paced sports such as American Football. It’s often been compared to a selfie stick – a person usually carries it in his arms and runs around with it to get the perfect shot for their broadcast. Ideally, cameras like these are used for off-the-pitch content, but its cinematic effects make it perfect for sport. In time, the camera was adopted by other sports and leagues around the world.

Soon, it would cross borders as Spanish football’s top division, La Liga, in association with its broadcaster MediaPro, would use it for goal celebrations in a match between Barcelona and Athletic Club.

La Liga have used it ever since and plan to make it a permanent fixture in their future broadcasts due to its popularity with fans. The camera’s effects can be seen in goal celebrations, substitutions and when players walk onto the pitch, with clips getting huge engagement numbers on social media feeds. Viewers acknowledging a new look or angle on screen while watching a sport is rare, so when fans pointed out that they were impressed with this new equipment, it was real validation.

Òscar Lago, responsible for La Liga match production at MediaPro, said: “We are committed to providing solutions that enhance our broadcasting quality and develop a product that is more visually appealing for La Liga fans.”

For more technical details on its use in live sports, the camera – in this case a Sony a7R IV – is fitted with a field monitor and a wireless transmitter that would send a 1080p signal to a camera truck, where it’s colour corrected to match broadcast cameras, giving it a more television-like feeling to viewers sitting at home. Overall, the entire rig costs around $10,000, which isn’t a hefty price to pay for leagues and broadcasters and is significantly cheaper than other cameras used (some of which rise up to $200,000).

Initially, many mistook it for an 8K camera, but Ligrani cleared all confusions in an interview with Sportico: “It confused me honestly. If anything I would have thought that viewers would complain because parts of the image are out of focus. I tell people, it’s not an 8K camera, it’s an $8k camera ($8,000).”

Pieces like these won’t ever replace traditional broadcast cameras, because they’re tried-and-tested pieces of equipment that have been around for decades, but supplemental pieces of technology such as the Megalodon are valuable as they enhance the viewing experience. In an era where many fans still can’t attend live sports in several places around the world due to COVID-19, investing in equipment is vital.

Some broadcasters and sporting competitions have invested in other non-broadcast tools, such as those that provide additional data or insightful stats while others have experimented with artificial crowd noise and audio effects. Seeing leagues and broadcasters invest in ground-breaking equipment such as the Megalodon is rare, and that is where the pandemic has benefited them slightly – allowing them to experiment and learn newer things about broadcast, giving them the opportunity to take risks and getting rewards.

Despite that, the camera is still in its experimental phase as it’s using a rig that was never meant to be used in broadcast. Its use will evolve in the coming years as it becomes more and more popular and it will be implemented in different ways. “This camera isn’t ordinarily made to shoot live video,” Fox Sports’ Senior Vice President Mike Davies told Sports Video Group. “It certainly does a great job of shooting beautiful video but is not typically used for live [broadcasts]. We were astonished by how much this was recognized. Certainly, we liked it, and people on our crew have been working with it all year, but we didn’t know your ordinary viewer would see such a difference sitting on their couch. It’s fantastic.”

In February 2021, Fox Deportes also used the Megalodon for its coverage of LigaMX – the premier Mexican football league. The camera made its debut in a match between Monterrey and Tijuana and was in action for pre-game intros, goal celebrations, corner kicks, and throw-ins, shooting in a shallow depth of field. LigaMX is one of the world’s most popular leagues, reaching over 37 million households and in 2020, it was more watched in the USA than the English Premier League and Spain’s La Liga. “I feel that I have a duty to try to always imitate the great things that Fox does at Fox Sports,” said Ruben Rocha, Director of Operations for Fox Deportes. “We try to follow Fox Sports as a leader and show the Hispanic media that Fox Deportes is a leader, too.”

The camera even found its way to the Champions League last season, with UEFA administrators quickly recognising its popularity. It was first used in the the quarter-final tie between Real Madrid and Liverpool at the Alfredo Di Stéfano Stadium. It was used in its pre-match activities, when players walked out on to the pitch and lined up for the Champions League anthem before kick-off.

It has remained for the 2021/22 season. Additionally, the German Bundesliga, which always finds ways to implement new technology, adapted the Megalodon for the 2021/22 season too, using it for corners and touchline activities.

It will be interesting to see where the Megalodon goes next. One can assume that more European leagues and broadcasters will make an effort to bring it over. The Premier League on Sky Sports and BT Sport have always been keen on enhancing their coverage. Sky were praised for the introduction of their Spidercam a few years ago (mostly used for penalties), and the Megalodon might be next. Serie A is perhaps the best league in terms of goals and quality but also perhaps the worst-marketed league – a boost to their broadcast coverage would be priceless, especially from an international perspective.

Regardless, this small – and relatively cheap – piece of technology has proven to be incredibly popular since being introduced to worldwide sport a little over a year ago. Equipment like this has enhanced broadcast and coverage at a time where digital consumption of sport is continuously on the rise and you can be certain its use will only increase in the coming months.

Karan Tejwani – follow him on Twitter

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