Audio in Sports

NFL Media taps into archive for stadium sounds

Vince Caputo has worked in NFL Media’s audio department for 35 years, adding music and sound effects to the prestige NFL Films productions and mixing sound for shows such as “Inside the NFL.”

This year has thrown up an entirely new challenge however, and many have been trying to answer the question of what the NFL could do for sound on broadcasts if stadiums can’t hold fans.

So far we’ve seen ambient crowd noises piped into soccer stadiums in Europe as play resumes, but many have said that this method robs sports of their authenticity.

Across the pond however, Caputo and his crew have over several years been collecting sounds from the crowds at every NFL stadium with the intent to add it to various NFL productions. With hundreds of clips at his disposal, he wondered whether they might be the answer.

Caputo didn’t know how to deploy them until he turned to Robert Brock, director of education at the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences in Tempe, Ariz. For many years, Brock has trained audio technicians and engineers, with many recent students going on to work on video games.

In 2006, Brock began working with Wwise, a software program that has helped bring the sound of video game series’ such as Assassin’s Creed to life.

The pair established that using Wwise, Brock could add scripted audio reactions to unpredictable events in real time.

Caputo and his team sifted through the NFL’s audio clips and isolated crowd noise from every stadium, filtering out the public address announcer and music. Brock categorised them, sorting them into positive and negative reactions from the home crowd with four intensity settings for each — low, medium, high and peak.

There are four different settings for the crowd noise that builds before every play, denoted by levels 1, 2, 3 and “raucous,” which would be used, for example, on fourth and one with the home team’s defense on the field in the fourth quarter.

There are the clips for boos, too, which Caputo said would not be deployed for poor play but only for an obviously bad call. Certain stadium soundtracks picked up more boos than others, he said, and there is even separate sound for when a player suffers an injury.

Armed with Brock’s cache of sounds, audio engineers in each stadium are now being tasked with inputting the game situation into Wwise as it happens. The program sorts through the hundreds of clips to deliver the audio to the broadcast.

Most fans probably will never notice the difference in any individual game. But, Caputo and Brock said, over the course of a full season the tonal differences are important and will serve viewers better than generic crowd noise that might be found in a video game.

“If you’re watching multiple games in a day and you’re doing that over the course of a season and every single game has the exact same ambient noise, then your ear would know something isn’t right,” Brock said.

Caputo added: “Is the net of all the work we did to make all 32 stadiums individual and authentic going [to match] what it reads to every fan? Probably not. But we did it because we could.”