The Sound of the Super Bowl: Inside the biggest sporting event on earth

The Super Bowl may well be the biggest sporting event of the year, but these days, it is about so much more than just the action taking place on the field. Yes, there is plenty at stake for the two competing teams and the 70,000 fans who converged upon Inglewood's SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles this year to see the LA Rams defeat the Cincinnati Bengals, not to mention the 100 million-plus audience watching at home. But its appeal has smashed through the realm of sport to become a bona fide pop culture phenomenon.

It wasn’t long ago that the fanfare around the game was matched closely by the anticipation of which new advertising campaigns would be launched to capitalise on the vast audiences attracted by the occasion. Now, similar hysteria is whipped up by the teaser trailers (yes, you read that correctly) for those ads, which have almost become mini blockbusters in their own right.

And then there is the legendary half-time performance. This prodigious slot has now become a stage for the biggest musical artists on the planet to deliver a show-stopping performance before a combined audience that virtually no other opportunity could offer. Beyonce, Bruno Mars, The Rolling Stones, The Weeknd and Lady Gaga are just some of those to have delivered Super Bowl halftime shows in recent years.

And this year’s show was perhaps one of the most iconic in Super Bowl history, as Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige and Kendrick Lamar came together onstage, celebrating the location’s unique hip-hop and R&B legacy.

The 2022 half-time show marked the third year of collaboration between the NFL and Roc Nation, the entertainment company founded by Jay-Z, and provided an ideal platform to showcase some of hip-hop and R&B’s most influential figures, as well as being the first time hip-hop artists were the main performers for the prestigious halftime show. The ensemble performance also featured a surprise guest appearance by 50 Cent (representing the rival East Coast rap scene), who appeared upside down – recreating his music video for his 2003 hit, In Da Club.

Shure Axient Digital mics have been key for our Super Bowl wireless system. Gary Trenda, Professional Wireless Systems

Of course, while these aspects of the Super Bowl spectacle are naturally the central focus for much of the world’s gaze, none of it would be possible without the highly sophisticated comms and networking systems that knit each of these elements together – from performing artists to NFL officials, and the various entities supporting the venue, the networks, and the half-time show.

This year saw networking and comms specialist Riedel Communications deploy its Artist intercom system with Bolero Wireless, which was used by SoFi Stadium, Van Wagner, NFL Network, the halftime show, and the officials on the field. In total, some 140 Riedel Bolero belt packs were in use.

According to Rick Seegull, Riedel, VP, system consulting, historically the Super Bowl has always required a massive lift to manage wireless frequencies, including intercoms, wireless cameras, security systems, and much more. Licence-free digital enhanced cordless telecommunications (DECT) allow for up to 50 Bolero Packs to be used in a single overlapping space due to time slot allocation. And Riedel uses DECT differently by employing its Advanced DECT Receiver (ADR) algorithm. This groundbreaking technology is key to Riedel’s success at big events like the Super Bowl and the Olympics.

“The hardest thing when you’re operating in the gigahertz range with RF is multipath reflections, and the ADR can distinguish the proper path back to the antenna as opposed to destructive reflections,” explained Seegull. “The ADR assures the strongest connection between the belt pack and antenna and with antenna diversity in the belt pack, this guarantees the connection will remain.”

Furthermore, Seegull says the “dance” at the Super Bowl is meeting the NFL mandate that guarantees that no more than 48 units are operating in the bowl at one time.

“The NFL has 14 units, seven for officials and seven live backups,” he continued. “And the halftime show must keep the balance of their units off until the two-minute warning when they can fire up Bolero Packs for key positions. Then they can fire up the rest when the officials leave the field, and during halftime approximately 70 belt packs will be in use.”

Bolero enables clear comms in the noisiest environments. Rick Seegull, VP system consulting, Riedel

Riedel’s Radio Scanner Application, available for Bolero, is used by Dan Bakies, a Riedel representative onsite for the Super Bowl. It helps keep track of what belt packs are on a given frequency and how many slots are open for beltpacks.

“It can scan all the time slots and show what Bolero Packs are occupying them as well as non-Riedel devices, clearly showing how many are free in a given space. This will be in use to monitor all Riedel Packs and other DECT devices that might be in use during the Super Bowl,” Bakies noted.

“Bolero enables crystal clear communications in one of the noisiest environments, which is crucial for official-to-official communications, halftime show and in-house stadium production crews to operate efficiently,” Seegull added. “Bolero overcomes the challenge of RF interference by providing secure reliable transmission with its Advanced DECT Receiver which uses license-free spectrum and keeps track of usable DECT space, managing multiple systems in a single space all while nullifying deconstructive interference.”

Also playing a crucial role in the wireless element of the Super Bowl was Shure, with RF coordinators, referees and performers relying on Shure gear. The line-up featured the Axient Digital Wireless System, which captured audio from the pre-game show, key parts of the halftime performance and crucial fourth-quarter referee decisions. Off the field, Shure also helped bring many other key moments to life, including Budweiser’s Super Bowl Music Fest and NFL Honors broadcast.

“Shure Axient Digital microphones have been a key part of our Super Bowl wireless system for the last five years,” said Gary Trenda, lead RF technician for Professional Wireless Systems (PWS), which was hired by ATK Audiotek to handle wireless microphones and IEM systems for the pre-game, halftime entertainment and referees. “The PWS team deploys a Quadversity antenna system that gives us great coverage. Seeing five bars on the quality metre anywhere on the field gives us confidence in the Axient Digital system.”

Trenda and the ATK Audiotek team utilised 10 AD4Q four-channel wireless receivers and a Shure spectrum manager with Wireless Workbench to evaluate the RF spectrum efficiently and continuously at the venue in real time. ATK used Axient Digital with Quadversity, a patented Shure technology, leveraging four simultaneous RF inputs to feed a single RF channel. Quadversity has been designed to extend the coverage area of a microphone channel or enable multiple coverage areas with additional antenna inputs, making it a suitable solution for challenging RF environments.

Pre-game audio was made possible by skilled RF coordinators relying on Axient Digital’s Frequency Diversity Mode and Frequency Diversity enabled transmitters. This technology is built to ensure audio is uninterrupted in the extreme RF environment of SoFi Stadium by simultaneously transmitting two independent frequencies. The RF coordinators also made strong use of Axient Digital with ShowLink, which enabled real-time, instantaneous remote control of transmitters throughout the stadium.

Meanwhile, singing into a custom chrome Axient Digital ADX2FD transmitter with a KSM9 microphone capsule, country music artist Mickey Guyton kicked off the Super Bowl with a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.

R&B artist Jhené Aiko’s performance of America the Beautiful was delivered via an ADX2FD transmitter with a KSM9 microphone capsule. Plus, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s show-stopping Super Bowl introduction came via an ADX2 transmitter with a KSM9 mic capsule.

The halftime show also saw the legendary Snoop Dogg take to the stage with a custom gold-plated ADX2 transmitter with a KSM9 microphone capsule and wearing Shure SE215 sound-isolating in-ear monitors. All artists in the halftime show used four of Shure’s PSM 1000 in-ear personal monitoring systems and 41 Shure P10R diversity wireless bodypack receivers to deliver total audio conviction throughout the entire performance.

Furthermore, referees were issued Axient Digital ADX1 bodypack transmitters paired with Shure’s subminiature TL47 model TwinPlex omnidirectional lavalier microphones.

“Given its reliability and extremely consistent sound, TwinPlex was an excellent choice for our referees,” said Jack Bowling, Super Bowl LVI stadium FOH audio engineer. “Our team depended on TwinPlex and Axient Digital to deliver high-quality audio from our refs for both broadcast and PA.”

ATK Versacom, a wireless intercom services provider, equipped production staff with 30 Shure BRH441M single-sided production headsets for set-up week, pre-game, halftime, and post-game shows. All crews from staging, to audio, to lighting and video experienced seamless two-way communication via the comfort and audio clarity of the BRH441M during every minute of set up and execution for Super Bowl LVI.

Returning to the theme of the half-time performance, five of out six artists - 50 Cent, Eminem, Dr Dre, Mary J Blige and Kendrick Lamar - relied on Sennheiser 6000 systems, using SKM 6000 transmitters paired with MD 9235 capsules.

“Of all the things our team is involved in, the half-time show is by far the most complex, and this is where the Sennheiser Digital 6000 series was used,” said Trenda.

With the technical and RF planning for the Super Bowl beginning months ahead of the big day, and being dependent on available frequency bands, Trenda explained that he and PWS do their best to accommodate the performers’ preferences.

“As the artists request the different microphone systems, we say, ‘OK, if you bring in a Sennheiser Digital 6000 microphone, we have a specific frequency range available for it,’ this year we had Sennheiser allocated in the 600 MHz range,” he continued. “Very often you will see a fluctuation in the RF level, and with various systems turning on and off throughout the stadium you see a change in background noise level. In these cases, we find the Digital 6000 gives us excellent reliability in such a congested environment.”

Trenda also elaborated on why Sennheiser systems have become a regular fixture at the event: “At this point, we’ve used the Sennheiser wireless systems for several years on the Super Bowl and we’ve had the best reliability with the Digital 6000 out of any of the Sennheiser systems we’ve deployed. In a crowded RF environment, it has a generous tuning bandwidth.”

With so much to digest from what proved to be a classic Super Bowl, Dre concluded: "The opportunity to perform at the Super Bowl Halftime show, and to do it in my own backyard, will be one of the biggest thrills of my career."