Wednesday, September 05, 2007

NFL in town

We've already seen dozens of football games on the airwaves in the past week -- but none of those are real games, because they're pre-season games. They don't count towards anything at all, and in no way affect a team's standing or playoff chances. Sponsors still make money, fans still buy tickets, but in a practical, scorekeeping way, pre-season games don't count. They're not even that interesting; teams don't take risks with injuring their important, expensive players, and don't give away much of their strategy.

Given that, it's important that tomorrow is the first NFL game of the regular season, for football fan values of "important". It's in Indy, between the Colts and the New Orleans Saints. The advertising theme seems to be "Who Wants It More?". Downtown is plastered with posters and billboards featuring the two quarterbacks looking surly, above the Who Wants It More verbiage. It looks pretty cool. On the other hand, they also have exactly the same poster displayed around town, except instead of football players the pictures are of Kelly Clarkson and Faith Hill, the headliners for the performers at the free outdoor concert before the game. I love that it looks like Faith and Kelly are competing for something. And you can go a lot of places the ads never intended by changing the referent of the pronoun "it".

Today at the Artsgarden we hosted the big, official press conference for the performers: Faith, Kelly, the band Hinder, and John Mellencamp. A half-hour press conference is no biggie for us. We do this sort of thing all the time. But this press conference was for the NFL, and it had Big Names in attendance. We had a huge setup: special artwork, banners and logos; a strange podium with the wrong mic mount; fluid tech requirements; 17 video guys showing up at the last minute. So many video crews showed up that we actually ran out of open channels on our press box. And we had tech issues. Mad props to Chris, our sound guy; I doubt many people even knew we were having technical difficulties. With this many camera crews, we started having wireless interference with our microphones. The interference is never clean, like two people talking on the same mic; rather, you get odd squelching, squealing sounds. And Chris was dialing the squeals out on the equalizer as they were fading in. He was so responsive and efficient at this, that I doubt many people (in the room full of techs and camera guys) realized there was such a serious problem going on behind the scenes. There's no way I could've done this myself.

Difficulty two wasn't technical; it was Amos. A local radio personality who bills himself as the Voice of the Black Community has apparently been haranguing the NFL for a while about the fact that all of the artists on the bill for the free concert are white. And he used the press conference as a national platform to air his grievances with the NFL. It was unprofessional, and it was irritating to watch. During the question-and-answer, he started talking; after about 90 seconds, the camera guy next to me leaned over and said, "is there going to be an actual question anytime soon?" It's a press conference. He was there as a journalist, not an activist, and he did his best to derail the proceedings. He was finally shut down and shut up by the girl singing the national anthem. She's black, and she proceeded to get defensive and say he was belittling her by claiming that blacks weren't represented -- essentially, "what am I , copped liver?"

I should also mention that I think Amos's main gripe is totally overblown. It's pretty obvious that the NFL doesn't have race issues with the kickoff performance; in the last three years, the headliners have included Sean "Puffy" Combs, Kanye West, Rihanna, Mary J. Blige, and Destiny's Child. Blacks are less than 20% of the population at large; if a sample of three performers (Mellencamp wasn't planned as part of the free concert; he's the opening act inside the Dome) are all white, that's the law of averages at work, not racism.

But the NFL people were happy with us, and we had fun working with them. And this whole thing was educational for me. Lesson one: don't let a producer or performer talk you into something that's a bad idea. I keep getting smacked with this lesson. This time, it's that you shouldn't use wireless microphones when you're expecting a pile of other wireless gear in the same vicinity, with no troubleshooting time in the schedule and no control over everyone's frequencies. The last major time I got hit with this lesson was last year at Start With Art. The performer insisted on getting his wireless lav mic an hour and a half before he was due to talk. He turned it off to eat, and never turned it back on again -- not even when he was on stage, and people were yelling at him that they couldn't hear him. Apparently he forgot he had it on. And it's the sound guy who looks incompetent, not him....

A side note: I had never heard Faith Hill talk before. She's blazingly intelligent behind the cute face, and she's extremely savvy -- a lot more savvy than you'd guess from the celebrity picture you usually see painted. I was extremely impressed. Still, after watching the press conference, I'm convinced that Kelly Clarkson Wants It More.

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