NFL Event Frequency Coordinators
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Keeping the lines of communication clear on gameday.
Doppler radar from local TV stations and a TV network’s experiment with using cameras inside end zone pylons have interfered with the NFL’s sideline Wi-Fi; which is needed for getting play photos to the Microsoft Surface Pro tablets on each bench.
And it all happened because they were trying to communicate or use a piece of equipment that was operating on the same frequencies that were being used by the league during an NFL game.
Preventing such interference — or clearing it up quickly — is the job of one of a little-known group of skilled individuals working behind the scenes for the NFL: the Event Frequency Coordinator (or EFC as they are often referred to by others in the industry). These specialists track and manage hundreds of frequencies to keep the thousands of “in-stadium” frequency-dependent devices operational. They also account for interference from sources outside of the stadium, such as TV stations and other special events.
“Right now, our job is to fit these hundreds of users into around 25 MHz of useable spectrum,” NFL’s senior frequency coordinator, Karl Voss, said in a May 2014 interview with Audio Gloss, a blog published by RF Venue, an audio technology company. “Everybody seems to think that [a radio frequency] is theirs to use as they please and do not consider what or who it may be affecting. If they are not having a problem, then it’s all okay. The job of the EFC is to make sure that multiple users can operate cleanly at an event while not causing any others a problem. What we try to do is give as many people we can, the tools that they need to do their job within reason.”
Quarterbacks, defensive play-callers, coaches and game officials all depend on Frequency Coordinators to ensure that their systems are interference-free. These along with the TV Networks, local TV stations, radio medical and security personnel, NFL’s instant replay and injury video review systems, stadium staff, and halftime entertainers are just some of the others that depend on the EFC to coordinate frequencies that will allow them to do their jobs.
Coordinators start preparing well before the game, collecting requests from users for a designated spot in the spectrum; entering them into a database and assigning frequencies. Not everyone gets what they ask for. The requests from broadcasters alone can be massive. So, coordinators must prioritize and, if necessary, work with the users to agree to share frequencies to make maximum use of what’s available.
Demands have gotten so high, Voss told RF Venue, that coordinators now are forced to do “time division” — assigning the same frequency to multiple users for use at specific times. They also might provide two users the same frequency at the same time, but with the usage restricted to physically separated zones to avoid interference.
On gameday, Voss said, everyone assigned a frequency enters the stadium at the same gate, where coordinators or assistants check that all devices are on their assigned frequencies. Devices are tagged to identify where and when they can be used.
Before the game, coordinators scan the most critical frequencies, check in with news crews to locate unregistered devices such as wireless microphones. They also introduce themselves to key league, team and broadcast personnel. By kickoff, they move a reserved seat with an unobstructed view of the field, an Internet connection, a telephone and enough countertop space to accommodate their equipment, which includes a frequency counter and a scanner/receiver. From this location they can monitor the frequencies they have assigned and also search for potential issues.
“When problems arise during a game, coordinators or their assistants identify the source of the interference with spectrum analyzers and direction-finding equipment. They have become more proactive, using the equipment to spot and correct potential frequency conflicts before problems arise," said Michelle McKenna-Doyle, the NFL’s chief information officer.
On the field, the NFL has contingency plans to provide fail-safe operations of the Coach-to-Coach (C2C) and Coach-to-Player (C2P) communications systems. The frequency coordinators play an important role by monitoring the environment and identifying any interference issues that could threaten the successful operation of these systems.
When event coordinators identify the source of a frequency interference problem, they don’t mess around.
The league’s goal of providing frequency coordination services is to resolve issues without conflict and ensure all RF users have a successful event. The coordinators prepare a pre-event plan and work with any unregistered users — commonly referred to as “Coord-Nots” — to get them entered into the database. The NFL has strict policies governing the use of RF equipment at their events and uncoordinated devices are prohibited. The coordinators determine if a frequency can be assigned to them, and if not, the EFC works with the user to find an alternate solution. Sometimes they can share with another crew or it may be necessary to hardwire the microphone. In some instances, operators not following the policies may have his or her working credential revoked and denied access to the stadium on gameday. The NFL maintains a nationwide database of repeat offenders who are at risk of losing their privileges for a longer term.
The integrity of the game and the seamlessness of the event depend on it.