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|| News Item: Posted 2003-12-31

Super Scrum?
Surviving the chaos that immediately follows the end of the Super Bowl

By Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter

It is almost a right of passage for photographers covering the NFL: surviving the chaos that immediately follows the end of the Super Bowl.

As the clock winds down on the game photographers sharpen their elbows and muster their resolve so they can fight their way through the throng of their fellow still photographers and the seemingly endless number of network TV personnel, player family members, friends and hangers-on that rush the field the celebrate the end of the most-watched single sporting event of the year.

With literally hundreds and hundreds of people on the field how do the photographers make meaningful, story-telling images?

Most of the time it's catch-as-catch-can, settling for whoever is in a uniform that is in front of you (usually a bench warmer) or, pushing and shoving your way into a pile of humanity that surrounds the key players and head coaches.

But what can be done? How do you control the space around and entire football field?

Sports Shooter posed this question to several veteran Sports Shooters and we received essays from Bob Deutsch of USA TODAY, Mike Blake of Reuters News Pictures, Vincent Laforet of The New York Times and Paul Spinelli, formerly head of NFL Photos and currently a consultant.

"Needs to be a better, safer, and more equitable way of covering this."
Bob Deutsch, USA TODAY

The Super Bowl post-game scrum has become dangerous and now also competitively unequal.

Letting everyone out onto the field to surround the MVP is out of hand, with all the stills and TV trying to be in front of the player. The player can't move, rarely reacts except to laugh at us falling over each other. I know, having been under a pile while John Elway stood there laughing.

Last year, the NFL tried to rope off the field except to a select group of NFL and wire shooters. The rest of us either did an end run around the yellow jackets, or were frozen out.

There needs to be a better, safer, and more equitable way of covering this.

The trophy ceremony is also problematic. The wires get to stand in front with network TV, but the rest of us are expected to shoot from the sidelines, with photographers, cameras, and most importantly the boom mics in the way.

One cannot reliably cover the trophy presentation from back there in the current setup. So after the game, the photo that often ends up on the front page cannot reliably be made by our own staff.

My suggestions for dealing with this:

-Assign ONE white vest post game access to each major organization covering the game for access to the ceremonies. Allowing only the wires access is inequitable.

-Ban all boom microphones from the field. They are unnecessary.
Keep the pool TV and still shooters that work up close low, and at 45-degree angles, so the others behind can also work.

Anyone who breaks the rules will be ineligible for Super Bowl credentials for 5 years, and the employer will lose that one credential next year also.

"If you create a POOL, you have to deal with WHO and HOW."
Mike Blake, Reuters

I think the NFL has done a decent job in cutting down on the number of photographers on the sidelines over the past few years (note: This is comparing to previous years).

There are still a large number of photographers covering the game but at least now it is a more workable environment. I think this is due to the fact that AP only has 12 or so photographer and not the 20 they use to bring.
In dealing with end of game and trophy issues I will recall the basic actions of the "photographers" assigned to cover the game.

- The ENDZONE photographers will remain in place at the end of the game and shoot long, they usually are the least mobile shooters on the field. They will later make a move to get a position for the trophy presentation.

- The SIDELINE photographers will be the ones positioning themselves around the winning and losing team benches. Some of those photographers will cover the coach, some will cover a leading player of the game (MVP) and some will cover the quarterback. What those people do at the end of the game and how many photographers actually find them and are able to follow them are the basic issues at hand.

The group of photographers that follow the winning quarterback will eventually collide into the group that had found and followed the loosing quarterback as they meet to shake hands (the picture they are looking for). The same progression of events will happen with the coaches and MVP. You can only solve this by completely denying access or creating a POOL on each player/coach.

If you create a POOL, you have to deal with WHO and HOW. The WHO is, who shoots it and the HOW is, how are the picture disseminated in the deadline induced mayhem that comes at the end of the game.
You could leave it up to the wires, but I don't think that is fair to everyone. However technology-wise they are best suited to deal with dissemination issues under the time constraints.

The trophy presentation is simple: The less people on the trophy podium the more photographers can see the trophy. Learn from the NHL: The NFL Commissioner gives the trophy to one guy from the team, no owner, no owner's wife, no TV announcer, no mothers in-law no owners consortium. Give the microphone to the commissioner, he gives the trophy to the coach or
team captain or QB.

The stage is high, everyone can see. Build us nothing, just let us see the trophy. Oh ya and one other thing: Kill the silly live band stage left and hold off on the red white and blue confetti for a few seconds.

"I'm afraid that telling photographers to stay off the field will never work …"
Vincent Laforet, The New York Times

Last year, I had to scream at security guards and players to hold back, as one of the player's wives was guiding her way to the trophy ceremony with her child, who was less than 8-years-old. The security personnel were barreling through the crowd with complete disregard for photographers and family members, pretty much anyone. The mother's natural instinct was to stop and cover her child making her a target of sorts to the security guards who saw her as nothing other than an obstacle that had to be overpowered.

The problem only got worse when another set of security guards began to forcefully yank their yellow ropes in a vain effort to cordon of an area that was already in total disarray.

I'm afraid that the dozens of poorly trained security guards that are told to flood the field with a yellow rope results in nothing other than an additional hazard. It is impossible to control the flow of hundreds of players, family members, television crews and still photographers within a 100-yard zone (a basketball court is much easier to control). Adding a few dozen security guards to the mix only worsens the situation especially when they are aggressive, knowing that there is little chance that they will be reprimanded for what they do during those few minutes of mayhem.

I'm also afraid that telling photographers to stay off the field will never work as long as family members, television crews, reporters, sound-engineers with sound booms and a multitude of others are allowed onto the field. Ideally none except for the players and one or two television crews should be allowed onto the field, period.

If this were enforced, everyone would have a fair chance of getting their video/ still photographs with a long lens. We also need to consider eliminating all of those sound-booms and sound-engineers.

I think that a good solution to the trophy ceremony would be to expand the pool photographers (or those wearing white bibs) to the major publications and magazines, and of course the current wire services and agencies. Sports Illustrated, USA Today, The Sporting News, team photographers, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and photographers from both of the teams local papers should be given a pre-determined position on a main riser with a clear view of the podium (Along with the wires, AP, Reuters, Getty, NFL Properties and EPA.)

Two large secondary podiums (that are not obstructed by the first riser) should also be put up to allow everyone a shot at the trophy ceremony - also with marked positions. That would result in less elbow throwing as everyone is guaranteed a spot on the riser.

Beyond the melee that takes place in the last seconds of the game, every photographer knows that they need to produce the following pivotal photographs following the conclusion of the Super Bowl: the MVP with trophy and the Super Bowl trophy celebration.

The USTA has instituted a policy of pre-assigned positions for the men's and women's tennis finals and has greatly reduced the mayhem following match point in recent years.

I know that The New York Times and almost every newspaper out there, will generally run the three following pictures from every Super Bowl: the play of the game, the MVP, and the Super Bowl trophy ceremony.

Limiting access to the trophy ceremony to only the wires would put into question the incentive for newspaper to send their own staff. Therefore we should look for an equitable solution where everyone has a clear shot at the trophy ceremony, and also consider severely limiting access to the field, or reducing the number of security guards that only contribute to an already overcrowded situation.

"Don't fret. There still are ways of getting great, post-game shots."
Paul Spinelli, PSA Photo Consulting

So the game is about to end, you switched from long glass to short glass, and you're ready to rub elbows with the players, coaches, writers, TV cameras, and fellow photographers in search of that award winning, Super Bowl post-game photo.

Unfortunately, you can't get into the MVP scrum. Oops, too late to get into the herd surrounding the winning head coach. You ended up on the wrong side of the yellow tape. To make matters worse, a yellow-jacketed security guy could care less who you are, what your credential says, what your assignment is, who you are working for, or where you need to be. At this point, all you'll get is the back of heads and hands in your photographs. It's Super Bowl post-game madness once again. Ugh! Don't fret. There still are ways of getting great, post-game shots.

I experienced all of these situations while shooting 18 Super Bowls as a freelance photographer, as well as the NFL's Director of Photographic Services. The trick is to know what, where, and when everything will happen. Where is the awards stage? Where is the post-game stage for the band? Which way will they face? When will the band start? When will the awards start? Most important, where should I be when it happens?

Knowing these things in advance will allow you to make the right decisions regarding equipment, location, and strategy. Everyone will be jockeying for position, so advance planning is the key to your success.

Unfortunately, you can't shoot everything. Rely on your partners to shoot the things you cannot cover. Work out the plan in advance. It is nearly impossible to shoot the post-game scrums and still have time to get into position for the awards shots on stage. Pick the shots you want, get into position, and wait for them to happen. I like shooting the band. Band photos sell well. I shoot them long enough to get a handful of quality shots. Then, I get into position to shoot the awards stage from a distance with a long lens.

I have shot from the player benches, chairs, a small stepladder, or a few rows up in the stands. These positions allow you to shoot over most of the heads and hands in front of the stage. Boom microphones are a big problem. I move to a spot that has the clearest angle toward the stage after the booms are in position. These shot blockers usually are closer to the stage-they can't move much once they are in place.

It is less likely that you will have to deal with yellow-jacketed security when shooting from a distance. While waiting, shoot wide angles of the confetti and field pandemonium with a fisheye lens on a hip shooter camera. Or follow the scrums with a longer lens to show the media throng surrounding key players and coaches. These are great feature shots-and they are big sellers. Once the awards start, you will be calm and ready to shoot great trophy shots in the hands of jubilant players and coaches on the stage.

Don't get into arguments with security. They always win. Better to be inside the stadium with a lesser position than outside with a bruised ego and no photos. It has happened before and it will happen again. Right or wrong, photographers get thrown out of stadiums too, just like fans. Besides, arguing will do you no good. It will piss you off, screw up your concentration, and make you miss great shots.

The yellow jackets are there to enforce rules that make sense to the NFL and the security firms that they hired. They are not taught to think. They are taught to enforce the rules. They do not care about your job any more than you care about theirs. The important thing is to co-exist and do your job.

While it may not appear to make sense to the average field shooter, there is a reason for everything that happens before, during, and after the post-game awards ceremony. Though it looks like pandemonium, it is a finely tuned and choreographed event. There are security issues, equipment issues, TV timing issues, and a multitude of other things guiding what happens on the field after the last tick of the clock.

If something happened last year that should be brought to the attention of the NFL, do so in writing, preferably weeks before of the game. The NFL has numerous production and security meetings. They are intended to make the game a safe and workable environment. They do not understand your issues or concerns unless you inform them of the problems. Your newspaper or magazine editors, the NPPA, ASMP, or other groups should report problems to the NFL so they can be corrected before they happen again.

Finally, take a deep breath and go with the flow. It is Super Bowl post-game. It's always a madhouse. Remain calm and be on the lookout for that defining shot that no on else gets. Remember, you are there to get great shots AND have fun in the process. They are not mutually exclusive goals.

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