Data is at the heart of the Professional Fighters League universe
PFL Productions includes ‘SmartCage’, GhostCam and Dual Head SteadiCam
Although sports leagues around the world have widely embraced the use of next-gen data feeds and statistics in recent years, nowhere is data more essential to a sports organization’s mission than in the Pro Fighters League. . With fights taking place inside a “SmartCage” and broadcasts brimming with fighter metrics like punch speed, power, heart rate tracking and energy exerted, PFL has made data l axis on which it rotates.
This year, PFL is diving even deeper into the data pool with its partner SMT, launching a Fighter Performance Rating metric similar to the NFL’s QB rating and introducing a typing speed metric later this season.
“I think data is essential for any sport and needs to be there for the fans to appreciate and assess the performance of the participants. So we provide as much data as possible to the viewer, ”says George Greenberg, Executive Producer of the Professional Fighters League. “We think next-gen MMA relies a lot on data and information because, let’s face it, the love information of 18 and 34 year olds. It is therefore a real brand differentiator for us. What our production team did to present this information in a truly educational and entertaining way is very specific to us and unlike any other brand of MMA.
A hybrid model: distribution of production between Atlantic City and Durham
The third season of the PFL (the 2020 season has been canceled due to the pandemic) kicked off in April in a strict bubble environment at Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, NJ, with no fans. After three straight weeks of Thursday night events, the PFL – the only MMA league with a regular season and playoff structure – will resume action on June 10 with shows airing on ESPN, ESPN +, ESPN Deportes and d ‘other media partners around the world.
PFL, partnered with Tupelo Honey to provide on-site facilities and a below-the-line crew, and enlisted industry veteran Larry Rogers from First In TV to serve as tech producer for tech shows.
While the PFL production team (led by Greenberg, producer John Faratzis and director Rich Dewey) are on-site at F&F Productions GTX-16 A & B units in Atlantic City for events, more than 10 operators are also working remotely from SMT’s headquarters in Durham, NC, to support the show. Atlantic City and Durham operations are connected through BitFire Networks’ remote video transport and distribution platform.
“We looked at many different scenarios and locations,” says Faratzis. “Initially, we thought we would opt for a full REMI with fewer people on site, but our thinking evolved as the situation changed and more and more people were getting vaccinated. So we are on site with a few mobile units, then we work closely with our friends at SMT to manage all the data and graphics. [aspects of the show from Durham]. “
Data Crazy: PFL Hit Speed, Kick Speed, FPR and a Data Tsunami
PFL’s hunter tracking data, known as “Cagenomics”, plays a vital role in its broadcasts and is driven by SMT’s OASIS platform, which seamlessly integrates and combines live score with biometric data and data. position.
“The constant flow of data we have is unlike any other mixed martial arts group or even boxing,” says Greenberg. “We have a huge flow of information and we like to give that information to the viewer as soon as we have it because we think it helps tell the story for the viewer.”
In addition to optical and chip-based trackers throughout the SmartCage, SMT has developed sensors worn inside the PFL gloves to transmit live typing speed data. Each fighter is fitted with a tag for each glove, each with unique identifiers that transmit data to 16 readers developed by SMT which are positioned around and under the decagon. In addition to typing speed, SMT is able to offer other advanced biometric data such as power ratings, heart rate and exerted energy.
“Going back to the 80s, we always wanted chips in the gloves, but we couldn’t get the commissions to allow it,” says Faratzis. “But the league worked hard to show the board that having chips in your gloves was not dangerous and that it was important information for everyone. It’s unique to us and it’s been a huge addition. “
Data provided by SMT is displayed on the stats prompt for commentators and is incorporated into on-air graphics, including PFL’s scorebug graph during fights, which shows stats such as strike speed, arm / leg / total strikes, ground strikes and outs.
New to the 2021 PFL season is the Fighter Performance Rating (FPR), a metric that shows fans how rounds are won or lost based on weighted stats collected by ring watchers. These statistics are relayed to the SMT entrances in Durham and then integrated into the on-air charts at the end of each round.
“Everyone likes a QB rating or batting average,” says Greenberg. “So collectively, as a group, we felt it was important to have this kind of overall metric [for PFL]. We use it to compare fighters within divisions, so it’s a pretty cool tool that is exclusive to us ”.
In addition to graphically displaying the RPF between each round and after the fight, statistic plays a major role in “The Verdict”, in which fans can add a turn-based score for each fight and vote for the winner.
“As a viewer, you can take our RPF, the fan verdict vote and our advertiser’s analysis and compare it all when a judge makes the decision,” Greenberg says. “We think it’s an effective and entertaining way to judge for yourself how a fight was scored and how the judges did it.”
PFL and SMT are also currently developing a kick speed system – a first in MMA – that uses optical tracking to determine the speed of kicks, because putting a tracking chip on a fighter’s foot was not not an option. Currently in beta testing, Greenberg expects Typing Speed to debut in time for the PFL Playoffs, which start in Week 7, and says it will be mostly used on reruns rather than in direct.
“With typing speed you can put a chip in the glove, but with typing speed you obviously can’t, so that’s more of a challenge,” says Greenberg. “Technology is our friend and we are not afraid of it. Sometimes you are going to fail, but you have to be bold enough to test it. So we have cameras mounted above to capture [kick speed] and our faith is in SMT.
New MMA perspectives: GhostCam, SteadiCam Dual-View and RefCam
PFL deploys a robust camera add-on for each event to cover not only the Decagon cage, but also the fighters’ exit and backstage coverage.
The most important of PFL’s camera innovations is the Ghost Cam – a robotic rail-based system provided by Inertia Unlimited that “makes the cage disappear” when shooting through the cage. The rail allows the camera to be controlled and repositioned from a distance during combat.
“As you zoom in and shoot through the cage, the GhostCam makes the cage disappear so you don’t get obstructed,” says Faratzis. “It’s really something special and unlike anything I have ever seen Other [MMA promotions] have something like that, but we have it on a rail, which is a first. It provides us with absolutely incredible shots.
PFL has also deployed a Dual View Steadicam, which is a SteadiCam platform with two cameras – a traditional broadcast camera used for combat coverage and a mirrorless SLR camera that provides cinematic shallow depth of field shots. for hunter introductions.
“Now we have two cameras on one SteadiCam, which is not only efficient, but it gives us great looks for fighter intros,” says Faratzis. “Instead of cutting between cameras for intros, we use this nice, soft cinematic look for the entire fighter intro on a SteadiCam, which provides a cool, intimate look. Then we can move on to [the broadcast camera] and still get those more traditional SteadiCam shots in the [broadcast]. “
PFL also deployed a RefCam to give the referee the view of the action inside the cage, the robotics over the head and in every corner of the fighters to see the coaches giving instructions and capturing their reactions, as well as a jib. A host of unscattered optical tracking cameras also surround the cage for SMT to calculate strike speed and other metrics.
In addition to the cameras surrounding the cage, the PFL deploys POV and manned cameras in the fighters’ locker rooms to capture the emotion of the fighters watching their division rivals take on each other.
“This [behind the scenes access] is the biggest differentiator from other combat sports that I have produced, ”says Faratzis. “All of our fighters have a vested interest in what’s going on. Each fighter wants to watch all the other fighters in their division to see how many points they are going to score. Because now that determines their strategy in terms of the number of points to be scored to qualify for the playoffs. It is therefore essential that these cameras [in the locker room] and no one else in MMA can do it. “
The PFL regular season resumes June 10 on ESPN + (6-10 p.m. ET) and ESPN 2 (10 p.m.-midnight ET).