Welcome to the “Doink Cam”: How CBS’ Super Bowl TV Innovation Came to Life

Harrison Butker has earned a reputation as one of the greatest kickers in the NFL. The two-time Super Bowl champion has made all 14 shots in the Kansas City Chiefs’ postseason victories this season and has become as reliable in his craft as Stephen Curry is in his.

But in a bit of great irony, it was a missed field goal by Butker in last year’s Super Bowl that sparked an epiphany in Jason Cohen, vice president of remote technical operations at CBS Sports.

With 2:24 left in the opening quarter of Super Bowl LVII between the Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles, Butker’s 42-yard field goal attempt shattered the top of the left upright at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. (Fox broadcaster Kevin Burkhardt, describing the show, said, “So a good ride ends with ‘doink!'”)

It just so happened that Cohen and Mike Francis, vice president of engineering and technology at CBS Sports, were sitting in the end zone where the kick was missed. As the sound of missing rang through their section, Cohen and Francis looked at each other with excitement.

“The ball bounced off the post and made a very loud sound: a ‘doink,'” Cohen recalled this week. “We looked at each other and I said, ‘We need a portrait camera.’”

Immediately following Butker’s absence, Cohen texted NFL senior director of broadcasts Blake Jones that he was, well, working. He enthusiastically told Jones that he wanted to place a vertical camera at this year’s Super Bowl while CBS broadcast the game. An amused Jones immediately responded to Cohen by telling him they should talk after the Super Bowl.

Months of planning and testing produced a series of “doink” cameras for Sunday’s game. The CBS broadcast will feature a total of six 4K cameras that have been inserted into the Allegiant Stadium struts of both end zones. Two of the cameras on each post are positioned to face the field at a 45-degree angle. Another is aimed directly inward to get a side profile shot of the ball as it flies through. They have high-resolution zoom capabilities and super slow-mo playback capabilities. CBS will be able to get great replays of any field goal or extra point, but the dream will be if someone hits the post for the doink.

“The camera doesn’t just work if it hits vertical,” said CBS Sports executive producer and executive vice president of production Harold Bryant. “If there’s a tight basket, we have three different angles on each upright, so we can see it in three different positions.”

Soon after texting Jones, Cohen began searching the Internet and found a company, Sportsfield Specialties, that designs and manufactures construction sports equipment, including soccer goal posts. I sent a LinkedIn request during the game to the company’s sales director. Cohen and his team ultimately spent months composing drawings and technical schematics to ensure the integrity of the struts was not compromised. Sportsfield helped CBS with pole design and hole cutting. Cohen said Fletcher Sports, a camera acquisition company that often works with CBS Sports, designed the inserts that go into the posts and figured out how to fit the cameras.

The proof of concept initially came in a preseason game between the New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Aug. 19 at MetLife Stadium. Cohen and his team consulted with kicking analyst Jay Feely to get perspective on him where he thought he might be a good place for the cameras.

“We presented our ideas pretty early on this where we had a preseason plan,” Cohen said. “The NFL had time to evaluate the plan and then come back to us with their feedback after the preseason test.”

The next live test took place at Allegiant Stadium in October for a Week 6 game between the New England Patriots and Las Vegas Raiders. There was a lot of trial and error to get to this point, but doink cameras made their television debut successfully.

Ryan Galvin, the lead producer of this year’s Super Bowl replay, explained how the process of airing a doink camera replay would work in practical terms. At the Super Bowl, production specialist Amanda Smerage will operate the machine that controls the six cameras from the pillars. They call it “DOINK” in the production truck. Steve McKee, who normally produces the team of Andrew Catalon, Matt Ryan and Tiki Barber but is working as a replay producer for this year’s Super Bowl, will monitor those cameras. He will warn Galvin if DOINK produces something memorable.

Doink Cam fits inside the uprights to offer a unique view of field goal and extra-point attempts. CBS will have three in each pole. (Courtesy of Jason Cohen)

Galvin, who has about 60 replay feeds at his disposal, ultimately has to decide which replays to use, including doink cameras, in real time during the game. Galvin loves technology, but is quick to point out that ultimately you have to produce the game in front of you and rely on the people around you.

“A whole new look for the viewer can be tricky,” said Galvin, who will be working on his seventh Super Bowl. “Will there be some confusion? Can people “get it” in six seconds? I’m not smart enough to answer. I know that Jason Cohen and our entire operations team work incredibly hard to fill a toolbox of cameras and replay machines for our crew. “My job is to get the best replay on the air when appropriate.”

Jones said the NFL is always trying to identify the next innovation in broadcasting. For example, Pylon Cam is now standard for major NFL games across all broadcast partners. The Super Bowl often presents an opportunity to do something unique, and sometimes what debuts at the Super Bowl can become a standard in-game production.

Ultimately, such broadcast innovations are dictated by the networks because they are the ones who have to invest the budget, research and development. If audiences immediately fell in love with a certain camera, the NFL’s other media partners would definitely take notice.

“It used to be that the sky cam was something you only saw at big prime-time games,” Jones said. “Now this will go into the more regular Sunday afternoon games. We will learn a lot after this week. Ultimately, these are network decisions that we support and facilitate rather than necessarily saying you have to have cameras X, Y, and Z. This is a pretty unique use case and you need a certain part of the game to happen at a certain way to get that “wow” factor. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.”

“There’s no one story you can start from as to what the perfect camera is to capture the perfect shot,” Cohen said. “Apart from that, it will be a matter of luck. Where could he hit a ball? What I will tell you is that we put the cameras in different positions for the August preseason game and the October preseason game where we looked at every possible angle, trying to see what the pros and cons were. …What we came up with is what we think is the right height, angle and wide-angle lens.”

A Doink Cam positioned and ready to be inserted inside a goal post, with plexiglass cover. (Courtesy of Jason Cohen)

Cohen said what the tests revealed is not only the image of the ball coming towards the spectators, but the spectators also need to see the other goal post as a reference point to see whether the ball has passed or less. Sportsfield Specialties was able to get the cameras where CBS wanted them through a custom fit. There is a cylindrical camera tube with a piece of shatterproof plexiglass that is slipped into the post through a rear opening in the post. “Think of it like there’s a little door or chamber at the back of the strut, and this little camera slot is pushed kind of inward,” Cohen said. “Then a piece of plexiglass that is curved and is pushed forward so that it is completely flush with the rest of the upright.”

Cameras and appropriate wiring were placed inside the uprights at Allegiant Stadium on Wednesday. Testing was scheduled for Thursday evening, when final field installation will take place. The dress rehearsal will also take place on Friday. Cohen said he will be sitting in one of CBS’ production trucks on Super Bowl Sunday with other CBS brass. He admits he’s rooting for an idiot.

“Look, you never root for someone else’s misery, and I don’t want to put bad karma on the world and hope that football players don’t do their job,” Cohen said. “But this is the kind of innovation that, if someone hits the pole and our cameras get a great shot, will make us feel really happy about all the work and effort we put into inventing this angle. So while they line up for kicks on Sunday, I will definitely be holding my breath a little bit.”


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(Top photo of a monitor showing the view from the “Doink Cam” during a test at a preseason game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New York Jets: courtesy of Jason Cohen)