From doinks to SpongeBob, CBS goes high tech for Super Bowl

AP photo Kamil Krzaczynski / A TV camera operator for CBS Sports works during a game between the Chicago Bears and the visiting Denver Broncos on Oct. 1. CBS will televise Super Bowl LVIII between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers from Las Vegas on Sunday.
AP photo Kamil Krzaczynski / A TV camera operator for CBS Sports works during a game between the Chicago Bears and the visiting Denver Broncos on Oct. 1. CBS will televise Super Bowl LVIII between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers from Las Vegas on Sunday.

Inspiration sometimes hits — or in this case, doinks — at the most opportune times.

CBS Sports executives Jason Cohen and Mike Francis had end-zone seats during last year's Super Bowl when Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker's 42-yard field-goal attempt caromed off the left upright. Cohen, the division's vice president of remote technical operations, immediately texted someone at the league's broadcasting department about placing cameras inside the uprights.

On Sunday, when the Chiefs face the San Francisco 49ers at Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas, the doink camera will make its debut.

"We're excited. We're also not just reliant on a doink," Cohen said. "Obviously, if we get one, I'll be very excited and probably high-five each other in the truck, but they can also get other shots from the field from that unique perspective."

The doink cam is one of many innovations CBS will use during Sunday's game, with the official telecast beginning at 6:30 p.m. Eastern. It will be the 22nd time that CBS has carried the Super Bowl, which is the most among the four broadcast networks.

While the Chiefs and 49ers get the opportunity every season to compete for a Super Bowl, networks will get their chance to carry the big game once every four years under the league's 11-year broadcasting contract, which started this season. ABC/ESPN are back in the rotation with CBS, Fox and NBC, but won't have the game until 2027 in Los Angeles.

"There will be more technology than we've ever seen for a broadcast," said Harold Bryant, the executive producer and executive vice president of production for CBS Sports.

There will be six 4K cameras in each goalpost, with three in each upright. Two will face the field on a 45-degree angle, and the other will be lined up inward to get a shot of the ball going through. The cameras also have zoom and super slow-motion capabilities that could show how close a kick made it inside the uprights or straight down the middle.

CBS tested the cameras during a New York Jets preseason game at MetLife Stadium and a Las Vegas Raiders regular-season game at Allegiant Stadium, the site of Sunday's showdown. Cohen said CBS analyst Jay Feely, who kicked in the NFL for 14 seasons, also gave his input on where to position the cameras.

Super Bowls are usually testing grounds for ideas that eventually make their way into all NFL broadcasts, so the doink camera could join the pylon cams as a standard part of the league's top games in future seasons.

Other than kicks, the cameras on the uprights can provide unique end zone angles, including on sneaks near the goal line or an aerial view near the pylon. However, don't look for CBS producers to show angles from the doink cam just because they have it.

"We're not going to force in the elements. We're going to find out what works to help tell the story of the game and the moment," Bryant said.

The upright cameras are part of 165 cameras CBS will use Sunday. The network also has cameras throughout the Las Vegas strip, including one at the top of the Stratosphere.

There are also 23 augmented reality cameras that both CBS and Nickelodeon will use. The Nickelodeon broadcast will use the augmented reality cameras the most because it will appear that cartoon characters SpongeBob SquarePants and Patrick Star will be on the set calling the game with Nate Burleson and Noah Eagle

Tom Kenny and Bill Fagerbakke, who are the voices of SpongeBob and Patrick, respectively, will be in the booth and wearing green suits so their animated aliases can appear. In all the years of the SpongeBob franchise, which launched in 1999, Kenny said this is the first time he can remember doing something live in character of this magnitude.

"We're in character a lot because we record many episodes of the shows during the week. The good thing is that there are plenty of times we ad-lib during the recordings because that is encouraged," Kenny said.

Fagerbakke added some commentary during a game between the Denver Broncos and the Los Angeles Rams on Christmas in 2022, but that was done from the broadcast truck. Still, when Fagerbakke said "That's not what he wanted to cook" after Russell Wilson's second interception — a riff on "Let Russ Cook" — the clip went viral on social media.

"Our show has been integrated with the development of social media itself. So it's just kind of a nice extension of that. I've watched Russell Wilson play his entire career. I'm a big fan of his," Fagerbakke said.

While various bells and whistles such as AR are nice, they also have to be used for the right reasons, which Cohen sees with the Nickelodeon broadcast.

"What I love about the Nickelodeon show is that I feel like it's the most perfect use case for augmented reality in a live broadcast," he said. "It's bringing in augmented reality in a way that has a meaningful purpose because it advances the storyline and helps the play on the field come to life, but in a unique perspective that has some flavor to it."