Niles, IL, May 18, 2015 –The stakes were high for more than just the boxers during the May 2 fight between Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Manny Pacquiao. Televised live, the pay-per-view event was a rare collaboration between Showtime and HBO, and both networks expected technical perfection.
Handling the selection, deployment, and coordination of wireless microphones, IEMs, and intercoms for the event was the team from Las Vegas-based Soundtronics, led by managing partner Mark Barbuti. “For a major live televised event, there can’t be any mistakes,” he notes. “This fight was such a high profile event that we were basically told directly to do whatever it takes to make sure that there were no wireless issues whatsoever. I knew immediately that we would be using Shure Axient® for all our key channels.”
Fortunately, Soundtronics had worked on multiple boxing events in the MGM Grand Garden Arena. “We handled both the system design and deployment, along with the frequency coordination for about 200 wireless channels – 140 of our own, and the rest from ENG crews and other press,” says Barbuti. “For key performers, I had two 8-packs of Axient receivers. One rack was dedicated to handhelds for the four main reporters, and the other was used for miking the referee and trainers, plus an emcee and spares.”
The floor reporters for the fight were issued Axient AXT200 handhelds with KSM9 mic elements. Max Kellerman of HBO and Jim Gray of Showtime each covered one fighter’s locker room and handled floor reporter duties during the bout. Two more Axient handhelds, with custom chrome finish, were assigned to ring announcers Michael Buffer (HBO) and Jimmy Lennon Jr. (Showtime).
“We used the handheld Axient systems in full frequency diversity mode, broadcasting on two frequencies so they could switch automatically in the event of a problem. We actually did have one intrusion on Kellerman’s mic, and Axient switched silently to the spare before we could even figure out what the problem was. Totally seamless,” reports Barbuti. “During the fight, Kellerman and Gray were all over the floor, interviewing celebrities and other fighters. A lot of their work wasn’t heard live on pay-per-view, but it was all recorded to be part of the show that will end up on Showtime later.”
In addition, fight referee Kenny Bayless and the trainers in the fighters’ corners were miked live using Axient AXT100 bodypacks, pre-programmed by Mark Barbuti, with backup frequencies in case of interference. “The bodypack systems for the trainers are a big part of the broadcast,” he explains. “Those channels are recorded, and can also be routed to interpreters for translation. Between rounds, the director might go live with one corner or the other, which is great for the fans. We used WL185 lavalier mics on the trainers for their wide cardioid pattern.”
Soundtronics deployed Shure wireless in other key roles as well. Performers for the national anthems of the U.S. (Jamie Foxx) and the Philippines (Gail Banawis with The Word Chorale) all used Shure PSM® 1000 personal monitor systems. “Obviously, we chose them for their sound quality, but we were really impressed with the range of the PSM 1000,” says Barbuti. “We did a walk test, and they didn’t waver anywhere inside the arena. I never worried about those channels at all.”
The final piece of the puzzle was the taping of All Access, Showtime’s behind-the-scenes documentary series. “They’ve been following both fighters’ camps for weeks, so the actual fight night was critical for them. They needed 16 channels of RF for miking family, team members, etc., from their arrival through the end of the fight,” explains Barbuti. “For that, they requested Shure ULX-D®. Both the RF and audio are digital, and it gets networked through Dante for recording with timecode for camera sync, so it’s perfect for reality show taping. We put four ULX-D quad receivers in one compact rack, and it worked like a charm. We must have 60 channels of ULX-D at Soundtronics, and we use them a lot.”
All Shure wireless was monitored with Wireless Workbench® 6 software. For the mission-critical Axient systems, the AXT600 Spectrum Manager provided full backup channel monitoring with control over a single Shure AXT610 Access Point. Soundtronics used two of its proprietary antenna systems to cover the arena, with a four-antenna Phoenix 8 system covering the entire 18,000-seat arena floor, augmented by a Phoenix 4 located directly below the boxing ring.
Mark Barbuti managed the frequency coordination personally, using a combination of IFR frequency analyzer, known frequency schemes for the MGM Grand venue, and some good old-fashioned hand math. “We were fortunate to be working at the MGM, where we’ve done a number of these events,” he says. “Still, even with every wireless in the building accounted for, there’s still the possibility of an ENG crew or even a fan’s device creating interference. Controlling the things you can’t plan for – that’s what Axient does, and that’s why we use it.”
Asked to characterize the wireless performance during the Mayweather-Pacquiao contest, Barbuti stated, “From the weigh-in on Friday through the last post-fight interview Saturday, it was flawless. With Shure Axient’s frequency diversity and Spectrum Manager, we knew that all our key wireless mics were protected. That was the only way I could honestly tell the producers, ‘It’s not going to fail.’ There’s no other wireless system that lets me make that guarantee.”