College Football Preview: Fox Sports Opens NFL Playbook
After inking 12- and 13-year deals with the Pac-12 and Big 12, respectively, and securing a multiyear, multisport broadcast agreement with Conference USA, Fox Sports Media Group appears more committed to college sports appears stronger than ever.
This season, Fox Sports will showcase more than 200 matchups, including the inaugural Pac-12 Championship, the Big Ten Championship, and the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic. Coverage will roll out across the Fox Sports platform, with games broadcast on Fox, Fox Sports Networks (FSN), and Fox College Sports (FCS). New this season, Fox Sports will broadcast its Game of the Week on FX, Fox Networks Group’s basic-cable network.
For Fox Sports, the flood of college football programming this fall does not require a completely new production approach, simply an extension of an old one. Adhering to a mantra handed down from Fox Sports Media Group Co-President/COO Eric Shanks, there will not be an NFL Package and a separate, disconnected College Football Package. Instead, the two will constitute a Fox Football Package.
“We’re going to come [in] with more of an NFL approach to college football,” says Mike Davies, VP of technical operations for Fox Sports. “The producer and director, while certainly knowledgeable in college, have been cut from an NFL model, so a lot of what we’re going to be doing will mirror what we’re doing at the NFL from a technical and a production standpoint. We’re looking forward to bringing some of these enhancements to college.”
The NFL Treatment
While the NFL approach will apply to every college game broadcast on the Fox Sports platform, particular attention will be given to the Game of the Week showcased on the newest member to join Fox Sports’ college football television platform, FX.
FX’s coverage will feature the same Vizrt graphics used for Fox Sports’ NFL broadcasts and a similar camera complement, including a flying camera.
Logistically, however, many college stadiums cannot accommodate an NFL camera setup. For example, Oklahoma and Oregon do not have the space to accommodate a sideline cart. Instead, the crew will deploy RF Steadicams to capture the action from the sideline.
“There are some differences between NFL and college for sure, and I think some of them even lend to different opportunities [for] camera placement and production elements,” says Davies. “But, for the most part, we’re taking from our NFL playbook to cover that FX game.”
Fox Sports’ college games, like every Fox Sports property across the board, will be shot in widescreen HD and adapted for SD consumers. Instead of protecting the 4:3 image, the production will provide SD consumers a letterbox image instead of a center-cut. College football will be presented in 5.1 surround sound.
New Features, Familiar Faces
For the first time, Fox Sports will produce the regional telecasts of Pac-12, Big 12, and Conference USA games in addition to those broadcast nationally. The regional package, which will air on FSN and FCS, will include flying cameras as well as the X-Mo high-speed camera new to the NFL B and C crew setups this year.
Fox Sports’ college production will feature another crossover from the NFL package, one that even the most casual fans will recognize. Keeping with the Fox Football Package mentality, Cleatus the Robot will pull duty on both NFL and college broadcasts.
“There are subtle differences in the animation to reflect the aesthetic of college sports versus pro sports,” explains Fox Sports’ EVP/Creative Director Gary Hartley, “but, generally speaking, it’s the same presentation graphically for both. At this point, he’s not team-specific, mainly because of the production nightmare that would present. He’s basically on the Fox Sports team.”
Never Too Early To Think Playoffs
In December, Fox Sports will broadcast the Big Ten Championship Game from Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. According to Davies, the team is already in planning mode for the Big Ten contest, which will certainly get the NFL treatment in an NFL venue.
The inaugural Pac-12 Championship, on the other hand, poses a slightly bigger challenge. Davies and his team won’t know where the game will be played until the North and South divisions crown their respective winners at the end of the season.
“We’re in the midst of surveying all the Pac-12 venues to see just where we would put things and how things would work,” says Davies, “That one is going to be an interesting coordination.”
For each championship game that Fox Sports produces (Conference USA’s will be broadcast on ESPN2; the Big 12 will not play a championship game this season), the network will broadcast a full pregame show from a stage built at the venue.
Fox Sports wraps up its college-football slate with the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic on Friday, Jan. 6, broadcast in primetime from Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX.
Fox Sports kicks off its college-football schedule on FSN Thursday Sept. 1, when Memphis hosts Conference USA foe Mississippi State.
That weekend, the USA Today-ranked No. 1 Oklahoma Sooners will host the Tulsa Golden Hurricane for the first FX Game of the Week. Play-by-play man Gus Johnson will join veteran college-football analyst Charles Davis in the booth and former University of Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster on the sidelines.