Broadcast Sports Inc. Celebrates 30 Years
In the fall of 1980, as the 21st running of the Bathurst 1000 touring-car race snaked through the Mount Panorama Circuit in New South Wales, Australia, a CBS executive on location Down Under for a different production happened upon the broadcast on Sydney’s Channel Seven. What he noticed were remote-controlled on-board cameras installed in two of the cars.
“Back then, there were only four networks to look at and no cable TV, so it was a good chance they came across the race and thought that’s exactly what they need for the Daytona 500,” remembers Peter Larsson, co-founder/GM, Broadcast Sports Inc. “So we traveled over [to the U.S.] in 1981, and we put some cameras in the cars for that race. We did three races a year [in] ’81, ’82, and ’83. Then, at the end of ’83, we did a deal with CBS, and we left Australia and moved [to the U.S.] and started Broadcast Sports.”
Thirty years later, Broadcast Sports Inc. (BSI) is an international provider of rental wireless technology and communications systems for television broadcasting. The story of BSI, however, is far more than just “right place right time.”
A Fortuitous Beginning, a Lot of Hard Work
Peter Larsson, John Porter, and David Curtis — all working as engineers for Channel Seven — began exploring new applications for the emerging portable video transmitters being developed for electronic newsgathering in 1979. Finding success in getting live images off yachts, the trio decided to apply the technology to auto racing, which led them to the Bathurst 1000.
“In ’79, there were two cars, and they just had cameras that were locked off and couldn’t move,” says Larsson. “Then, in 1980, we put remote-control systems in so we could pan them around.”
Throughout the early ’80s, Larsson, Porter, and Curtis continued to work for Channel Seven while developing on-board camera systems for NASCAR in the U.S. Realizing the market potential for the systems, the group moved to the U.S. in 1983 and established Broadcast Sports Technologies (BST).
Today, BSI employs more than 150 people, occupies a 55,000-square-ft. facility in Hanover, MD, and boasts 13 RF mobile units. At its launch, however, the look of the company was quite different.
“Back in those days, it was literally a big house up in Connecticut,” Larsson recalls. “We each had our own bedroom, and then one of the other bedrooms was the electronic workshop. The basement was the machine shop, and the other bedroom was the office area. We literally just worked out of the house for three years.”
During those three years, BST held an exclusive contract with CBS. In 1986, CBS renewed the contract without the exclusive clause, allowing BST to pursue other opportunities. One such opportunity came from a fledgling sports network in Bristol, CT, which was just emerging on the national stage.
“Again, we were at the right place at the right time,” says Larsson of working with ESPN. “In ’86, we moved down to Maryland, and that’s where the company’s been located ever since. We’ve [grown] from literally working out of cardboard boxes in the basement of a house to a 55,000-square-ft. facility. It’s changed quite radically over the years.”
NASCAR: BSI’s Bread and Butter
As NASCAR grew in popularity, so too did BST’s reputation as a go-to provider of wireless point-of-view cameras. According to Larsson, NASCAR now accounts for 50% of the company’s revenue.
At the beginning, the team confronted several challenges in adapting technology used in the Bathurst 1000 to the far more intense NASCAR circuit, including the sport’s violent crashes and interference caused by the proximity of the cars’ ignition coils (not to mention, quips Larsson, “getting them to understand our Australian accents”).
“The very first time we came over,” he says, “they sat us down in front of a monitor and replayed half a dozen crashes so we could get a concept of how violent the sport was. The race we’d done in Australia, they have pretty severe crashes but nothing as spectacular as the ones you have at Daytona or Talladega. The very first thing to overcome was ensuring that the equipment was safe enough to fit into a car and not do more damage to the driver if the car was involved in a wreck.”
The Next 30 Years
In 1996, BST was purchased by WESCAM, a provider of gyro-stabilized aerial-camera platforms, and changed its name to Broadcast Sports Inc. BSI continued to develop innovative products for auto racing and sailing and expanded its portfolio to include live golf coverage as well as imaging systems for NASA. The company is now part of the L-3 Communications family.
Two years ago, BSI opened an office in the UK. This year, that office will expand to meet the increasing demand for RF broadcast technology across the pond.
“As in everything in the television business, you can have the best technology in the world, but, if you don’t have the right people managing it, you might as well pack up and go home,” says Larsson. “We were very, very fortunate that we got [Engineering Director] Tony Valentino early on in the London office.”
BSI also recently added the 500th unique venue to the list of locations it services, a list that includes more than 200 golf courses and 100 auto-racing venues.
“It’s quite remarkable to think that we’re growing from driving in a truck with a U-Haul trailer on the back and everything in cardboard boxes [to having] 13 tractor-trailers that move all the gear around to all the appropriate venues,” says Larsson. “To think that we’ve hit 500 is pretty special.”
In addition to a variety of 30th-anniversary celebrations this year, BSI plans to deploy several new technologies and unveil a business enterprise at the NAB Show in Las Vegas in April.
“As I’ve said to all of our guys, it’s been really, really hard to get to the top of this mountain. It’s twice as hard to stay up there. That’s one of our biggest goals: to continue to service all the customers that have stuck with us over the years,” says Larsson. “We’d certainly love to start moving into some other arenas: we’d like to do some more national car racing, international golf. One of the big things that we’re pushing this year will be the product sales. It’s not just a simple solution any more. [We have] many, many arrows in our quiver now.”