League Networks Have Unique Needs, Challenges

By Carl Lindemann

Suddenly, new league and conference networks are sprouting up to enhance
and enrich exposure. Is it just that traditional exposure for sports
leagues and collegiate conferences isn’t enough to keep up with the
interest? How are these upstarts facing the transition to HD? What can
they add to the mix?For Steve Hurlbut, Executive Producer and
Programming Director for The MountainWest Sports Network, a key
motivating factor is scheduling for this trend is putting schools and
student athletes first. “We wanted to play games at the times and on the dates that make sense
for the schools. The previous television partner had them playing
football games on Tuesdays and Wednesday nights. Over 25% of the games
either started before noontime or after 8pm. They wanted to get more
control of that. It makes sense for the student athletes as well as the
fan base,” Hurlbut said as part of the “Network of Their Own” panel at the League Technology Summit.

Of course, the interest goes beyond setting the schedule. Besides being
in the driver seat, having a conference network keeps the spotlight
tightly focused while also bringing secondary sports visibility.

“This increases the exposure of the institutions, and for coaches. We
have coaches’ shows, specials on schools. Combination of all issues made
for us to be the first of the collegiate conference networks,” said

For sports leagues, these same goals and advantages translate into
slightly different terms.

“The YES Network is the home of Yankees and so we deliver the broadest,
most in depth coverage of what is a global brand. We are also the home of
the New Jersey Nets and cover local football games, have a running show,
a reality TV show. We are a 24/7 sports network,” said Michael Spirito,
Director, Business Development, YES Network.

Coming into the industry in the midst of the transition to HD makes for
some challenging choices. Leon Schweir, Executive Producer, Big Ten
Network, launched in HD with Mobile TV Group building three 48-foot HD
expando trucks to enable the operation.

“We’re tapeless using an Avid server system, doing between 420 to 430
events with 90% of those in HD 720P. Once we were up and running, it was
no different from working in SD. The challenge has been more about
getting PA’s working in a tapeless facility,” said Schweir.

The new media operations are not just following the success of
traditional outlets. They are also taking on leadership roles in
technology innovation.

“We have less risk than broadcast partners and so can experiment
and develop (new techniques). We’ve been developing new mics for
players that will stand up to the water content on uniforms. These will
be first used on network broadcast this week,” said Mike Rokosa, NBA
Entertainment Vice President, Engineering.

Another important role that the new organizations are taking on are as
archivists and documentarians. They take on the task of capturing the
history that might otherwise be overlooked.

“This year, we’ve asked each team to designate a Webograper. That’s
someone with a camera to capture press conferences, community events, and
to document all of teams’ activities,” said Adam Acone, NHL VP,
broadcasting and programming.

Panel participants agreed that these new media organizations are
secondary to traditional broadcast partners. For now, this is dictated by
existing contracts and obligations. Still, it’s anyone’s guess how these
boundaries might shift bringing the kind of changes that the advent of
cable brought to network TV.

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