Cox Sports Scales Production Truck to High School, College Productions

By Carolyn Braff

Collegiate and high school sports venues are rarely designed with the needs of television broadcasters in mind, so rather than try to make local venues fit its trucks, Cox Sports built a truck to fit those venues. Utilizing the expertise of industry engineering veteran Ray Cote, currently operations manager at Cox Sports, and the body of a Freightliner Sprinter van, Cox has created a mobile production unit that cuts down on required staff, equipment, and costs without sacrificing quality.

“When it comes to high school and college stadiums, none of them are wired for TV, there are no real camera positions built, and there is no sure power in a lot of places,” explains John Parris, director of local programming for Cox Sports, a regional network covering events in Rhode Island and Connecticut. “Our bigger unit that we’ve been rolling out is overkill for a lot of the high school venues. We wanted something smaller that we could roll out at a lower price point and that was a little less impactful as far as crews, so we built a new truck specifically for that this year.”

The Sprinter vehicle, which is the size of a commercial van, relies on a reduced gear complement to match the size of the network’s high school and college productions. The truck is equipped with a TriCaster Broadcast switcher, Mackie 1640 audio board, four Sony HVR-270u cameras with Fujinon ZA 17x lenses, and Sony HVR 1500 A digital recorders and utilizes LiveText on a laptop for graphics. The accompanying staff has been reduced as well: instead of requiring a producer, director, and technical director, the TriCaster-based system allows a single operator to fill all three of those roles. With the Sprinter truck’s ability to switch-hit, a graphics operator, graphics assistant, one replay operator, an audio A1, audio assistant, engineer, and four camera operators round out the behind-the scenes crew required to put together a production for Cox Sports.

“Even on the driver’s side, we don’t need anybody with a commercial drivers’ license or anything like that,” Parris explains. “We’ll have an engineer drive the actual vehicle.”

Cox’s high school programming lineup this year includes more than 40 live and tape-delayed football, field hockey, soccer, volleyball, softball, and lacrosse games, so the versatility of the network’s mobile production unit is tested daily.

“When we use our Sprinter vehicle,” Cote explains, “we’re able to go into the venues that the bigger trucks probably couldn’t fit into.”

The Sprinter is also self-reliant, utilizing a small generator, cellular Internet connection, and some pending IP telephony to ensure that no high school facility is too ill-equipped to host a TV production.

“When you arrive at most of these venues, you won’t have phone lines, you won’t have power, you won’t have Internet connections,” Parris explains. “This thing can roll out and basically have power and connectivity anywhere.”

Cox is looking to partner with a third-party provider to begin streaming some content over the Internet, as well, but will stick to television production for this season.

“The high school component for us is big,” Parris explains. “You look around the country, and everyone does a Friday Night Lights-type package, but I don’t see a whole lot of people doing field hockey or girls’ soccer. While it may not have a mass audience for us, we try to cover as many schools as possible, and the feedback has been great.”

Cox will also broadcast eight Providence College hockey games during the 2008-09 season, all produced live from the college’s home rink, Schneider Arena.

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