CSVS 2012: Different Tech, Different Philosophies, One Goal: Quality College Sports Productions

As colleges and universities across the country expand their sports video departments, there is also expansion in the different philosophies on how to staff, equip, and run a program. But some common steps being taken were discussed during the “Winning Ways in Building Your Broadcast Facility” session at the College Sports Video Summit held in Atlanta June 6-7.

An increasingly important first step for college campuses looking to produce and broadcast sports content is fibering the venues to a centralized operations center.

John Mills, manager, business development operations, Bexel Broadcast Services, pointed out that the cost of installing fiber continues to fall and it is now relatively inexpensive to pull fiber through multiple venues.

“The expense is not in the cable itself,” he added, “but in the termination and gear you need to support it.”

Mills also noted that it can be hard to find SD equipment today: “For a control room, HD is the only way to go.”

With cabling and signal distribution settled, the next step is developing a philosophy and figuring out what level of production the university is shooting for. When developing sports video operations, the University of Oklahoma set out to do network-quality productions that could compete with the likes of ESPN and Fox Sports. A 42-person crew operates 12 cameras to cover more than 250 events a year and then transport signals, along with audio and communications, down two fibers.

“Five years ago, we began to fiber up all of our facilities to support the big screens and to do more broadcasts, as we have 65 games on TV with affiliates,” Assistant AD, Broadcast Operations Brandon Meier said of OU’s Soonervision department. “Phase two of the project was two control rooms, one for broadcast and one for the big screen shows. And now we have about seven venues on campus connected.”

SUNY Oswego's Adele Burk (left), joined on the panel by Oklahoma’s Brandon Meier, describes her school's fully student-run broadcast operation.

And then there is staffing. Adele Burk, sports information director, SUNY Oswego, said her university’s approach to covering sports events exemplifies the “can do” spirit of student-run video operations because the only adult involved in the program is a faculty supervisor.

“The students are very competent and eager to learn,” she said, “and they just do it for the passion of working with sports and getting into the industry.”

The SUNY Oswego program, which includes a studio on the campus, began in 1972 as a way not to reach alumni but as an educational experience.

“Because our alumni network is so well integrated,” she added, “it became a way to show alumni what we were doing, and then the dollars began to come in to lay a groundwork for the students.”

Notable industry professionals who call Oswego alma mater include Lou Borrelli, former NEP Broadcasting president/CEO (and now NimbleTV CMO), and ESPN sportscaster Linda Cohen.

“Lou has been instrumental as he watches all our games and provides feedback, both good and bad,” said Burk. “And to have someone in the industry who is passionate about their alma mater is extremely beneficial.”

Training those students is an important part of the process, with students learning, among other skills, how to use an EVS server or Chyron graphics system.

“We advertise aggressively for student jobs and developed a tiered pay system,” Meier reported. “We want to try and get to 80 staff next year.”

Penn State's Jim Nachtman (right) lays out plans behind his school's new broadcast facility as Bexel's John Mills looks on.

Penn State University has been ramping up its control rooms with the latest technology since 2001, reported Director of Broadcast Operations Jim Nachtman.

“Students can be prepared for a career by working on something like a Sony MVS7000 switcher,” he said. “And we’re always recruiting new staff.”

Not every university has a capital budget to match the University of Oklahoma’s, but Meier recommended asking for a lot more money than you think you will need because future requirements will expand. It can also lead to the creation of a plan with different phases that, ultimately, meet the original goals.

“We wanted something that would not just support the big screens but also Webcasts and broadcasts,” he explained. “I gave them the analogy of a race car and how we could hire the best driver but couldn’t compete unless we invested the dollars to have the best car. And you see schools building multimillion-dollar football, baseball, and softball facilities, and someone sold those concepts. This was no different.”

Penn State recently upgraded Rec Hall, built in 1929, with a control room that Nachtman says follows the philosophy of Soonervision.

“It can handle in-game productions across multiple venues while still delivering a truck-quality experience for broadcasters,” he said. “The vision part of what you want to do is so important.”

Rec Hall houses two new control rooms sharing a 24-channel Abekas Mira instant-replay server. One is used to produce the video-board production for the two large video screens installed in Rec Hall in January 2011. The other possesses the capability to provide a live signal to the Big Ten Network headquarters in Chicago, where the event can be aired in HD on the linear network or streamed on the Big Ten Digital Network. The upgraded facilities in Rec Hall enable the Athletics Department to make every event available to network air, where previously budgetary considerations would have limited the number to seven to 10 truck events annually.

Regardless of what a school’s budget is, Meier said, good content is always possible: “Don’t let the budget or an SD big screen or distribution just on the Web shy you away from creating good content and the best content you can.”

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