Fox Sports Dials Up Last-Minute Production Enhancements for Big Ten Championship
College football has a way of keeping you on your toes. Fox Sports was reminded of that fact last week when preparations for its Big Ten Championship Game broadcast were thrown a curveball.
By the time the sports world had pulled its collective jaw from the floor following Auburn’s stunning victory over then top-ranked Alabama, the race to the BCS Title Game had been run through a blender, and Fox was left reassessing its production output for a Big Ten final that now featured suddenly No. 2-ranked Ohio State taking on Michigan State.
“If we were borderline on a big game, we became a huge game,” says Dave Jones, who oversees college-football productions for Fox Sports.
With the Buckeyes eyeing a potential National Championship Game bid, Fox ratcheted up numerous aspects of its live coverage this past Saturday night, most notably shifting the game’s pregame, halftime, and postgame studio show from the network’s Los Angeles production center to on-site at Indianapolis’s Lucas Oil Stadium.
That move led to notable growth in on-site staff and required additional mobile-production support. Lyon Video’s Lyon 9 was brought in last minute to support the studio show and assist Game Creek Video’s Patriot, which served as the primary game-production truck. Including the studio show, the game itself, and the support of various other digital and cable platforms, Fox Sports’ crew sat somewhere between 150 and 160 strong.
“We have a lot more platforms to support than we have in the past,” says Jones, who has worked all three of Fox’s Big Ten Championship Game broadcasts. “With FS1 coming on board, we support them. In the past, we didn’t have Fox Sports LIVE, and we have to feed that beast constantly. There’s a lot more involvement on-site with the studio than there has been in the past, which has actually been very cool.”
For the game, Fox Sports bolstered its camera complement, deploying 24 cameras throughout the stadium and adding a fourth specialty camera to the arsenal. Those extra resources helped make the storytelling process a little easier for game director Rich Dewey, who was then able to delegate more responsibilities around to the camera operators and, simply, have more shots at his disposal.
“I think it does simplify some things,” he says. “Now, instead of asking a cameraman to focus on iso-ing three or four different guys, you can have him focus on two guys. In that respect, it simplifies assignments for the camera guys. It makes it a little bit more a puzzle for me to make sure I’m not duplicating any iso assignments, but, ultimately, we get better shots on the air.”
In last year’s production, there were two Inertia Unlimited X-Mo cameras and a super-slow-motion unit. This year, a second super-slo-mo camera was added to give Dewey and producer Chuck McDonald more options. The two super-slo-mo units were each positioned in the low end zones; one X-Mo found a place in a stacked cart camera roving the near sideline, and the other served as a handheld on the far sideline.
There were no robotic cameras at this year’s broadcast, but Fox did deploy Skycam and a jib for crowd shots. There was also a load of RF capabilities at the production team’s disposal, and it took advantage. There was an RF Steadicam and an RF handheld, each of the sideline reporters and their respective producers were on RF, and 10 stereo mics throughout the stadium were on RF.
“[Lucas Oil] is one of my favorite stadiums in the country to work from,” says Jones. “We’re a college crew, and coming into an NFL stadium is, obviously, a bit of a luxury for us because of all the extra capabilities they have for cabling and camera positions.”
Fox Sports implemented some advanced and innovative file-sharing transmission technologies, using two Level 3 fiber paths from the stadium back to the Fox Sports broadcast center in Los Angeles. Those connections allowed for mutual sharing of resources between the two destinations. One C-band dual path served as the backup.
Although Ohio State fell short in its attempt to claim a BCS Title Game spot, Fox got the hoped-for thriller, and the major resources put into the production paid dividends in the form of big-time ratings. The game delivered a 7.9/14 national household rating/share with 13.9 million viewers and is the highest-rated, most-watched ever for the event, surpassing the previous record set in 2011 (Michigan State vs. Wisconsin, 4.6/8 with 7.8 million viewers), according to fast national ratings issued by Nielsen Media Research.
It was also Fox’s highest-rated college-football telecast since the 2010 Fiesta Bowl (8.2/13, 13.8 million viewers), and it is projected to be its highest-rated, most-watched Saturday night since the January 2013 NFL playoffs. The 2013 Big Ten Championship Game came in at 172% over last year’s edition, which featured Nebraska and Wisconsin (2.9, 5.1 million viewers).
‘We’ve had the chance to do this event three years in a row now,” says Dewey, “and I think we’re really dialing in on how we want to cover this game.”
For Jones, the successful broadcast is extra satisfying, because the Fox Sports college-football A-game crew holds a strong place in his heart.
“This is really a special deal for us,” he says. “This crew is unique. No other crew I’ve ever been involved with has been this much into college football, and that filters down through the whole crew. It’s just a special opportunity to work with this crew.”
That crew will get one more chance to work together this season when Fox Sports airs the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 3 (8 p.m. ET).