Fox Sports Regional Nets Ready for Expanded MLB Spotlight

The 2014 Major League Baseball season is a big one for Fox Sports Regional Networks. With the addition of live MLB games to the Fox Sports 1 programming slate, Fox RSNs will gain added exposure nationally and be tasked with creating synergies wherever possible. With an eye toward all 22 Fox RSNs’ delivering a national-telecast-level production, Fox has beefed up its resources in nearly every region with additional high-speed–camera and wireless-RF-camera systems, Viz Libero and ChyronHego Paint analysis tools, new mobile units, new studios, and more.

“Our goal starting two years ago was to make sure every home show was better than network-quality,” says Mike Connelly, SVP/executive producer, Fox Sports Regional Networks. “We believe we have done that and are really giving a network presentation every night of the week for our home broadcasts. Then, when [Fox Sports 1 production teams] come in and have a national broadcast, they can just walk into our truck and they’ve got everything they need.”

Super-Mo, Ultra-Mo Key to Fox RSN Game Plan
Super- and ultra-slow-motion cameras have become an integral part of the Fox Sports identity over the past decade, and the regionals continue to adopt the same principle more each year. This season, Fox will rotate a trio of three Vision Research Phantom v642 ultra-mos (up from one during the second half of last season) among the various RSNs.

“Mainly, we are looking for big match-ups, but we’re also looking for Fox side-by-side broadcasts,” says Connelly. “So we give priority when a Fox regional is next to a Fox regional. It literally is a game-changer in our broadcasts. We have gotten more positive response from that one technology than anything we’ve done in the last 10 years.”

Fox RSNs will also continue to experiment with Grass Valley’s new LDX XtremeSpeed 6X ultra-slow-motion camera, as several did during spring training this month. Fox’s mobile-facilities provider, Mobile TV Group, experimented with the LDX XtremeSpeed (capable of 360 fps) integrated with a Grass Valley K2 Dyno replay system during spring training in Arizona (on both Fox and Root Sports telecasts) and was so impressed that the company has already purchased two systems for its trucks.

“Right now, we are just testing one [LDX XtremeSpeed] at spring training in Arizona, and that will help decide what we are going to do in the future with it,” says Connelly. “We may start transitioning them into our everyday broadcasts if it goes well.”

Libero for All, Paint for St. Louis
Taking another cue from Fox’s overall production philosophy, virtual analysis and graphics tools will also play an integral role in the RSNs’ coverage this year. This season, every RSN with the exception of Fox Sports Arizona will deploy Viz Libero after Fox experimented with the virtual 3D replay and analysis tool at multiple regionals last season.

In addition, Fox Sports Midwest will have ChyronHego’s Paint analytical graphics and telestration system at its disposal for St. Louis Cardinal coverage.

“We put a system in St. Louis starting with baseball this year,” says Connelly. “So they will have a lot of ball tracking and virtual stuff to play with in the Cardinals’ broadcast.”

New Trucks Down South
Fox’s RSNs in both Miami and Atlanta will be rolling out new Mobile TV Group trucks this season (HDX34 and HDX35 debuted in November 2013 and March of this year, respectively). Both units are based on MTVG’s new two-truck dual-feed philosophy, which consists of a 53-ft. expando unit for the home-show feed and primary production operations and a B unit for the visitor-show feed and ancillary operations.

“We have really pushed [Mobile TV Group] to evolve the dual-feed technology,” says Connelly. “We’ve been doing [dual-feed productions] for 10 years, and we are now evolving these trucks. It is much roomier for the main production crew, and then, when the visitors come in, they have more room in the second trailer as well.”

Both trucks are the first of their kind for MTVG and feature a 7M/E Grass Valley HD Kayenne K-Frame switcher, Evertz EQX video router, Calrec Artemis Beam audio console, Evertz EMR audio router, five EVS XT3 replay servers, and 11 Grass Valley LDX digital triax cameras.

“Now, since we’ve lightened the load in the main truck, we can put more equipment in, and it can be more efficient,” says Connelly. “So we’ve increased the router size, expanded the audio [capability], added more EVS space — all so we have better coverage. We can do more pre- and post-game coverage inside of these trucks. And more [important] than anything is just comfort because those trucks were so tight.”

According to Connelly, Fox’s most recent RSN truck builds, for Fox Midwest and Fox Arizona, will be the last two single-truck mobile units. The two-unit dual-feed approach will now serve as the model moving forward.

Adding That At-the-Ballpark Feel
One of Fox Sports Regional Networks’ primary initiatives in recent years has been to capture the essence and ambiance of the ballpark and project that to viewers at home. For Fox, that has meant an increased use of RF wireless cameras in the stands, as well as on-site studio for pre- and post-game shows at nearly every RSN.

Fox received extremely positive feedback from teams regarding its use of RF wireless cameras in recent years to capture crowd shots as well as the ambiance inside the ballpark. As a result, Fox has deployed RF cams to an additional nine RSNs, so that nearly all will now have one at their disposal.

“They allow us to get inside the game and inside the ballpark,” says Connelly. “They just widen the coverage; you can do so much with them.”

Fox Sports Midwest is the latest RSN to add an on-site studio, in the ballpark-village area in left center field at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

Notes Connelly, “Almost all of our regions have some sort of studio presence [at the ballpark] at this point.“

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