Fox Sports North Enjoying Ratings Success, Infrastructure Growth

New studio set at Target Center, spruced-up control rooms, top talent bolster the RSN

Sure, the temperatures have struggled to climb above zero this week, but don’t let that fool you. Life is good right now at Fox Sports North in Downtown Minneapolis.

Bob Rohde (left) and Tony Tortorici inside Fox Sports North’s “Mall of America Studio” at the network’s facility in Downtown Minneapolis

Tuesday’s Wild win over the Florida Panthers tied a ratings high for the network this season. Timberwolves viewership is way up as the team appears destined to end the longest active playoff drought in the NBA (13 seasons). In October, the Lynx took home their fourth WNBA title in the last seven years. This past summer, the Twins pulled off one of the greatest single-season turnarounds in the history of baseball, snatching an AL Wild Card spot.

Behind the scenes as well, there has been a lot to be excited about. The network recently spruced up both of its main control rooms with new monitors, debuted a sparkling studio set at the recently renovated Target Center, and saw one of its own shine brightly on the national stage when Matt Gangl — who works year-round at the RSN, directing Twins and Wild broadcasts — called the shots for Fox Sports on a World Series for the ages.

Yeah, life is good.

“It speaks to the talent that works here,” says Executive Producer Tony Tortorici. “It’s a group that has really learned TV and loves the sports teams here. We all grew up in different places, and for many, working for a national network would be the goal, but, for me, it’s working here.”

Between the Wild, T’Wolves, Twins, Lynx, University of Minnesota Golden Gophers ice hockey, and the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks (this group and facility also oversees the Fox Sports Wisconsin network), the team at Fox Sports North broadcasts approximately 500 live productions per year.

To produce all these events, the network partners with Mobile TV Group (using 36HDX in Minnesota and 27HDX in Wisconsin) for its mobile support and a sharp facility in Downtown Minneapolis that the network moved into in 2012.

Fox Sports North’s offices comprise two control rooms, two studios, and as many as 15 edit suites (Avid Media Composer). On the tech side, the network recently gave its pair of control rooms a facelift with new monitor walls. Control Room A is anchored by a Grass Valley Kayenne switcher, Vizrt graphics, a 12-channel EVS XT3, and RTS comms; the entire facility is built around an Evertz EQX router and Avid ISIS servers for file-based storage.

Steadicam operator Zak Petrich grabs an establishing shot of host Tom Hanneman (left) and analyst Kevin Lynch in Mall of America Studio during a pregame show for a Minnesota Timberwolves telecast.

When the network’s teams are home, all studio shows, including pre/postgame shows, take place from custom sets at the local venues — Target Center (Wolves), Target Field (Twins), Xcel Energy Center (Wild) — and are run from the production truck onsite. When teams are on the road, that’s when the network leverages its control rooms and studios.

The network takes a lot of pride in its shoulder programming and treats its pregame, break, and postgame coverage with the same TLC it gives to the live game.

“Our philosophy is that the pregame, the game, and the postgame are all one show,” says Tortorici, who came to FS North from Golf Channel five years ago. “We will have a conference call in the morning, where we will talk through the whole day of television. We don’t want it to be three separate shows. We want it to be one seamless viewing experience. Now, we know not everybody is going to sit there [and watch] from start to finish, but it’s a good feeling as a producer when you hear, during the game, your analyst reference something that was said in the pregame. That’s perfect! We’re all working together.”

The set at Target Center is the latest addition. Built by Filmwerks, the fully branded set is located on a new, open-air concourse, which overlooks the floor and was added to the arena following comprehensive renovations to the building during the offseason. It’s a major upgrade over the previous set, which was an unbranded desk sitting on a few risers overlooking the court.

Studio programming for a road Minnesota Timberwolves game telecast is run out of Control Room A by director Mike Malmgren (left) and producer Peter Anderson. Not pictured is Technical Director Jason Clemens.

“It gave us an opportunity to have a greater presence in the building,” notes Director, Operations, Bob Rohde, who has been with FS North for 12 years. “The team was tremendous to work with, and it has been great for us to put a new set in [Target Center].”

Tortorici sees real advantages in having a set in the venue. “You capture the excitement and energy of the crowd. That’s why studio shows for big events go there. They want to be there and be a part of it. See it, feel it, and bring that through the TV.”

FS North was also able to work with the Timberwolves and the venue to secure a lower and closer position for its game and tight cameras, as well as new slash positions. All making for a fresher, more intimate look to the telecast.

With newfound life in the Wolves, the Wild always a local favorite, and lots of goodwill surrounding the Twins (as Minnesotans dream of warmer days to come), you can hardly blame the team at Fox Sports North for walking the halls with smiles on their faces.

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