Marquee Sports Network Spotlight, Part 1: Inside the RSN’s New ST 2110 IP Production Facility in Wrigleyville

State-of-the-art studio is joined by Marquee’s new MTVG ST 2110 IP mobile unit, unique game coverage

From the day pen hit paper on the deal to launch a new Chicago regional sports network, Sinclair Broadcast Group and the Chicago Cubs set their sights high, and nowhere is that more apparent than at Marquee Sports Network’s new production facility in Wrigleyville. The new broadcast center, in what was formerly Cubs’ staff offices, has been built from the ground up based on the SMPTE ST 2110 suite of media-over-IP standards and features the latest and greatest technology the industry has to offer.

Marquee Sports Network has built a state-of-the-art studio across from Wrigley Field.

“We wanted to build a facility that would lend itself to flexibility and growth,” says Deborah Schneider, VP, technical operations, Marquee Sports Network. “As a new network that is developing its personality, we needed to be able to change and adapt to industry trends, and we wanted our production team to be able to dream big — kind of an ‘If you build it, they will come’ Field of Dreams philosophy. We have an incredibly knowledgeable and creative production team, and our technology choices needed to support that. We believe we’ve done that.”

CLICK HERE for Part 2 of SVG’s Marquee Sports Network Spotlight, focused on how the network was launched and adjusted during the pandemic.

Going 2110: Flexibility, Futureproofing, and Sinclair Synergy

Elise Menaker (left), Sean Marshall (center), and Ryan Sweeney on-set at Marquee Sports Network’s Wrigleyville studio

Early on the in the network’s development, Sinclair Broadcast Group GM Mike McCarthy, his team of engineers, and Marquee’s production team, lead by SVP, Programming/Production, Mike Santini, decided to build a state-of-the-art, IP-based ST 2110-compliant facility. In addition, Marquee enlisted Mobile TV Group to build out an ST 2110-based mobile unit, which resulted in the RSN’s new 47 Flex mobile unit parked at Wrigley Field.

“[The decision to go IP] has given us tremendous flexibility in the way we produce, move, and deliver content throughout the plant and mobile unit,” says Schneider.

In addition to providing flexibility and future-proofing the facility, one of the chief reasons for going with ST 2110 was to more seamlessly connect Marquee with Sinclair’s 21 other RSNs around the country, as well as with Tennis Channel.

“We chose to use the SMPTE ST 2110 suite of standards as our foundation,” says Don Roberts, VP, sports engineering and production systems, Sinclair Broadcast Group. “One of our operational goals was to build a facility where we could share resources with other properties in our portfolio, specifically with our other regional sports networks and Tennis Channel. The technology we have in place will allow us to do that.”

Inside the Studio: Plenty of LED in Front of the Camera, IP Gear Behind It

Inside Marquee Sports Network’s studio across from Wrigley Field

The new studio features a wealth of 1.58-mm pixel flexible LED displays controlled by an Avid PowerWall on-set graphics system. To offer a variety of looks, Marquee has several on-air setups that can be used within the same studio, including a three-person desk, a casual lounge area with a couch, and a Q&A area with stools. Analysts also have access to an on-air Vizrt Libero telestrator on a large LED display in the studio.

“In our studio, our on-set graphics and LED displays give us a number of different looks that set us apart from a traditional studio production. We are able to tailor our backgrounds and put talent in a number of different settings to keep it looking fresh with every telecast.”

Marquee has a dedicated PowerWall operator, who creates and plays out images, graphics, sponsorship elements, and video clips on these LED displays throughout the show.

“It’s like producing a whole second show in the background of the main show,” Santini explains. “In terms of the RSN level, it’s a very large studio with all the bells and whistles. Even coming from [my previous work at] MLB Network, which I think sets the standard for studio [productions], it’s one of the most stunning studios I’ve ever seen.”

The facility is built around an Arista 7280 core IP SMPTE ST 2110 video router with Lawo VSM and Imagine Communications SDNO control systems, as well as Imagine Selenio Network Processor (SNP) gateways for SDI-to-IP conversion.

Talent and crew are all socially distancing inside Marquee Sports Network’s new studios.

Marquee’s control room features a Grass Valley K-Frame X with a Korona 3M/E control panel, Lawo C100 multiviewers, EVS XT-VIA replay systems, and Vizrt Trio graphics. Positions in the production control room have also been adjusted to ensure social distancing with the total crew inside the room going from 10+ to seven or less (for example, graphics has been relocated to an office rather than the PCR).

A Calrec Brio36 console handles the audio mix, and an RTS ODIN Intercom system keeps the crew connected.

Inside the studio are Sony HDC-3500 cameras (with HDCU-3100 CCUs) outfitted with Fujinon 18X 4K lenses and Cartoni P70 pedestals (along with a Jimmy Jib Triangle Pro Standard).

For postproduction, Marquee has brought in an Avid Nexis E4 storage system with 800-TB capacity and is using Avid Interplay Production Management. Editors use a mix of Avid Media Composer edit seats and Adobe Creative Cloud tools.

“This is, no doubt, the most rewarding part of my career to date,” says Schneider. “I feel very fortunate to be part of launching a brand-new network for the Chicago Cubs with a team of people that are so incredibly talented and dedicated to the cause.”

Inside the Truck: MTVG Rolls Out Latest IP Mobile Unit in Wrigleyville

Mobile TV Group’s 47 Flex serves as Marquee Sports Network’s mobile unit for Cubs games.

Marquee worked closely with Mobile TV Group to develop a dual-feed, two-trailer mobile unit based on ST 2110. Schneider says MTVG COO Nick Garvin and his team of engineers led the charge in building 47 Flex (double-expando home truck) and 47 VMU (optional visitor mobile unit), outfitting the trucks with a powerful IP-compliant technology.

Additionally, cloud-based technology gives Marquee the flexibility to pull any of the operator positions within the truck to remote locations if it becomes necessary to do so as a result of the pandemic.

“Again, it’s the IP-based infrastructure that is the real difference-maker, especially during this pandemic,” says Schneider. “[The truck’s technology] gives us numerous options in the way we produce games. Being able to generate content, share files, and fully integrate with our studio has given us an edge we may not otherwise have had.”

MTVG’s 47 Flex is a fully IP mobile unit based on the ST 2110 suite of standards.

This includes a Grass Valley Kayenne K-frame X IP switcher (7M/E, 96 inputs/48 outputs), 384-port Evertz EXE 2.0 IP router (with up to 9,600 Gbps), four 12-channel EVS XT-VIA IP full editing replay servers (plus a four-channel EVS XS VIA server for SpotBox), and a 64-fader Calrec Artemis Beam audio console (256 routable inputs via IP, 64 analog inputs/64 analog outputs).

The truck rolls with four Sony HDC-5500 fiber cameras (with SSMO) and seven HDC-3500 fiber cameras (plus Grass Valley LDK 80003G Elite triax cameras for the booth) — all with Fujinon lenses.

Inside the Ballpark: DirtCam Headlines Variety of New Angles

From the day Santini arrived at Marquee last September, he was looking to differentiate Cubs game coverage from other baseball telecasts with a variety of new angles, high-end technology, and unique storytelling. Although it may have taken a few extra months, thanks to the pandemic, Marquee’s Cubs game coverage has done just that.

The RSN deploys an average of 11 cameras to cover the action at Wrigley Field, and, with no fans in the stands, Santini has looked to find new looks for Cubs fans throughout the ballpark. For example, Marquee had planned on deploying a robo on the right-field foul pole — a location rarely, if ever, used at Wrigley — but, with no fans in the stands, the network has opted to put that camera on sticks and move it to different locations throughout the ballpark for each game.

“I’m really proud that we found angles that have never been seen at Wrigley before,” Santini says. “We found one new [angle near] the right field wall: you can see the ball all the way into the corner and even see if the player has to reach into the ivy to get the ball. We’re really experimenting, and we can move that camera to a new place on any given day.”

Cubs announcers Len Kasper (foreground) and Jim Deshaies are calling all home and away games from the Wrigley Field booth this year for Marquee Sports Network.

Without question, the most notable new position is the DirtCam provided by NEP’s Fletcher Sports and buried in the dirt near the shortstop. With flashy shortstop Javier Baez turning in acrobatic plays all season, Marquee wanted to provide a look fans had never seen before.

“No one has ever had a DirtCam in the shortstop position that I’m aware of,” Santini explains. “Fox has had it near home plate, and you’ve seen it in the postseason a lot, but no one has ever put it at shortstop position. We’re really proud of that and excited that Fletcher and the Cubs have made it possible.”

An upgraded version of the system to be installed later this season will allow the production team to pan right and left to capture more of the infield action.

“It’s a unique position,” Santini points out, “We’ve already gotten some interesting looks from it, but, once we’re able to pan left and right, we can capture a lot more at second, short, and all over the infield.”

Other in-game coverage highlights include mic’ing players on the field, as well as heavy integration of fans via social media and video reactions.

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