Fox Sports tipped off its college basketball season last night by doing something it has never done before: broadcast a Big East Opening Night Tip-Off show on FS1 that shared a similar viewing experience as The NFL Red Zone channel. The Big East had seven games tipping off roughly 20 minutes apart and the goal was to give viewers at home a taste of each game.
“We don’t have enough bandwidth to show all those games on all of our linear channels, so it starts with that,” says Geordie Wimmer, Fox Sports, VP of production of the decision to offer something new. “But then Kent Camera, the head of our studio group, was producer of the NFL Red Zone when it first started. We’ve been pitching the idea to the Big East for the past three years and it worked out this year.”
As each game tipped off the studio show stayed with that game for about 20 minutes (roughly eight minutes of game time) before the next game tipped off. Host Rob Stone was traffic cop, like Scott Hanson does on the NFL Red Zone, while Jim Jackson, Steve Lavin, Bill Raftery provided analysis.
Wimmer says the goal was to show every tip live and then have the opportunity to dip in and out of games that are getting exciting. In addition, the team was able to do post-game interviews with all the coaches when there’s downtime or when the games end.
Brad Cheney, Fox Sports, VP, Field Operations and Engineering, says those games will all be streamed to the Fox Sports app, the first games of nearly 300 that will be delivered to fans this season.
“We have 19 games in the first week so it’s an absolute deluge of games, including 8 the first day in a 6 hr window,” he says.
The productions of the 300 games will be a mix of full on-site productions as well as home run productions with announcers working from home or the Pico studio in Los Angeles.
“The majority of the shows will be HRPs from either Los Angeles or Charlotte,” he says. “We’ll do more than 15 in 4K HDR and the Big East Men’s Tournament and the Big Ten Men’s Tournament will also be done in 4K HDR. So, we’re pushing forward on that.”
The typical HRP will feature four cameras and replay, and the kits will be a mix of Fox-built kits as well as kits from LTN which acquired DTAGS.
“The beauty of the kits is the flexibility as they can go as small or as large as you want,” says Cheney. “We will have 16-20 paths to the control rooms in LA and Charlotte so they can run at full tilt,” says Cheney.
The Fox Network HRP shows will have nine or 10 cameras and things like above-the-rim and super motion cameras.
“Our HRP workflows are also going to use EVS Xtramotion so that we can make any camera a super motion camera,” adds Cheney. “That’s going to be really beneficial to our productions just like it has for baseball and football. We’ve been championing that technology for the past nine months to really raise the level of production.”
Talent working from home will have access to all of the looks via a multiviewer. With travel still a tricky proposition (especially with the increasing number of cancelled flights) staying at home ensures the talent is, ironically, in place to call a game.
“The great part about it is we’ve got some amazing voices in college basketball and you’re going to get to hear more of them,” he says.
Adds Wimmer: “We found that there were some efficiencies in calling games from home and we installed a camera in Bill Raftery’s home in New Jersey last year (this year the camera will be at his home in Florida),” says Wimmer. “He can call two to three games a week without having to leave this couch, which is great for him. And it’s great for us to put the best voices we have. We’re also putting a camera in Donny Marshall’s house, which we didn’t have last year.”
Wimmer says that when conference play starts in January the plan is to start getting announcers back on site.
“It’s hard to replicate the emotion for a guy calling a game if he’s not courtside,” says Wimmer. “But right now, there are so many different variables that we’d rather be safe than sorry, especially going into the holiday season.”
Also look for some experiments with new ways of calling a game. On Nov. 23 FS1 will take the at-home commentary to a new level for the network when Titus and Tate, who have a highly watched podcast for Fox Sports, call a St. Johns game from the studio but as if it were a podcast, not a traditional broadcast.
“It’s a really cool way to just a have different perspective watching a game,” he adds.
Fox Sports also rolled out a new graphics package for college hoops, the first in six years. Wimmer says the new package was the vision of Fox Sports Executive Producer, EVP, head of production and operations, Brad Zager who envisioned the graphics packages allowing viewers to know what sport they were watching based only on the graphics. It’s also been six years since the last refresh.
“It’s vibrant, it’s big, it’s bold, it’s colorful,” he adds. “And its more readable than ever as everything’s streamlined.”
One of the biggest changes is that during free throws the Fox Box will shift over and allow for a heads-shot display with stats of the player who is taking the free throw.
“Previously the Fox Box would swap to a lower third and when you’re coming out of replay and quickly cut to it its was challenging,” he says. “And now we have score and clock present almost the entire time which is important.”
Wimmer is looking forward to an increasing sense of normalcy across campuses as last year there were different rules for everything from where talent could sit, when masks had to be worn, and handheld cameras were not allowed under the basket. Those cameras will be back, a move Wimmer says will bring more coverage of the emotions thanks to being closer to the action.
“Our mantra is this is the year of the fan,” says Wimmer. “We plan on highlighting that we’re back in the building, that the fans are back in the building, and the emotion of what these kids are going through and what the players are going through.”