Inside the Front Office: Joe Castiglione, AD, University of Oklahoma
By Carolyn Braff
Oklahoma is home to one of the nation s most successful athletic programs, so fan demand for Sooner content is never satisfied. For director of athletics Joe Castiglione, providing the fans with quality off-field video product is just as important as fielding successful teams, so he utilizes his broadcast background to ensure that OU stays on the cutting edge of broadcasting techniques, making the move to HD and relying on the university s high-profile football program to enhance the production of lower-profile sports.
We re always looking for a better way, a more exciting way to deliver content, explains Castiglione, who has worked in collegiate sports broadcasting for nearly 30 years. I have to rely on the people that live and breathe and eat technology every day to have a vision of what s next. I certainly want to make sure that we are able to keep our key stakeholders engaged in what we re doing, so I hire my expertise.
To that end, Castiglione brought in Brandon Meir, whom he describes as a visionary in the field, to head the university s video-production department. Under the direction of Meir, whose previous positions include production work at the
Nebraska and the Houston Rockets, OU has built a brand-new HD control room to support its football and basketball facilities.
A Fearless Move to HD
Going HD, Castiglione says, was not as scary as some make it out to be.
Sometimes, people get overwhelmed because they don t have a grasp of what they can do, he says. More and more, people are figuring out that there s enough technology in some of the simplest applications that can really make a video, make a Website, make a feature story look like it was produced at a higher level.
After an extensive marketplace investigation, Meir found some of those applications and updated his choices after visiting the NAB convention in April. Working with a consultant to integrate all of the components, Meir s HD control room features a mix of vendors and equipment that will best serve his needs.
Among other elements, the new control room is equipped with a Deko 3000 dual-channel HD character generator, Grass Valley Kayak 3.5 M/E switcher, Yamaha M7CL digital mixing console, Evertz VIP multiviewer, Bravia LCD 52-in. monitors, Sony HDC 1400 cameras, EVS with IP director, two Avid BMX HD edit suites, six Avid fiber stations, and a 16-TB Unity server.
I helped a lot with the design of the room as well, Meir says. We had to have a consultant on a project this big, but I had final say on design, equipment, everything, so it s really my room.
Finding the People To Make It Work
Assembling a talented, motivated staff to operate the new control room is a prerequisite for success. Luckily, a wealth of talent is waiting just steps from OU s athletic department: the university s Gaylord College of Journalism provides a conduit to motivated students interested in sports production.
There s a real synergy developing now because of this push we ve made into technology and distribution, Castiglione says. Many aspiring students are now working in our department as interns. We re finding some really gifted students to do some very special production, and they have the equipment to do it.
That synergy with the academic departments also helps Castiglione justify technological expenditures. If a piece of equipment can be used academically as well as by the athletic department, it is much more likely to receive a seal of approval, and the Sooners new control room is as much teaching tool as professional workspace.
We have about five full-time staff members, a graduate assistant, and about 30 broadcast-journalism students who staff our productions, Meir says. We train our students on how to operate broadcast-quality equipment: EVS, switchers, cameras, After Effects, the Avid, our Daktronics scoreboard equipment, and the interfaces.
The control room is also equipped with an Avocent KVM switch that can accommodate 64 computers.
That has been just crucial, to take every computer we have in on that, Meir says. When you have students operating and you re on the headset with them during a live game situation, I can pull up their computers and say, make sure you click on this. That s a huge training tool.
Riding Football s Coattails
Students working in OU s video department are assigned specific sports to cover and often pick a specialty, from engineering and replays to directing and camerawork. Thanks in large part to the football team, all of the student staffers, even those assigned to the lower-profile Olympic sports, have the chance to work with high-end equipment.
Because we have that equipment for football, we want to keep it in use, Castiglione says. It s able to serve other sports programs at different times of the year. Those sports benefit from the fact that we have this available for football.
OU provides coverage of all its teams competing in 13 men s and women s sports.
Playing Host to Broadcasters
Another benefit of a successful football program is the opportunity to work with the regional and national broadcasters that periodically broadcast from the Norman campus. Castiglione works closely with them to determine the best positioning for cameras and talent and other engineering aspects of the show long before the game starts.
We work with their technical people, and we ve been doing it for so long that we can expedite a lot of the requests because we already know what to expect, says Castiglione, who is entering his 11th year as athletic director at OU.
More and more, he says, networks are asking to have uplink services and sufficient wiring available when they roll in. We have to weigh the cost of providing that. It certainly isn t inexpensive, but it makes it easier for the television entities to produce their event if they can focus on things that they can do well and not spread themselves too thin.
Castiglione has an extensive background in TV production at the collegiate level. His familiarity with the entire process, from crewing a truck to working with satellite distribution, helps him work with broadcasters in setting up programming opportunities and improving the quality of on-air productions.
We try to avail ourselves of all kinds of technology, making sure that we re constantly communicating with our fan base and that it s easy for them to stay engaged with our program, Castiglione says. There s an insatiable appetite out there for information, and I don t know that we can come anywhere close to satisfying it all, but it justifies everything we do.