SVG-U Q&A: Rick Church, Director of Sports Broadcasting, Michigan State
When exclusive TV contracts restrict a school s ability to broadcast as many events as it would like to, sports broadcasting directors turn their energies elsewhere, like the inside of the control room.
University s Rick Church has worked in sports broadcasting for 30 years, so his expertise is well suited to help take MSU, a Big Ten member school, into the HD future. Church spent some time with SVG-U talking about the advantages of a centralized control room, the HD challenge, and how he is able to train 40 student volunteers annually.
What sports content do you stream on your Website?
Right now, we are currently streaming only our hockey games. We have hockey parents all over
North America who have been basically demanding that for years. So we ve been doing that primarily as a service to our hockey parents, although hockey recruits like to view our games as well.
This year, we are in the process of expanding our streaming to all of our sports. Some of that will be done in cooperation with the Big Ten network, which is in the process of adding equipment to each university so that we ll be able to stream more events. Then, the content will appear both on our Website and their Website, depending on what the event is.
As far as what to stream, I make some of those decisions, as well as our athletic communications staff, and obviously, the coaches have input on what big games they d like to have out there.
Being a Big Ten school, we obviously we have a lot of games that are broadcast on TV, and we won t be streaming the ones that are on TV.
What other content is your sports broadcasting staff responsible for?
We have big screens in our stadium, our ice arena, and our basketball facility. We have the standard big-screen crew doing shows in all three of those venues. This will be our 11th year with those screens, and the one thing that used to make us unique is that we program all those boards from one central control room in the basketball arena. Back when we started this, people said, You re going to do what? We partnered with Telecast Fiber, and they were able to give us a fiber solution so that we could do all this stuff, which, back then, was groundbreaking and earth-shattering. Now everybody does it.
Why work with a central control room?
You can be bigger, faster, stronger in one single facility than having to break out the same budget dollars to separate facilities. You can t get the same high-end equipment across multiple control rooms that you can get if you have just one facility. We are actually in the process of adding three or four more venues to that control facility.
In a university setting, where you re teaching students how to do things, it s helpful to have one central facility that s always available to them.
What equipment is in your control room?
Our original control room was built by Sony Systems Integration, so it s primarily all Sony gear. The heart of the system has been Beta SX and DVCAM, back when we were in the serial digital world. Now that we have moved to hi-def, we re working with HD XDCAM and also [Panasonic] DVCPRO HD.
We like the Sony solution, but the Big Ten Network is a Fox property, and they re all in the Panasonic world, so we have to have a little bit of each. It has the same hi-def compatibility, 720 vs. 1080; you have to cross-convert some things, upconvert and side-convert everything, which makes for a slightly larger learning curve than the old analog world did. But fortunately, we have very smart students, and they pick it up quickly.
Who staffs your productions, and how are they trained?
I have three full-time staff people plus approximately 40 students, most of which come from the communications department. It didn t used to be the case, but a lot of them are now coming out of high school with good experience.
Training is done one at a time. It s actually worked fairly well; our students basically train each other. We require them by the end of their second or third month here to have a working knowledge of every piece of equipment that we ve got. They can run a camera, run a character generator (we currently have a Duet); they kind of know what a producer does, kind of know what a director does; and we can go from there.
How are you making the move to HD?
We re in that process right now. We ve been migrating to HD one piece at a time. We ve got decks, we ve got a couple of cameras, and we re in the process of bidding out a new hi-def control room. We re also looking at switching our standard-def video boards to HD.
In the video world, your range for equipment is usually between eight and 15 years, and we re in the 11th year of everything we have. The university understands that, yes, it s going to take some big money to get us back up to where we need to be in the future. I m in the process of putting all those numbers together so that we can move forward.
What is the biggest challenge you face to extending your offerings?
The biggest challenge right now is the jump to high-definition, not only on the equipment side but on the live-events side. It s important to teach people how to shoot differently in hi-def, not only with the aspect ratio but also the clarity of hi-def. If you re a little soft on your focus in standard-def, you can probably get away with it, but in hi-def, you can t get away with it.