SMT Provides Real-Time Stats During Final Four

“3…to 5…to 10…to 5…5 shot good.”

It’s not the most colorful and thrilling commentary, but that’s exactly what Michael Morrell will hear as he watches tonight’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game between Kentucky and Kansas.

No, CBS announcer Jim Nantz hasn’t become lethargic with his play-by-play. Morrell, a remote ops technician for data and graphics integrator SportsMEDIA Technology (SMT), will be logging the game’s stats for CBS to use in graphics during the game.

The voice in his headphones is that of Lee Brinson, operations producer for special events at SMT. Brinson, sitting courtside in one of the best seats in the house, sounds more like an air-traffic controller or a Bingo caller than a basketball announcer, but the simplified system works for the duo that has teamed up for SMT and CBS on the past six Final Fours.

“What’s surprising is, what we have here is only two guys and, compared to some of the other jobs we are doing, this is actually one of the smaller teams we will have at a site for an event,” says Brinson, noting that as many as seven staff members worked last year’s Kentucky Derby for NBC.

However, many of SMT’s virtual-graphics technologies used for the Derby aren’t used by CBS for the Final Four. SMT is in New Orleans mostly to provide the statistical data needed for CBS’s graphics bench to build graphics on the fly.

“We’re using just two guys compared to the NCAA, which uses six, and I feel like we are as accurate and as fast,” says Brinson.

He acknowledges that SMT’s stats are unofficial and says that he and Morrell will adjust their stats as updates from the NCAA come in: ”We take a lot of pride in getting all of this in very accurate and fast.”

CBS’s graphics bench is located inside the B unit of the game truck, F&F Productions’ GTX-15, in the broadcast compound between the Superdome and New Orleans Arena. That’s where Morrell sits in front of two monitors and inputs the data being called into his ear by Brinson. Morrell enters each play — basket, steal, rebound, etc. — and thus updates the overall box score being kept by SMT.

All of that data becomes instantly available to all the Vizrt systems that the CBS graphics team is using inside the trailer, allowing it to quickly build statistical graphics into the lower scorebug during game action.

Besides the stats, SMT also takes a line directly from the scoreboard controller into the trailer and displays that in its system, giving CBS its synced-up digital game clock for the scorebug.

Although broadcast technology has changed drastically since 2000, when SMT first worked on the NCAA Tournament with CBS, Brinson notes that the software used for logging the stats evolved only slightly during that span.

“How the data is transmitted from place to place has changed a lot,” he says. “We used to use dial-up modems to send things. Now that Internet service is so much more available, it’s so easy to connect. But our program is essentially the same program we started with in 2000. We have just sort of slowly updated it. Basically, you could take an operator who worked in 2000, and, if they’re good, you could sit him here today, and he’d essentially be doing the same things.”

SMT worked the entire NCAA Tournament for CBS in addition to assisting with stats at conference tournaments in the Big Ten, Pac-12, Atlantic 10, and Conference USA for CBS and CBS Sports Network.

A significant amount of training goes into ensuring an efficient chemistry between spotter and logger. Before being booked to a game, a staff member will have to go through a series of practice runs at SMT’s offices in Durham, NC.

“We will get two guys together and put a couple of monitors in front of them, and the spotter will call out the plays, and the trainees will input the data,” says Brinson, who typically oversees the training sessions. “I might pause it and say, ‘all right, this is a better way that you could call this’ or ‘here’s something that you could do that would help out your operator’ or show how putting info in a different way could be a little quicker.”

Brinson typically tries to keep teams together. In the case of the NCAA Tournament, a spotter or logger who has never done a tournament game will be required to do six full games with Brinson closely monitoring their results and progress.

Up next, SMT will join NBC Sports Network’s Road to the Kentucky Derby programming that will lead up to NBC’s Triple Crown coverage. All three races — Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes — will feature SMT graphics and statistical data during broadcasts.