Fox Sports’ San Diego Startup Operates Entire Network Out of One Truck
The launch of Fox Sports San Diego in time for the first pitch of the San Diego Padres season ranks as one of the most unusual RSN launches in recent memory. After all, by the time the league finally approved the Padres’ 20-year, reportedly $1.2 billion rights deal with Fox in early April, FS San Diego had already been producing Padres spring training and regular-season games for three weeks.
On March 17, FS San Diego (20% of which is owned by the Padres) launched in earnest with a Padres spring-training game in Peoria, AZ, and has delivered every regular-season game since Opening Day with no studio, no editing facilities, and no permanent location of any kind, just a truck, a small crew, and plenty of help from some fellow Fox RSNs.
“We have been working wholly out of our production truck for both home and road games,” says San Diego Padres Executive Producer Jeff Byle, who came aboard in mid February. “I would be lying to you if I said it wasn’t hectic piecing everything together in a way that made sense. But the level of production that our operations, production, and talent staff are pulling off is pretty amazing, considering how we are working right now.”
One Truck Is All You Need
Thus far, Byle and company have deployed the same HD production truck used by previous rightsholder Channel 4 San Diego (owned by Cox Communications) to produce home games at Petco Park, but the network will welcome Mobile TV Group’s 23HDX as its dedicated mobile unit later this month. This truck will serve as the home of FS San Diego until a permanent location is established.
In addition, the network is also operating with a minuscule staff, made up of a handful of full-time staffers and a freelance production crew for game coverage. The entire operations department is essentially made up of Operations Manager Kimberly Pletyak.
“We are operating fairly thin, but we don’t have a studio or in-house operation that we need to manage yet,” says Byle. “When those things come about, we will beef up with more people.”
Pletyak, who arrived in mid March, gives tremendous credit to neighboring RSN executives for laying down the foundation prior to her arrival, including Fox Sports Net VP of Operations/Production Laura Mickelson, Fox Sports Arizona Executive Director of Operations Dominique Omahen, and Fox Sports Net Executive Director of Production Stacy Sunny.
“The great resource we have at Fox is the presence of other regions and other divisions of Fox Broadcasting to help; they really did step up,” says Byle. “We had a ton of help from our friends at Fox Sports West, PrimeTicket, Fox Sports Arizona, and [Fox Sports Media Group]. We were and still are able to utilize some of their resources that were already in play until we could get a fully operational outfit here in San Diego.”
The Lay of the Land
FS San Diego utilizes an eight-camera complement (though additional cameras are often shared with the visiting and Spanish-language shows), including three robotic POV cameras (on the backstop, at low-first, and in the announcers’ booth), as well as positions at low-third, high-home, mid-third (which is a Mobile TV Group high-speed camera), centerfield, high up on the Western Metal Building that juts into ballpark in leftfield. Game coverage also shares a jib with the pre/post show.
In the truck director Michael Oddino calls the cameras, while producers Jason Lewis, Max Michalak, and Ed Barnes rotate between producing game coverage and pre- and post-game shows. Play-by-play legend Dick Enberg and color commentator Mark Grant are Padres employees and therefore have remained in the booth even after Channel 4 San Diego lost rights to Padres games.
Pre-/Post-Game from the Park at the Park
A one-hour pre- and post-game show is produced out of the truck for all home games, using a semipermanent (staging remains intact, but desk, cameras, awnings, lights, etc., are struck after the show) on-site set at the ballpark. The set, which is based on the set that Fox Sports uses for the World Series and other major events, is located in the “Park at the Park” grassy area behind the center-field fence at Petco. The network has a total of eight camera operators, meaning three of those operators run cameras for the pre show, then switch to a game-coverage camera, then race back to the set for the post show.
FS San Diego brought on Mike Pomeranz and Mark Sweeney as talent for the show.
“I’m very proud of the hour-long pre and post shows,” says Byle. “This is not just talking heads; we’ve got a lot of production value. I think the pre- and post-game set that we have designed is a benchmark for all regional sports networks.”
Byle also sends a producer, director, and talent on the road to produce pre- and post-game shows for away games.
In addition, FS San Diego produces two weekly Padres shows — Padres Weekly and Padres POV — using the editing facilities at Fox SportsNet’s Pico Boulevard location in Los Angeles.
“We have a hired editor out in L.A. cranking out content,” says Byle. “Then, we sweeten the audio and the video in another edit space in Pico with an editor that they provide to finish those shows. It’s a little cumbersome to be honest, but it is a way to get those shows done and fed to our master control [in the Woodlands outside of Houston]. It’s getting us by right now.”
Later this month, editing for these shows will be moved to a production house in San Diego.
Living in the Moment
The current stripped-down workflow is only temporary, but the fact that FS San Diego is delivering every Padres game without a permanent home of any kind is remarkable nonetheless. And while the network continues to struggle with local-carriage agreements, the production side of things has gone off without a hitch.
“We are getting this all done extremely efficiently and the crew— ops, production, technical, cameras, engineers, audio, and director — deserve a lot of credit,” says Byle. “[Our future facility] is all going to be predicated upon the space that we end up going into, and that’s not certain yet. So, until then, we’re just focusing on what we can get done right now.”