2013 College Football Preview: Fox Sports 1 Kicks Off Season Tonight
Tonight signals a new era for Fox Sports college football. Fox Sports 1 (FS1) kicks off its Thursday-night Game of the Week with Utah State at Utah. And, for David Jones, who oversees college-football productions for Fox Sports, and many on the teams, it provides the unique thrill of helping launch a network.
“We’re excited to be part of that week after week, and tonight is a huge opportunity,” says Jones. “It’s a special feeling to be part of a big team and in the infancy of a network.”
Along with inaugurating its own first season, FS1 will be on hand for the first regular-season games to be played at the two newest stadiums in college football.
“On Friday,” says Jones, “we have our first Friday-night primetime game and the first game from the new Kansas State Stadium, and, on Saturday, we do the first game from the new University of Washington Huskies Stadium.”
Fox college-football packages this year include five crews working games for Fox Sports Network and FS1 as well as two national and two regional crews for the FSN regional networks. Pac 12, Big 12, and Conference USA football games will be the focus, along with the Cotton Bowl in January, which will be carried on Fox Sports for the last time.
Given the wide geographical area covered by the teams, a number of remote-production-services partners will be on hand. Game Creek, Dome Productions, CBC, CSP Mobile Productions, and the Mobile TV Group will all be involved in making sure every game has a big-time feel.
“The graphics look throughout the entire platform is the same, and the announcers at all the games will use the Fox mic flag, which is important to developing the overall brand,” says Jones. “And we are doing things the ‘Fox way.’ That means we want the viewers watching FS1 to get the same product they would get on the Fox [broadcast network].”
The top games on FS1 and Fox Sports as well as the Thursday-night game will all have Skycam whereas the other games on FS1 and FSN regionals will not. But, other than that, the equipment complement is very similar, with each game having super-slo-mo as well as Inertia Unlimited X-Mo high-speed cameras.
“It’s really important to use those to not only break down the play but to also see the emotion of the players,” Jones explains.
In terms of camera positions, all games will have the traditional three camera positions across the top of the stadium. The larger productions will have four end-zone cameras as well as a cart, when space allows.
“The biggest difference between college football and the NFL is the speed of play, as it is so much faster and you can only get to one or maybe two replays,” adds Jones. “But you can never show three or four replays like on an NFL game.”
At Fox, the images are only half the story. Audio has been an important component of the Fox philosophy since the early days, and, when it comes to college football, News Corp. Senior EVP David Hill has always made audio a top priority, particularly coverage of the bands that lend college football much of its character.
“When viewers see a piccolo, they better hear a piccolo, and, when they see a tuba, they better hear a tuba,” says Jones. “During the regular season, we won’t have as much band coverage as later in the season, but it will still be an integral part.”
Sights and sounds of bands serve another purpose at Fox: as a transition to and from the halftime studio show.
“It makes the transition a bit more seamless,” Jones notes.
Audio coverage of the field doesn’t get short shrift. Up to six and no fewer than four parabolic-antenna mics will be used on every game, along with mics for the band, in the student section, on the Skycam, and the cameras. A submixer will bring all of those elements together to create the necessary sound bed.
Jones says Jamie McCombs, who oversees audio for the college games, gives the mixers and crew plenty of leeway to experiment with different microphones and applications: “The audio guys are always on the phone talking about what works or didn’t work.”
The ability to work with new toys and techniques extends to the video side as well. 4K Super Zoom, Phantom Cam, and other new technologies all get applied to the college game.
“It helps the process [of learning how to use those tools] as the use is similar to the NFL games but different,” adds Jones.
So the long, 14- and 16-hour days that have been the norm while launching FS1 will pay off tonight, once again.
“To watch what is going to happen as the season develops will be a lot of fun,” says Jones. “The big thing that [Fox Sports Co-President/COO] Eric Shanks is pushing us to make sports fun for the viewers, and it needs to be fun for ourselves before we can present it that way. So this is that opportunity.”