SEC Network Preview: Kyle Field Redevelopment Creates ‘Perfect-Storm Moment’ for Texas A&M’s 12th Man Productions
The highly anticipated and publicized launch of the SEC Network is imminent, but it has had an impact on the conference’s 14 member institutions, their respective video departments, and network partner ESPN for over a year. As part of SVG’s countdown to the SEC Network, we will take you inside the cases, faces, and places that will make this progressive video-production endeavor a reality on Aug. 14.
Texas A&M joined the SEC in 2012 and wasted no time in transforming Kyle Field into one of the conference’s preeminent venues. A mere year after leaving the Big 12, the College Station, TX university embarked on a $450 million redevelopment of Kyle Field, earmarking an additional $11.8 million to upgrade facilities for 12th Man Productions.
Since 2006, 12th Man Productions has provided the game-day production and presentation for athletic events at Kyle Field, Reed Arena, and Blue Bell Park. When SEC Network launches this Thursday, 12th Man Productions will add “television broadcaster” to its already impressive résumé.
“We have a great foundation in terms of our capabilities and our staff, but now this is a huge shift for us as we’re doing more and more live TV,” says Jason Cook, senior associate athletics director, Texas A&M Athletics. “The challenge that we have is, how do we be the best in terms of producing content for the SEC Network but then also produce engaging, quality content for our fans within the stadium as well.”
With 10 full-time staffers and nearly 60 students — not to mention a sizeable applicant pool — 12th Man Productions will support ESPN and CBS broadcasts of Aggie football and basketball while working in conjunction with ESPN to broadcast additional sports like soccer, volleyball, and baseball for SEC Network’s linear and digital platforms.
“[It’s] a really great opportunity for our students that are interested in doing this beyond their college diploma,” says Andy Richardson, director, 12th Man Productions. “When they walk out of here, they have real-world experience to put on their [résumé], and it’s a great educational opportunity for them to get a chance to learn all aspects of TV production. … Quite frankly, we couldn’t do it without them.”
12th Man Productions Get Studio Upgrade
Located in Kyle Field’s south end zone — an entirely new part of the stadium — 12th Man Production Studios will comprise three production-control rooms connected via fiber to ESPN in Bristol, CT; the SEC Network’s headquarters in Charlotte, NC; and Texas A&M’s other sports venues.
“A lot of people have asked, why three control rooms? I think it’s a great question,” says Richardson. “One of our goals is to continue to [support] programming at all of our various venues like we always have, but we also have to support SEC Network programming, which requires us to do something … that we haven’t done a lot of, which is broadcast television.”
For example, he adds, during a typical A&M baseball or softball game, one control room may be devoted to the SEC Network broadcast while a second one focuses on in-game entertainment, including player intros, fan prompts, and more. The third control room lends added flexibility for days when more than two events are scheduled.
The three adjacent control rooms will feature identical equipment complements, including a Grass Valley 3M/E Karrera switcher with K-Frame; Evertz EQX Enterprise 3G/HD/SD 576×576 video router, EMR 96×192 audio router, and DreamCatcher replay server; and Ross XPression graphics system. An additional Internet/radio control room will house a 2M/E Grass Valley Karrera switcher.
Working in conjunction with consultant WJHW and systems integrator Diversified Systems, Texas A&M shared its plans with ESPN and made several equipment decisions based on what ESPN is using for the SEC Network.
“ESPN has been a great partner so far in terms of just helping guide us and giving us the tools and the information to help make this work,” says Richardson. “In many ways, this was a perfect-storm moment for us from a production standpoint, because this stadium redevelopment going on here at Kyle Field was happening. We were going to work on a new facility anyway, and the SEC Network and the ESPN opportunity came on at the exact right time for us to be able to build it out for the specific aspect as well as our traditional in-game support.”
The state-of-the-art HD production facilities also include two studios. The larger studio, measuring 1,276 sq. ft., will house 12th Man Productions’ main set for coaches shows, interviews, and more; the smaller studio, measuring 702 sq. ft., will house a green screen for postproduction and in-game elements.
Having relied on four cameras for eight years, 12th Man Productions has expanded its complement to 14 Grass Valley LDX 80 Premier cameras and two Grass Valley LDX 86 XtremeSpeed slow-motion cameras.
“We can divide [them up] as we need to depending on the complexity of an event,” says Richardson. “For a home football game, we may use eight to 10. When we are doing a soccer game and a volleyball game on the same calendar day, we can divide those up. … So 16, we felt, was the number that gives us the most flexibility.”
With the south end zone still under construction, 12th Man Productions will continue to operate out of its current production facility (located in the west side) throughout the 2014 football season. NEP’s SS14 will provide additional support, including videoboard production.
When completed (prior to the 2014-15 basketball season), the facilities will be responsible for broadcasting various games for SEC Network and producing in-game videoboard content.
Bigger in Texas: College Football’s Largest Videoboard
The first phase of Kyle Field’s redevelopment — slated for completion prior to the upcoming football season — includes a massive new videoboard from Daktronics. Located in the south end zone, the 1080i-capable board measures 47 ft. high by 163 ft. wide with a 13 HD pixel layout.
According to the university, the board will be the largest video display and the first to include 1080 resolution in college football. With more than 7,600 sq. ft. of display, the videoboard nearly doubles the viewing area of the stadium’s previous board.
“This is the largest stadium redevelopment in college-football history. It’s somewhat fitting that this is the largest videoboard in college football as well,” says Cook. “And the great thing about this videoboard is, it will allow us to do two 16×9 video pieces or replays side by side. So that was something that was very important to us.”
Daktronics will also be installing two auxiliary displays, one in each corner at the north end of Kyle Field. Each display will feature a 15 HD pixel layout and measure 36 ft. high by 54 ft. wide. Five individual ribbon displays will be installed around the seating fascia of the stadium — all featuring a 15 HD pixel layout and measuring more than 3 ft. high and varying in length from 160 ft. to 510 ft.
The second phase, which will begin after the 2014 football season, includes the redevelopment of the west side. By 2015, capacity at Kyle Field will increase to 102,500.