Fox Sports Florida, Sun Sports Juggle Six Pro Franchises During Busy April
As the exclusive rightsholder for six professional sports franchises in Florida, regional sports nets Fox Sports’ Sun Sports and Fox Sports Florida are tasked with producing more than 650 live MLB, NBA, and NHL telecasts each year and close to 100 in April alone. The RSNs also produce more than 225 live studio programs a year from a single state-of-the-art studio at a central Fort Lauderdale facility and manages the largest content library of any Fox RSN.
The juggling act intensifies this Saturday, with the Florida Panthers, Miami Heat, Miami Marlins, Orlando Magic, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Tampa Bay Rays all in action at home.
“This is a crazy time of year, but it’s obviously a good problem to have,” says Fox Sports Florida/Sun Sports Executive Producer Brett Opdyke. “The obvious difficulties this time of the year are crewing and trucks since there is obviously only a finite [number] of people in our marketplace and we need to bring in additional [trucks] on certain occasions. Beyond that, it is about balancing everything and getting quality time with our team, giving them feedback and getting feedback — in the truck, at [the home facility], and in the [announce] booth.”
In addition, Fox Sports Florida and Sun Sports are televising 18 live games for the MLS’s Orlando City SC expansion squad this year (games are produced by a third party), as well as live college and high school sports programming.
Two Networks, Six Franchises, One Production Facility
Not surprisingly, given the amount of content the two RSNs generate, Fox Sports’ Fort Lauderdale facility packs plenty of production and engineering firepower.
The production and newsroom operations are built around Avid Interplay and iNews, and the graphics-creation team uses Adobe Creative Cloud tools. The facility features five full Avid Media Composer suites, along with two additional Avid MC stations and a studio EVS server used for time-shifting programming in a postgame situation (such as a coach’s postgame press conference).
The highlights-production team also has a Viz Libero virtual-analysis tool at its disposal for deeper X’s-and-O’s segments. Fox Sports Florida/Sun Sports can share the completed Viz Libero segments (for opponents common to both the Heat and the Magic, for example) or share them with other Fox RSNs.
“We are expanding our use of Libero and using it for a scouting report segment where you identify specific [tendencies], such as [Houston Rockets guard] James Harden on offense and defense.” says Fox Sports Florida/Sun Sports Coordinating Producer James Shapiro. “We can use that in our postgame show and then turn it around for the pregame show when [Florida teams] play the Rockets.”
All video content, including full-game melts and Panasonic P2 media shot in the field, is ingested into the networks’ growing digital archive at its Fort Lauderdale facility, which now comprises more than 100 LTO-5 tapes (or 2.5 PB of data). In terms of nearline storage, Fox Sports has four 32-TB Avid ISIS-5000 shared-storage crates on hand.
“We archive and bring in the most material of any other Fox RSN,” says Media Manager Christopher Piatt. “We openly share everything with other Fox RSNs, and we ask them for content as well. We can use Signiant and Aspera for that … or feed it directly through our master control in The Woodlands[, TX].”
One Studio To Rule Them All
Fox Sports produces more than 225 live studio programs per year for all six of its franchises out of a single ultra-flexible 30- x 30-ft. studio at its Fort Lauderdale facility (with the exception of home Miami pre/postgame shows, which are produced onsite at the American Airlines Center). The three-camera studio (all Ikegami cameras) features a Fox Sports-branded desk and a total of 10 monitors. The studio also features a green-screen roll-down background for pretaping segments when necessary.
“We really use every inch on any given day,” says Shapiro. “And then, once baseball starts in April, all the schedules ram together, and it gets even crazier. We have had some Aprils when this studio has been live all 30 days.”
The studio’s monitors, color themes, and lighting schemes can be swapped from team to team and include various sponsors with the flick of a switch, which comes in handy on evenings when the facility is required to produce back-to-back programs. Each team’s color/lighting template is built into a fader on the lighting board, making it easy for various freelance crews to work in the studio.
The studio features four LED monitors behind the main desk, running on Jupiter Systems software that allows a single image to be stretched across multiple monitors.
“Typically in a pregame show, the [background monitors] are still photos,” says Shapiro. “But we will take our slash or our high-slash from the remote and put it up there live so it seems like a window into the ballpark or arena. It’s particularly good for hockey because you see players skating and warming up during the pregame shows.”
The goal is to emulate the growing trend of having talent on-camera with dynamic content on monitors in the background, a strategy embraced by both ESPN’s SportsCenter and Fox Sports 1’s Fox Sports Live in recent years.
“You see a lot of that from Fox Sports 1, where they have their talent standing up and those big monitor walls with big graphics behind them,” says Shapiro. “We don’t have that, but we can get a look that’s similar to it. You can see where things are going, and you try to emulate a little bit there, so we’ve done some of that.”
RSN Shows Take on National Telecast Feel in Florida
For remote productions, Fox Sports Florida and Sun Sports use Mobile TV Group’s 34HDX (and B unit 34VMU for the visitor show) for Heat, Marlins, and Panthers coverage and 25HDX for the Lighting, Magic, and Rays.
Like many Fox Sports RSNs, the Florida operation has significantly grown its camera complement across the board in recent years. Marlins and Rays productions, for example, feature 13-14 cameras, including two handhelds, a roving wireless RF camera, a jib, two Fletcher robos, two Grass Valley LDX XS 6X slo-mos (using Grass Valley K2 Dyno replay systems), and, on selected games, a Vision Research Phantom ultra-slo-mo.
“I think we have benefited from the Fox vision in the amount of resources they provide and continue to grow every year,” says Opdyke. “We have grown from a five-camera baseball game to more than twice that.”
The production team also looks to provide inside access for viewers by interviewing managers and coaches between innings/quarters, miking coaches and players when possible, and providing behind-the-scenes coverage not available on national telecasts.
“Each region is different, but, every year, we try to find something new and add to the quality of what shows up every night. Our producers and announcers are so close with the teams that we get unprecedented access that you wouldn’t get on national level. We are absolutely on par with a national game, if not above and beyond in some ways.”