Fox Sports North Delivers Its ‘Super Bowl’ With 12th Annual Hockey Day Minnesota
RSN rolls out fun, robust tech in St. Cloud for special day of amateur and pro programming
In America, there are few great sports romances. Texas has football. Indiana has basketball. Minnesota has hockey. This past Saturday, Fox Sports North, the regional sports network based in Minneapolis, wrote its annual love letter to the game its fans adore.
The 12th-annual Hockey Day Minnesota brought more than 14 straight hours of live hockey programming to FS North’s air and a picture-postcard scene on the banks of Lake George in St. Cloud, where three outdoor games and a public “village” — where the community came in droves to enjoy community events, food trucks, fire pits, and much more — were the big stars.
On the production end, it was truly all hands on deck from both a personnel and a technological standpoint for the RSN. The day delivered a live VR production, live linear and streaming broadcasts of five games (including three at the outdoor rink in St. Cloud), a Minnesota Wild game at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul), and a load of studio programming.
“It’s an incredibly busy time for us, but this is our Super Bowl,” says Mike Dimond, GM, Fox Sports North. “It’s amazing to see how what we do with the television piece has become only a part of what this whole event is about. The local organizing committees, what they have done here, is incredible.”
Focusing on the onsite set at Lake George in St. Cloud, Fox Sports North rolled up a full-fledged production compound with two Mobile TV Group 53-ft. expando units, an ARTECK satellite-uplink truck, and an office trailer (from which LiveLike operated the VR production). Covering the ice were 19 total cameras, including a pair of jibs, two RF cameras (one a MōVI on a SteadiCam affixed to a camera operator on ice skates), and a drone.
“Anybody in production will tell you that the toys can make things special,” says Tony Tortorici, executive producer, Fox Sports North. “In this case, that’s for certain.”
At last year’s Hockey Day, in Stillwater, the network unsuccessfully attempted to use a drone, Tortorici adds. This time around, however, it was a critical part of the production, giving viewers spectacular views of the beautiful scene at Lake George.
“It’s like having a blimp here,” he says. “It’s incredible. I love it because it shows the bigness and puts the event on a great scale.”
To help the compound operate to its highest capacity, Fox Sports North also partnered with the city of St. Cloud to establish a Gigabit internet connection. In addition, the network set up an IP connection to its studios in Downtown Minneapolis. The IP-based video circuit opened up use of five Avid edit suites at the office, from which editors using an Adtec encoder and Sixi software were able to deliver content directly into the trucks onsite.
“We have all of the production capabilities of our office [in Minneapolis] at our disposal here,” notes Bob Rohde, director, operations, Fox Sports North. “It’s huge. We used to have to set up an extra trailer with Avid [editing systems]. Now those editors can set up at the office and do their work there.”
A technical crew 68 people strong was drawn not only from the Fox Sports North ranks but also from neighboring Fox Sports Wisconsin and other members of the Fox Sports family. St. Cloud proved a fitting locale for the event since 28 members of that crew have direct ties to St. Cloud State University as alumni or current students. In fact, the men’s college game between St. Cloud State and Minnesota State Mankato was produced entirely by students and St. Cloud’s immensely talented Husky Productions.
“We are blessed with our crew,” says Tortorici. “We have a lot of people, on the production side for sure, who have been here from the start and worked all 12 [Hockey Days]. The pride that they have in it is inspiring. So much goes into it, but there are so many nice touches and a plan for just about everything. The time and effort that goes into it is top quality. This is the ultimate test for a [RSN].”