RSN Summit 2018: League Leaders Offer Perspectives on State of Regional-Sports Biz

Tech advances are changing venue-infrastructure needs

As the sports-media landscape is transformed by fans’ changing consumption habits, the relationship between leagues and regional sports networks has never been more important. At SVG’s third-annual RSN Summit last month, broadcast-operations leaders from the NBA and the NHL joined execs from Fox Sports Regional Networks and Pac-12 Networks to discuss a wide variety of topics, including production operations, the rise of social media, and how they can work together to create a better product for fans.

Much of the discussion centered on how quickly technology is advancing and how that impacts the RSNs’ infrastructure needs at the venues. MLB, NBA, and NHL work closely with their RSN partners to identify needs, but, with the rate of technological change today, meeting these needs has never been more challenging.

League Perspectives: A View From the Top panel: (from left) Fox Sports Regional Networks’ Michael Connelly, the NBA’s Steve Hellmuth, and the NHL’s Dan O’Neill

“We all know technology is going 100 mph right now. We don’t know where it’s going to be in 10 years, but we have to be ready for it,” said Michael Connelly, SVP/executive producer, Fox Sports Regional Networks.

He opined that venues should essentially be designed like TV studios since they are used all day for various TV-production needs. “There’s going to be social-media presence; then there’s going to be television with maybe five different networks, including RSNs; and then you’re going to have international [broadcasters] and streaming. If it doesn’t start with the building [infrastructure], you can’t satisfy everybody’s needs. … I wish all the leagues would standardize and put certain requirements in these buildings so we could start with television.”

Higher-Quality Productions = More Venue Infrastructure
As the quality and scope of RSN productions have increased significantly over the past decade, so too have demands for technology and infrastructure at venues. In the case of the NHL, league and teams regularly work with their RSN partners to accommodate everything from fiber infrastructure to additional camera positions.

“Most of [the requests from RSNs are] on infrastructure at this point,” noted Dan O’Neill, VP, arena and event operations, NHL. “With all the transitions — getting buildings cabled and redundantly powered across the board and the switch to fiber-based [infrastructure] — those are the types of questions we get the most. Certainly, new camera positions are always being asked for, and that’s a discussion and negotiation with our clubs and the arenas to get them cabled and get [the cameras] in and out, especially on single-day set-and-strike shows. I’m sure it will also evolve a little bit more with the audio side and the RF side.”

Whenever a new venue is designed, the technical needs of the RSNs play a key role in architecting the facility’s infrastructure. For the next three seasons, the New York Islanders will split home games between Barclays Center in Brooklyn and the recently renovated Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Long Island while its new arena at Belmont Park is being built. Since being reopened in 2017, the Coliseum has served primarily as a home to concerts. The league is working to bring the venue up to an NHL TV-ready facility and to accommodate all the needs of RSN partner MSG Networks.

“We have a unique situation with Nassau and the Islanders next year,” said O’Neil. “Nassau wasn’t renovated to a point of a broadcast production or a game environment; it was more for a concert hall and smaller venue, so we lost a lot of seats. Right now, [we’re] creating camera positions — there aren’t any at this point — and the necessary infrastructure.”

NBA Looks To Enhance Events Coordination
Over the past few years, the NBA has built up its High-Speed Arena Network (HSAN), which connects all 31 NBA arenas to its Replay Operations Center in Secaucus, NJ. Now the league intends to leverage that network to better coordinate all the events around the game with teams, RSNs, and global partners. Player arrivals at the arena, for example, have become more important than ever as star players become fashion icons.

“What we’re going to focus on next with the teams, the RSNs, and partners like Nike and other partners is a master-scheduling and assignment system,” said Steve Hellmuth, EVP, media operations and technology, NBA. “We have all the events that the NBA and the teams are running; we know when the teams are arriving at and leaving the venues. We want to pinpoint exactly who is covering what and how it’s going to get shared. This has a huge advantage for the teams of communicating when an RSN is covering something.”

Connelly added that this type of coordination may seem easy but is actually quite difficult in a live production.

“It’s not as simple as it sounds to communicate,” he explained. “The biggest challenge for us is to get everyone to talk to one another. If everyone understands that we know the players are coming in at this time, then why doesn’t one person just shoot it and share the content? It’s not like we’re going to uncover the burial site of Jimmy Hoffa or something. There’s no reason we can’t communicate, start sharing, get everybody working on the same page. And that works from a facilities standpoint, too.”

Coordination Is More Important Come Playoff Time
The NHL has also upped its game when it comes to working closer with RSNs, especially for this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs run.

“Our [NHL] group, working with all the regionals and the nationals, walking into that first round of playoffs, was more collaborative than it’s ever been,” said O’Neil. “We all understood the full equipment complement every RSN puts out, which gives you the unique looks even when the national [broadcaster] rolls in on top. There’s this balance to give [RSNs] access to the unique aspects [of] those facilities, layering in the added resources of the nationals on top. And you create this pool where there wasn’t that kind of opportunity for your production side. It made the Round 1 four-way [productions] work and made the Stanley Cup Final work. It wasn’t effortless, but it made it a lot easier because the infrastructure was put in and everybody understood what was going on.”

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