How Fox Sports Southwest Boosted Its Friday-Night High School Football Coverage This Season
With a new studio, added reporters, and new tech, coverage reached new heights in Texas
High school football is deeply baked into the culture of life in Texas, but, in such a large state, with nearly a thousand programs scattered across it, how does one regional sports network possibly cover it all? This season, Fox Sports Southwest pulled out all the stops to take on that task.
In August, the team at Fox Sports Southwest made the commitment to dramatically expand its efforts delivering five hours’ worth of live coverage each Friday night with Football Friday (a three-hour show that airs from 8 to 11 p.m. CT) and High School Scoreboard Live (a two-hour wrap-up show airing from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m.). In doing so, it erected a new set in its Irving-based headquarters and boosted the number of field reporters onsite from one to six.
“At Fox Sports Southwest, we put a significant amount of resource, time, and effort behind our high school football product,” says Jason Walsh, executive producer, Fox Sports Southwest. “We are in charge of six pro teams here in this region, and we consider our high school product to be our seventh pro team.”
However, the most impactful change, when it came to dealing with the scale of Texas high school football, came when the network partnered with The Video Call Center (VCC), a solutions provider that helps turn anyone with a smartphone camera into a potential on-air guest during a live television program.
Not only did Football Friday have six field reporters at its disposal, but it could also speak live with virtually any coach immediately following a game by simply calling a smartphone. According to Walsh, it proved to be a true game-changer for the network’s high school football coverage.
“The idea of using someone’s cellphone and their camera sounded a little crazy at first, but [VCC] provides a pretty viable solution,” he says. “A lot of people on our side were skeptical. Can we have these broadcasts with high-end studios and expensive cameras and all of the things that we do and suddenly add in cellphone coverage? Wireless signals are good in San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston. I just don’t know that, in Canadian, TX, in the Panhandle, we’re going to be able to sustain both latency and signal strength. We were blown away by [VCC’s] capabilities and what it was able to bring to our broadcast as a whole. We’ve never been able to do something like this before.”
The impact of the technology on the show was immediately evident on the first night it was rolled out, when the show went live to a coach on his team’s bus driving down to the Rio Grande Valley, the southern-most point of the state. The players were behind the coach, celebrating during the interview and giving the show added color and personality that it had never enjoyed before.
The team at The Video Call Center serves as a bit of a coordinating producer during the show for Fox Sports Southwest. The network would provide VCC with a list of 12-16 coaches, whittling that list down to those who won each game. Then, technicians at VCC offices in Palisades, NY, would contact the coaches, test the quality of their connection, and prep them for their shot, before passing the video signals over to Fox Sports Southwest to bring on-air for interviews with the talent on-set.
“The amount of coverage that they get in in such a short amount of time is astounding,” says VCC CEO Larry Thaler.
Added resources and enhanced commitment to high school football has redefined Fox Sports Southwest’s relationship with the sport in the state and has made the program more of a Friday-night destination for viewers. In previous years, the show would have one field reporter at what was dubbed the biggest game of the week, and editors grabbed highlights from live streams on the web and ingested highlights sent in via FTP by folks around the state. Now the show has defined itself by its ability to go live to the site via its troop of reporters or even directly into a coach’s smartphone.
“For our group, it was a great feeling of accomplishment,” says Walsh, “because we set out in the beginning of the season to figure out how we could take a bigger swath of this state and cover it. Now we are everywhere in this state on any given Friday night. It’s mind-blowing.”