How Fox Sports North Broadcast Hockey Day Minnesota When Temperatures Hit 27 Degrees Below Zero
Special precautions protect staff and equipment for annual celebration in record cold
In the great state of Minnesota, the people take pride in two things: their love of hockey and their ability to tolerate the cold. Both were on display in a big way on Saturday when the Minneapolis-based regional sports network Fox Sports North carried Hockey Day Minnesota under the most extreme cold the event has experienced in its 13-year history.
With three outdoor games (two high school and one collegiate) set to take place on a rink just off Lake Bemidji (which is more than 220 miles north of the Twin Cities), temperatures were as low as -27 F at drop of the first puck just after 9 a.m.
There aren’t many places where a live sports production would occur outdoors in such weather, but the leadership and crew of Fox Sports North, as well as freelancers from the local IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees), not only managed the challenge but embraced it.
“Naturally, you began to think when do cables begin to snap and when do servos not work,” says Fox Sports North GM Mike Dimond. “I can’t begin to say [what] a tremendous job [our crew has] done to tough it out. There’s pride in ownership here, too, and it’s a badge of honor to be here and say you were a part of the coldest Hockey Day ever.”
Needless to say, numerous precautions needed to be taken to protect both the people and the broadcast equipment working this event. In some cases, the operations team had to get creative to keep bodies warm and gear functional.
According to Bob Rohde, director of operations, Fox Sports North, camera positions sported small propane heaters, and the camera baskets in which the operators stood were wrapped in tarp in an attempt to keep that heat contained. There were points throughout the day when those propane heaters themselves were freezing up. In addition, FSN’s production-truck partner Mobile TV Group wrapped the large box broadcast lenses on the main camera positions with heating blankets to keep them working.
It was the camera operators who received most of the plaudits from Fox Sports North Executive Producer Tony Tortorici: those were the positions most exposed to the cold for the longest periods of time. Systems were put in place to keep those positions constantly rotating so that everyone could get breaks to warm up.
“During our camera meeting, we went over how important it was that, if anyone is feeling anything, you’ve got to let us know,” says Tortorici. “We’ll go down a camera, whatever we have to do. People come first. But I’m amazed. There’s no fear in their eyes. They are ready to go, and it’s business as usual. This [event] is a big deal for Fox Sports North, and we want to be a part of it. It’s part of the culture to a certain extent.”
It was a common theme of the day that, despite the frigid conditions, there was pride in not only doing this event but doing it in this weather. It’s a trait that’s truly characteristic of the state. And that drive and commitment have helped make this event one of the crown jewels on the RSN’s annual calendar.
“Hockey Day Minnesota is the signature event of all RSNs,” says Michael Connelly, SVP/executive producer, Fox Sports Regional Networks, who made the trip in from Los Angeles, along with Steve Grigely, VP, Technical Operations, Fox Sports Regional Networks, to help oversee the event. “[With] what this team has done to build it up, it’s become an unofficial holiday. Our other RSNs are trying to emulate it. They want to get that same kind of culture built with sports that are important to their state.”
Other Fox Sports RSNs have taken the lead, including Fox Sports Midwest and Fox Sports Indiana (the latter produced its own unique broadcast on Saturday in Basketball Day Indiana). These mega-events prove to be milestones in an RSN’s commitment to serve the local community beyond simply broadcasting the professional teams within a given market.
“We do so many events, and they are all done at a really high level, but they are also formulaic,” says Dimond. “This is a chance for us to really be outside of our comfort zone to rally together under one banner on something that is difficult. Make no mistake about it, this is hard stuff that we’re doing, but it’s so fun now that, after a while, it becomes standard operating procedure. This is our Super Bowl so we rally around it.”
As far as the unique production elements on this event, the weather didn’t derail any of the tech toys that the event promised, including a RefCam provided by Vicareo, a drone by Picture Factory, and a camera operator on skates using a MōVI rig.
— IATSE Local 745 (@iatse745) January 19, 2019
With the drone, battery power was an obvious challenge. The Picture Factory team estimates that it was getting 18-20 minutes per flight. In some cases, the batteries would come back so cold that they needed to be warmed up before they could be recharged.
This marked the second consecutive year that Fox Sports North entrusted Picture Factory with drone coverage, and the show leveraged its shots even more this year. Via RF, drone footage could be picked up live, and there were points when it served almost as a de facto SkyCam on game coverage. The drone was also able to venture out over Lake Bemidji and capture sweeping images of the frozen lake covered in ice-fishing cabins.
On the transmission end, a main front feed was sent through Fox Sports’ facility in The Woodlands, TX, to get the production on-air. A muxed feed (including an onsite anchor desk on one service and the game feed on another) was sent via Ku band to The Woodlands. ARCTEK Satellite, which is based in Minnesota, provided a satellite truck, mux gear, and satellite space for outbound and return feeds. ARCTEK’s Magenta truck transmitted 13.5 hours of mux services and also downlinked return feeds from The Woodlands.
Fox Sports North used technology and services from The Video Call Center to deliver interviews with former Hockey Day players who are now at the professional level. From the anchor desk in Bemidji, host Jamie Hersch was able to interview Minnesota Wild defenseman Nick Seeler and Iowa Wild forward Kyle Rau in different locations around the country. (Watch the interview HERE.)
Meanwhile, there was also connectivity between the site and Fox Sports North’s facility in Minneapolis. Edit suites there were up and running, linked to Bemidji via a connection from Adtec Digital with Zixi software.