Fox Sports Brings Fans Inside the Huddle With All-Access Coverage of Big East Basketball
Camera crews will be present in both locker rooms during halftime and postgame
Edited projects and docuseries like Hard Knocks are exposing the inner workings of a franchise, giving fans the chance to see what goes on behind the curtain. For this Saturday’s men’s basketball showdown between Seton Hall and Butler and next Friday’s women’s basketball showcase featuring Georgetown and Marquette, Fox Sports is metaphorically handing fans a jersey and putting them on the bench in the Big East. The added twist? Everything will unfurl live in front of a nationwide audience without commercial interruption.
“If you’re a basketball fan, [this effort] puts you in a place that you’ve never been,” says Steve Scheer, senior coordinating producer, college basketball, Fox Sports. “You’ve sat at the game, but you’ve never really been in the game.”
The Inception of an Idea
When Scheer arrived at Fox Sports six years ago, he approached his superiors about putting this series of productions together. After explaining the plan, he was given the green light by everyone in the organization, including Fox CEO/Executive Producer Eric Shanks.
“Since there are no commercials, we’re not making any money,” he says. “The fact that the Fox executives across the board said ‘Go for it’ was just beyond belief.”
On Dec. 30, 2016, the first iteration of the series featured two women’s teams in the New York metropolitan area: St. Johns and Seton Hall.
After a second women’s basketball game —Seton Hall vs. Creighton — Providence and DePaul joined the series in 2018 to represent the men. With the success of the first three broadcasts, the four current teams on this year’s slate were impressed by the dynamic of the production and were all-in.
“The Big East Conference has been so receptive,” Scheer says. “[Commissioner] Val Ackerman to [Senior Associate Commissioner, Broadcasting] Rick Gentile to [Senior Associate Commissioner, Men’s Basketball] Stu Jackson are all on board.
The Plan in Action
For the 2019 edition, Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard and Butler head coach LaVall Jordan will be miked and will be the focus of a dedicated iso camera capturing every candid moment. On the telecast, Scheer will display a three-shot comprising the action and each coach inside their respective boxes.
Without major commercial breaks (beyond a shortened break at the beginning and end of halftime), home viewers will be able to listen to adjustments during all timeouts and team huddles via camera crews on the floor. In addition, halftime team discussions and postgame speeches will be delivered in real time from inside the locker room.
From an operations perspective, Fox Sports has conducted a dozen college basketball games in 4K, but this experience will be treated a little differently. In an effort to continue its 4K HDR initiative that began this season, this weekend’s contest will be produced in the same format. The matchup will bring the total to three broadcasts, with two more additional broadcast of this kind coming later in the regular season.
“Our goal is to keeping bringing the most compelling images to our viewers,” says Brad Cheney, vice president, field operations & engineering, Fox Sports. “4K HDR is the next evolution, which not only benefits our 4K HDR viewers, but also translates into amazing images for our HD viewers.”
In order to make this possible, seven cameras and Mobile TV Group’s 39FLEX mobile unit will be on hand in Hinkle Fieldhouse. For next week’s game, Mobile TV Group’s 41HDX will power the production in Milwaukee. The same seven cameras will be deployed, but Scheer has another camera in his back pocket that will add more flavor to the broadcast.
Flexibility Is Key
As with any sports event, a team often deviates from its original plan. In a broadcast that focuses on the details of a coach’s game plan and is dictated by the course of a game, the need to adapt and not stick to a strict structure is essential.
“[For example], we’re thinking that a team is going to have a great start, but then the other team does, so we’ll go in that team’s huddle first. If one coach is really animated, we’ll stay a little bit longer; if he stops talking for a few seconds, we cut to the other huddle,” Scheer says. “We’ll have an arsenal of things to do in the game, and, if I use 1%, that’s a lot.”
To react quickly and provide nonstop access to the nuances of the game, Scheer will apply a different production strategy.
“We’ll pull back on graphics, replays, and preproduced clips because I want to see and hear the coaches at all times,” he explains. “Our announcers [play-by-play Justin Kutcher and analyst Len Elmore] will pull back a little bit, but the most important time for me to hear from Len Elmore is to decipher what fans just heard when the horn sounds and the teams come out of the huddle.”
Third Time’s the Charm
In Fox Sports’ third year, Scheer and his team realize the impact of the broadcast through the coaches that take part in it.
“This doesn’t happen without the coaches’ trust and respect for Fox to let us do it.” he says. “It’s a great testament to the relationship between Fox and the Big East. If you’re a basketball fan, this will be unbelievable.”