Princeton Caps Off Extensive Program Transformation With H.G. Levine Broadcast Center
New production hub features two control rooms and a studio
When the calendar rolls around to May, college students rejoice to the sound of summer. For one of the most prestigious schools in the Ivy League, Princeton University, the signs of this past summer marked the homestretch of its multiple–control-room buildout inside Jadwin Gymnasium. Like college football, with its phenomenal growth in the 150 years since its first game (which included Princeton, then-called The College of New Jersey), the production arm of the Tigers’ athletics program has made an absurd amount of progress in a short time.
“We always outsourced our football and basketball productions because, a year and a half ago, we didn’t own a switcher,” says Cody Chrusciel, assistant director, athletics/multimedia and broadcasting, Princeton University. “Now we have three centralized control rooms, with one over at the football stadium that can run our videoboard.”
This hasn’t always been the situation at the university. When Chrusciel arrived in September 2015, a local third-party vendor was the go-to answer for all Tigers broadcasts. But the program was interested in branching out into in-house broadcast production, a massive undertaking that resulted in construction of the H.G. Levine Broadcast Center. The plan was put into motion in October 2016 when the first construction plans were drawn.
“We decided to not hire an integrator,” Chrusciel says, “so John Bullis [assistant director, athletics multimedia and production, Princeton University] and I sat down and figured everything out. We didn’t have an engineer, so, if it exists in the control room, we wanted to know how everything is configured and hooked up.”
With an existing fiber network throughout the campus, the program carved out a lane where two of the school’s main sports, football (with 24 strands) and basketball, could rely on the infrastructure. After developing the concept, the effort began this past spring with a generous donation by Steven Mayer, a graduate of the Class of 1981 and student-athlete on the baseball team. The space’s name, H.G. Levine, is a tribute to his uncle, who died after a car accident during his freshman year at Princeton.
On June 25, the team moved into its two–control-room facility. A few months later, the team produced the first event from the new digs: Women’s Soccer vs. Boston College on ESPN+ Sept. 1.
“During the first month of this control room, we produced six different sports out of five different venues. Four of those sports were done for NBC Sports Philadelphia,” says Chrusciel. “All [were produced] with a full-time staff of two.”
Hybrid Home: Fiber, NewTek NDI Link Control Rooms and Venues
At the heart of the Jadwin control rooms are two NewTek TriCaster TC1 switchers. Two NewTek 3Play 3P1’s handle replay functions; a portable version is also being used. For smoothness, Clear-Com HelixNet is behind in-house communications. On the audio side, Audinate’s Dante audio networking is accomplished with a Yamaha TF3 in the bigger control room and a TF1 in the smaller one. Other significant tools include live shading for games with a late-afternoon kickoff and AJT Systems’ LiveBook GFX, which is used by all Ivy League schools.
In summer 2018, Princeton gave the Princeton Stadium control room a much needed refresh. After getting rid of 10-year-old equipment geared to dated SD broadcasts, the university needed to justify the refurbishment despite using the space only for five home football games per year. With an IP network courtesy of NewTek NDI and an aging/cramped Hobey Baker Rink nearing its centennial (in 2022), all hockey home games are produced from a half mile away.
The space features a NewTek TriCaster TC1 switcher, a 3Play 3P1, Dante audio via a Yamaha TF1 console, and other smaller versions of gadgets used in the main control rooms.
In both Jadwin and Princeton Stadium, the 2019 live event productions will total nearly 100 after the home slate of ticketed sports (football, men’s and women’s lacrosse, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s hockey, and wrestling) and 20-25 broadcasts of other sports (water polo, volleyball, soccer, field hockey).
Football and basketball productions are handled by a total of 15 staffers. For football, four Hitachi Z-HD5000 cameras with CCUs will line the stadium roof, with end-zone action covered by a wireless RF handheld at field level in the corner of the stadium and an additional camera midway up the stands. One of eight JVC PTZ cameras resides in the announcers booth for on-camera hits; others are installed beneath the basketball videoboard in Jadwin, inside the main control room, and throughout other sports venues).
For basketball coverage, the control room will double its workload, serving as the nucleus for the main game broadcast and handling the in-venue videoboard show.
All Things Princeton: A Willingness To Expand
Despite maintaining two separate control rooms, the crew still had cash to spend. At less than 10% of the total project cost, Creative Dimensions created a dedicated studio space adjacent to the control rooms, including an anchor desk and a setup with two JVC cameras.
“The idea was that most of our games are on Fridays and Saturdays, so how do we get use of this control room the other five days of the week?” says Chrusciel. “We wanted something that would scream Princeton, and that’s why we have all this glass [to see from the outside].”
The studio is another upgrade for the program’s content creation: the previous location was next to a weight room with unpredictable noise. It’s also a prime location for segments featuring prominent members of the athletics community.
“Right now, it’s an under-utilized space since we’re still figuring out what the plan is, but we’re doing a weekly football coaches show,” Chrusciel adds. “Having our own place where we don’t have to go outside and reserve [a spot] is huge.”
A Year’s Difference: Recapping the University’s Exponential Growth
Three centralized control rooms are a far cry from Princeton’s previous plan. Although the goal was ultimately devised by Chrusciel and his staff, other Ivy League schools played an influential part in the process.
“We have weekly calls with [league] multimedia directors,” he notes. “There is a lot of interaction, and we’re all trying to help each other out. I think that’s helped the product get to the point where we are doing so much at such a high level for ESPN as well as performing in-house games for multiple regional sports networks.”
With an entire conference serving as a source of potential ideas and a past filled with enormous improvements, Princeton is continuing to put the university at the forefront of efforts inside the broadcast center.
“Prior to last year,” says Chrusciel, “we never produced a multicamera broadcast. [Now,] when coaches bring recruits, it shows that we’re invested and doing it the right way.”