Tennis Channel Adds East Coast Base at USTA National Campus
New broadcast facility is onsite at the heart of U.S. tennis
In just two years of existence, the USTA National Campus has become the epicenter of American tennis, hosting more than 100 competitive events in 2019 alone. Now the USTA’s year-round training facility in the Lake Nona region of Orlando has the broadcast-technology chops to match. Last month, Tennis Channel opened a fully equipped broadcast-control room at the campus to produce live coverage from any of its 100+ courts, as well as short-form, lifestyle, and instructional content.
“Two years ago, we were invited to the newly opened campus. We were walking around with [USTA Chief Revenue Officer] Lew Sherr and [Managing Director, Broadcast] Patti Fallick, and it was obvious that the place was special,” says Bob Whyley, SVP, production/executive producer, Tennis Channel. “It’s appropriate that the [USTA National Campus] is a few miles from Disney World, because the campus atmosphere felt like the Disney of tennis.”
The new control room and additional broadcast infrastructure provide Tennis Channel with a year-round presence at the campus and establishes an East Coast production base for the L.A.-based network. Located at the primary training center for elite American professional and junior players, the new facility offers the network improved access to National Campus competitions and players.
“This country’s tennis epicenter is here,” adds Whyley. “The USTA moved the bulk of their team from New York to Lake Nona. Professional Player Development is anchored here. Many pros now call Lake Nona home. There are over 130 courts, all surfaces. Anyone gets on a court [regardless of] age and expertise. Tennis Channel had to be here.”
Inside the Control Room: ASN Truck Gear Comes in Handy
Tennis Channel enlisted Diversified as primary systems integrator on the project and reallocated a large portion of the equipment from two production trucks previously used by American Sports Network (Tennis Channel’s parent company Sinclair Broadcast Group relaunched ASN as Stadium in 2017 as part of a joint venture with Silver Chalice).
“Reallocating a lot of the equipment for the control room from the ASN trucks made it extremely cost-effective,” notes Jaime Martinez, VP, broadcast operations, Tennis Channel. “So it was really a no-brainer for us.”
The Tennis Channel East control room — which debuted during the network’s live coverage of the finals of the Junior Davis Cup and Junior Fed Cup by BNP Paribas (Sept. 24-29) — is heavy on Ross Video equipment, including a 2M/E Carbonite switcher (24 inputs/8 outputs), NK-3G34 34×34 video router, and three-channel Xpression graphics system. Other key gear includes NewTek 3Play 4800 replay system (8 input/2 output), Behringer X32 audio mixer, AJA Ki Pro Rack recorder/player, and Blackmagic Design Teranex 2D up/down/crossconverters.
“We now have a hub-and-spoke model with a central control room and 11 production stations throughout the campus,” says Martinez. “As a result, we’re able to do live coverage from pretty much every court.”
Connectivity Across the Courts and Coast-to-Coast
The 11 production stations are connected via an RTS Cronus intercom system, with each station featuring a producer, director, TD, technical workstation, and on-air talent.
For on-court coverage, Tennis Channel relies on eight Sony HSC-300 cameras with Canon lenses (as well as a POV camera for beauty shots of the facility) and a mix of Audio-Technica, Sennheiser, and Sony microphones.
“We produce live tennis from multiple courts out of our new control room, and that’s just the start,” says Whiley. “We have an anchor desk for studio hits. We have ENG for instructional and player features. We have reporters who can interview all dignitaries. It’s kinetic.”
The Lake Nona control room also has a 24-hour fiber connection to the network’s Culver City, CA, broadcast center, allowing live playout, file transfer, and seamless communications between the two facilities.
“We’re set up to go straight through the main control room out to the country,” says Whyley. “When we produce ATP or WTA tennis or our signature show, Tennis Channel Live, we can have live cut-ins and two-way [interviews] with the campus. We can also roll in features and instructionals produced from the campus.”
The Next Generation: Full Sail Students Are Involved
Tennis Channel is partnering with Orlando-based Full Sail University to give local students hands-on, real-world experience in live sports production. According to Martinez, the network will have a professional broadcast engineer onsite for all events, and students will be able to shadow them and also get hands-on experience during productions. Students were already being integrated into the workflow during last month’s Junior Davis Cup and Junior Fed Cup production.
“They were operating half of the cameras; they worked as A2s and utility operators; some trained on the switcher and audio boards. We’ve even used a few students as on-site reporters,” Whyley explains. “The best is yet to come.”
Looking Ahead: Plenty More Live Tennis Planned
Having started with last month’s live coverage of the Junior Davis Cup and Junior Fed Cup (the first time the tournament was ever televised), the new production facility will produce numerous events each year, including College MatchDay, USTA League Championships, and Junior National Championships. Tennis Channel carried the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Tennis National Championships on the campus in May and will do so again in 2021.
[Our first production] went really well. We were seamless for six days, 4½ hours a day, from multiple courts,” says Whyley. “We will continue to grow the infrastructure.”