LTN Global To Provide Transmission, Production Services for Conference USA 2020 Men’s, Women’s Basketball Tourneys
Under the deal, the vendor will be back in 2021 and, potentially, in 2022
As the college basketball season will come slowly to an end over the next few weeks, Conference USA faces one of the most logistically challenged endeavors of the entire basketball calendar. On March 11-14, its best 24 basketball teams (12 men’s and 12 women’s) will square off at Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, TX, for their respective championships. To accomplish such a feat, the conference has entered an agreement under which LTN Global will supply transmission and production services not only for this tournament on ESPN+ and Stadium but also for next year’s and possibly in 2022.
“We’re providing a type of production that we’re calling LTN Direct, which is a traditional, onsite direct production,” says Colin Moran, director, product management, LTN Global. “What makes this tournament interesting and unique is that, at The Star, they basically put two courts right next to each other, so there are games happening at the same time. We’ve been doing this for the past couple of years, so we have a longstanding relationship with the conference.”
Sowing the Seeds: A Production Bond That Started in 2014
2020 isn’t the first time that the two parties have worked together. The working relationship goes back to the midway point of the past decade, when the conference’s championship tournament tipped off in 2014.
“At the time, American Sports Network [then the conference’s broadcast partner] partnered with LTN to install transmission equipment into all of our schools as a cost-saving measure,” says Jordan Foreman, director, multimedia, Conference USA. “They knew that they had reliable transmission services and wouldn’t have to rent a satellite truck. After ASN [was folded into] Stadium, the equipment was still there for them and all of our other TV partners to use.”
From LTN’s perspective, a tournament being held in the same venue for the third year in a row has allowed the provider to strengthen and solidify a plan that allows a lot of room for error.
“In Year 1,” says Moran, “we looked at the plot [of the venue] with the in-house engineering department to figure out if we can cross-connect some cables to get some drops here and there when we needed to orient our cameras for basketball. We have it down to a science since this is the third year that we’ll be at this arena.”
Two at a Time: Detailed Planning Overcomes Logistical Hurdles
Although a handful of the 22 total games on the tournament slate will be done in the traditional one-at-a-time pattern, 16 will be played at the same time. To handle this double-barreled, two-court action, LTN has worked closely with Dallas Cowboys personnel to develop an intricate plan to keep track of who owns what inside the facility.
“The venue is natively set up for football since it’s the practice facility for the Dallas Cowboys. It has unique wiring, with the courts [extending from each side of the 50-yard line],” says Moran. “The employees at The Star are great to work with, but [it’s] difficult to know where the in-house cables are running to. [Having gone over the plots with in-house engineering,] we make very in-depth input sheets about where in-house cabling is.”
As the complex plan moved toward its current state, LTN involved outside vendors to supply the cabling needed to produce this type of event.
“We rented some wiring from Bexel and ran it into the venue. CBS will be taking it out since they will be the last one onsite [after the finals],” he adds. “We have LTN transmission devices already installed in there with four redundant paths, so that makes the process pretty seamless.”
Not only does a sturdy and organized foundation of transmission paths help with the execution of the digital broadcasts, but it also helps LTN check off other duties on its to-do list.
“Not only are we trying to produce high-quality broadcast productions,” says Moran, “but there are also a lot of other responsibilities: [for example,] what the game officials need, what feeds need to go to what specific TVs, etc. We put a skilled project manager on these bigger tournaments that we do, not only to have everything documented but also to share [our plan] with the internal and external vendors to make sure that they know what equipment and cabling are ours.”
At-Home Help: LTN Headquarters Saves the Conference Some Cash
Saving money is a driving factor in Conference USA’s decision to go with LTN. For this massive undertaking, every Conference USA employee will make the 20-minute drive to the complex, including the three full-time employees and intern on Foreman’s multimedia team. A fair number (around 70%) of LTN’s crew members will be onsite in Frisco, filling production roles ranging from directing and producing to engineering and tech management inside the company’s Lance and NETH production trucks.
Despite the all-hands-on-deck approach, though, cost-efficient procedures will also be in place to leverage resources located 491 miles to the north of the stadium.
“Everything comes down to cost,” notes Moran. “So, when we work with [Conference USA], it’s about how creative we can get with different entities not only onsite but also in our 30,000-sq.-ft. studio space in Kansas City to help remotely. [Whether it’s] troubleshooting or prepping graphics for the next show, we can meet their budget while also elevating the production.”
In addition to reliance on LTN’s offsite location, the infrastructure used for games running in parallel on ESPN+ and Stadium will eliminate the additional cost that may come with creating dedicated paths for each outlet.
“The biggest advantage to this,” says Foreman “is that, since LTN will be producing the games on ESPN+ and Stadium, it streamlines things logistically behind the scenes: your cable runs, your truck in the compound, and your talent setup. In order to accommodate two of our broadcast partners with only one technical setup, it’s a win-win and helps everyone.”
The Trust Tree: Reliable Network Allows Enhanced Creativity in Other Areas
The collaboration has fostered a sense of trust and stability since the entities are familiar with each other. In turn, this familiarity generates creative freedom for Foreman and his team working on social-media platforms.
As they focus on ancillary coverage of the tournament, Moran is able to have some fun with broadcast by implementing these other engaging elements as well. “It means the world to us that we have a great relationship with them,” he says. “They’re able to trust us with the broadcast in terms of getting different looks and injecting social-media elements.”
Crowning a Champion: LTN, Conference USA Come Together for Four Final Days
In the first year of this newly extended agreement, there is room to flourish on many levels. From an innovation standpoint, Conference USA is achieving its goal of staying in the technological present.
“Our commissioner likes us to be the guinea pigs [for new technologies] and try new things, and you see that with our basketball tournaments,” says Foreman. “LTN is helping us reach all of our different audiences: the digital-only audience, the linear-only audience, and the younger audience that is more inclined to social media. They have experience producing for all of those different platforms.”
The partnership highlights the determination, athleticism, and heart of the men’s and women’s teams battling it out on the hardwood, but, more important, it supports the conference in one of its yearly crown-jewel events.
“We do a bunch of things throughout the year and everything comes together with the basketball tournament,” says Foreman. “Once you get everyone in one building and have them pulling in one direction, it’s a great thing to see the finished product come together.”