College Hoops Tip-Off 2021: Massive ‘Tip-Off Tuesday’ Presages Busy Season for Pac-12 Networks
The broadcaster deployed a mix of workflows to cover all 12 conference teams
Pac-12 Networks opened the men’s college basketball 2021-22 season in historic fashion yesterday: for the first time, all 12 conference teams were in action to begin the season on “Tip-off Tuesday.” The broadcaster produced five games remotely from its San Francisco facility as multi-cam/at-home productions and seven games using a mix of traditional truck shows, small-footprint productions, and campus-based productions.
“We are thrilled to kick off our 10th basketball season with Tip-off Tuesday,” said Kyle Reischling, VP, remote events, Pac-12 Networks prior to Opening Day. “We generally have a very busy opening night of basketball, but we’ve never had all 12 teams playing at home on the same date on Pac-12 Networks. It certainly will be an action-packed day with 10 hours of coverage, utilizing nearly all of our resources.”
The day has arrived…
It’s Tip-off Tuesday! 🏀
Watch all 12 men’s teams return to action, starting at 12pm PT / 1pm MT.
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) November 9, 2021
At-Home Production Remains at the Core of Pac-12 Networks Operations
Pac-12 Networks is scheduled to produce more than 270 women’s and men’s basketball games this season, culminating in the 2022 Pac-12 Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments in Las Vegas.
Pac-12 Networks, an early pioneer in at-home production workflow, will produce approximately 180 basketball games from its San Francisco facility, including both the women’s and men’s tournaments.
“We have been a big proponent of our multi-cam [at-home] production method for many reasons,” says Reischling. “It has been extremely beneficial as we’ve navigated through the production challenges of the last 12 months.
Big Challenges: Supply-Chain Delays, Rising Costs, Crewing
Although pandemic-related challenges have subsided thanks to health and safety protocols, the Pac-12 Networks ops team is dealing with new challenges in the form of rising costs and supply-chain issues.
“Costs for everything are up across the board,” notes Don McKinney, senior director, production operations, Pac-12 Networks, “and it takes much longer to get everything in hand. COVID is not that big of a disruptor at this point, as we already have all of the protocols to operate having learned from the worst of it. Supply-chain disruptions will have a lasting impact on the availability of certain items and on the cost of all items in general.”
In addition to difficulties obtaining gear and facilities on time and within budget, crewing has become a major issue for Pac-12 Networks (as well as the rest of the industry). With fewer freelancers and production professionals available following a mass exodus during the pandemic, Pac-12 Networks is finding new ways to cultivate the next generation of live-production pros.
“Crewing has certainly been a challenge this season for a multitude of reasons,” says Sarah Backerman, senior director, remote operations, PAC-12. “Due to the pandemic, there has been a lot of turnover or hesitancy to get back to work in the field. Compressed and shifted sports schedules have also made crewing more challenging when multiple networks are vying for the same freelancers in a much smaller pool. While challenging, it has opened up opportunities for freelancers to cross-train and find new ways to contribute.”
In addition, Pac-12 Networks’ centralized production model allows crews to work multiple shows without significant travel.
“Staffing has been impacted by COVID in numerous ways,” says McKinney, “but our centralized production model has always kept a large number of talented operators and engineers working large volumes of events for us each year. This proved advantageous, as we had an engaged pool of local freelancers who were vaccinated and ready to work for us in San Francisco and also at all of our member universities. Our strict protocols kept everyone safe, and we had a completely successful season with zero disruptions.”
Despite Some Normalcy, Pac-12 Networks Maintains ‘Expect Anything’ Attitude
After facing unprecedented challenges during the 2020-21 season, the Pac-12 Networks operations teams are hopeful that this season will see the return of at least a semblance of normalcy. However, the lessons learned during the fraught 2020-21 campaign have proved invaluable as Pac-12 Networks looks to the future.
“I am incredibly proud of what our team has been able to pull off the last two seasons,” says Backerman. “While the schedule has thankfully been more stable this year compared with last, they are still working under an ‘expect anything’ mentality. Changing protocols, increased paperwork, and questions/concerns from freelancers have made for grueling hours, but the team has done a great job staying focused, performing at a high level, and making thoughtful decisions.”
McKinney expects the new systems and platforms that Pac-12 Networks has developed through SDP (software-defined production) to have a similar influence on the industry that Pac-12 Networks’ at-home/multi-cam model did when it debuted.
“All of that is a result of the pressures COVID placed on our industry and our company to evolve and innovate,” he explains. “Our ops team has always prided itself on a ‘failure is not an option’ approach. Overcoming challenges, establishing new workflows and safety protocols, and developing completely new ways of telling stories and connecting fans with the content they love have always been at the heart of everything we do. COVID has only highlighted and amplified the relationship between fans and sports, and finding new ways to create those connections has been tremendously rewarding.”