CFP National Championship 2022: SEC Network Offers Studio Programming at Multiple Sites, Dual Hometown Radio Calls
Content will be generated from Indianapolis and Charlotte
In what has become something of a tradition, ESPN’s SEC Network will take part in yet another College Football Playoff National Championship, and its participation in the 2022 title game is multifaceted. Not only is the production crew providing a bevy of studio shows from Indianapolis and its broadcasting hub in Charlotte, NC, but fans watching the matchup between No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia tonight can enjoy Hometown Radio calls of the action at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“Everybody that’s working on this game is incredibly fired up,” says Tom McCollum, senior coordinating producer, ESPN. “We’ll be working to deliver viewers the best experience that we possibly can, but we’ll also be enjoying the culmination of another great football season.”
Studio-Show Slate: Fans Get Nearly 20 Hours of Programming
With the college-football world descending on Indianapolis this evening, the SEC Network will be covering every possible angle of the proceedings for supporters of both programs. All storylines will be covered from three locales in Indianapolis — the upper concourse of Lucas Oil Stadium, field level of the venue, the nearby Convention Center — as well as from Charlotte. Decisions on where each set goes and how long it will be there will based on numerous factors.
“During the regular season,” says McCollum, “we have the luxury of having a sprawling footprint when SEC Nation travels to each campus every week. In Indianapolis, we don’t really have that because our shows are leading directly into the game as opposed to starting early in the morning.
“We’re also coordinating with ESPN and what they’re bringing to the game,” he continues, “so we have to figure out how to efficiently fit everything together. It’s a big puzzle, but our operations team plans it all out so we’re ready to go by the time my team shows up onsite.”
Beginning at the top of the weekend on Saturday, Jan. 8, the first piece of the programming puzzle kicked off with SEC Now from Media Day at the Convention Center, anchored by showings at 9 a.m. ET on Saturday and two on Sunday: press conferences with Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban and Georgia Head Coach Kirby Smart at 9 a.m. and another at 11 a.m. The on-air team comprised Dari Nowkhah, former Alabama safety Roman Harper, 2007 Heisman Trophy winner and former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, 2010 National Champion and current University of North Carolina head coach Gene Chizik, former Georgia tight end Benjamin Watson, Marty Smith, Ryan McGee, and Chris Doering.
Monday’s schedule of more than 14 hours of content got started early at 8 a.m. with SEC This Morning from Charlotte. Hosts SEC Network anchor Peter Burns and Doering, along with former Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship, will dive deep into the latest news from around the conference. Next up at 2 p.m. is Marty & McGee, with Smith and McGee entertaining such guests as Watson, Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, and comedian Jeff Foxworthy. Starting at 3 p.m., the bulk of the day will be given to The Paul Finebaum Show. Emanating from Section 401 at the stadium, the three-hour edition will feature Cincinnati Head coach Luke Fickell, Commissioner Sankey, the cast of SEC Nation, and more. Nearing kickoff, SEC Nation will take viewers to the grass at the main set at 6 p.m. Host Laura Rutledge, former Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers, Tebow, Harper, and Finebaum will set the table with pregame analysis amongst the atmosphere of the biggest college football game on the calendar. After the last whistle blows, SEC Football Final with Rutledge, Harper, Tebow, Rodgers, Smith, and Watson will break down the events of the game.
Out in the compound, Game Creek Video Webby, Maverick, and Peacock One are onsite to handle these shows, which are using a total of 11 cameras. In addition, technology from TVU Networks provides connectivity between locations in Indianapolis.
Personalized Listening Experience: Universities Get Involved With Hometown Radio
SEC Network shifts gears from studio programming to game coverage with a special presentation for both Crimson Tide and Bulldogs fans. Hometown Radio — a MegaCast offering that superimposes the radio feeds of Alabama Crimson Tide Sports Network Powered by LEARFIELD and Georgia Bulldog Sports Network on top of the main broadcast feed — can be experienced in different ways throughout the night.
On the linear channel, the broadcast will be split into halves: Alabama’s Eli Gold, John Parker Wilson, and Rashad Johnson in the first and Georgia’s Scott Howard, Eric Zeier, and DJ Shockley in the second. Full feeds will be available exclusively on the ESPN App. Operationally, the production crew will tie these elements together before shipping it off as the final product.
“We’ll be getting the discrete audio feeds here at the stadium and compile that with video,” says Brian Hegner, supervising director, ESPN. “When it arrives in Bristol, they’ll have a clean feed with nat sound and effects. They’ll be using Grass Valley’s Ignite platform for a dual feed with Alabama graphics and cameras and Georgia graphics and cameras, including Skycam and Coach Cams.”
Year-to-Year Changes: How Content and Logistics Adapt to New Challenges
Since the SEC Network has become a familiar entity at this annual game, the team is doing whatever it can to keep things fresh and match current circumstances. From a creative perspective, each team establishes a lot of the themes discussed on-air, but making major or subtle changes to the network’s studio programming is preventing repeat occurrences of the same show.
“Storylines dictate our shows,” McCollum adds, “but we’re constantly and consciously changing talent and shows, too. We have a new producer of SEC Nation, Michelle Rosenhouse, who has brought a new energy to the show, and we took Marty & McGee on the road for the first time. Every year is different, but it has been terrific, and we have a really great group of people that provide a lot of unpredictability for these shows.”
Another massive yet obvious shift is the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Credentialed personnel will be at 65 individuals (40 from the technical side, 25 from production), a number that has been reduced drastically due to the current Omicron surge, and the way the game is covered will be affected as well. For example, Saturday’s Media Day leveraged the workflows of Zoom to have players attend press conferences virtually from their hotel room while reporters asked questions from the Convention Center. Socially distancing, testing, and proper face coverings will be necessary within the compound as well.
“From day one [of the pandemic], the Walt Disney Co. and ESPN have continued to shepherd and protect us through this to have minimal impact on our shows,” says McCollum. “The last few weeks have changed things a bit, and we’ve had to spend a little more time on it than we normally had to during much of the fall. But the precautions remain the same, and we’ll be super-safe.”
Technology has evolved quite a bit since the last time Alabama and Georgia faced off in the 2018 CFP National Championship in Atlanta. Over the past four years, remote productions and cloud-based solutions have become more prevalent, and equipment has continued to advance. This hardware and software are enabling coverage to progress and improve with new ideas on display during the pregame show, including camera feeds of each team getting off the buses and a fan watch party at Stegeman Coliseum in Georgia.
“The technology has been born out of how we’re doing shows differently,” says Hegner. “Whether it’s audio, a router interface, or the ability of our truck calling up any source within the compound, it has gotten a lot better.”
Busy New Year’s Eve: Crew Splits Operations Between Miami and Dallas
Prior to tonight’s championship tilt, the SEC Network crew ditched the party hats and champagne flutes on New Year’s Eve to showcase Alabama’s and Georgia’s participation in the College Football Playoff Semifinal in the Orange Bowl and Cotton Bowl, respectively. This effort required resources to be divided between Hard Rock Stadium in Miami and AT&T Stadium in Dallas. Because of both teams’ dominance, there was a high-percentage chance of their making the final. Given this scenario, Hegner and his operations team were tasked with plotting out the split-squad setup for the semifinals and solidifying logistics for the show in Indianapolis.
“We’ve done this before in 2018 with Georgia in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA, and Alabama in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans,” Hegner says. “This year in Dallas, SEC Nation had two channels of graphics through our GREMI model, two onsite EVS operators, and 20 total cameras with six coming from both the field and the set. In Miami, we had a much smaller production because we were in a little space on the concourse for the pregame with five cameras and one EVS.”
Charlotte also played a role in coverage of the semifinals, with each onsite truck tapping its reliable communications and technology to seamlessly integrate content generated from the North Carolina-based studio.
Back at the Natty: SEC Network Completes Coverage of Another National Title Game
There’s regular college football, and then there’s college football played in the SEC. An SEC program has been present in seven of the last eight championship games since the inception of the College Football Playoff in 2015. The conference has such a stranglehold on this game that it has been a part of every one since 2016. For the SEC Network team and those who watch it religiously, this time of year has become a gift that keeps on giving.
“It’s pretty unbelievable that I get to be so involved in this event,” says Hegner. “I start planning this in February, and our conference’s track record allows me to be a little bit bigger piece of the conversation. It’s always a pleasure [working on this game], and everyone has a common goal of putting on a great show.”
Coverage of the 2022 College Football National Championship on the SEC Network begins with SEC Nation at 6 p.m. ET. The network will also rerun the winning team’s postgame press conference at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 11.