Fox Sports Continues 1080p HDR Push With RailCam, Megalodon at 2022 Big East Tournament
Digital-centric camera rounds out the 30-camera broadcasts
Packed with upsets, close calls, and high-intensity action, the Big East Tournament is nearing its latter rounds at Madison Square Garden. For the conference’s 40th consecutive competition at the World’s Most Famous Arena, Fox Sports is highlighting each game with 1080p HDR workflows, a high-speed RailCam, a courtside Megalodon, and a hefty onsite presence.
“Our crew is working more efficiently with [1080p HDR] every year that we do it,” says Sarita Meinking, executive director, field operations, Fox Sports. “The engineers that we have here are crucial to the production process.”
Big Tech in the Big Apple: RailCam, Megalodon, 1080p HDR Workflows
Since this is the third tournament produced at 1080p HDR, the broadcaster is accustomed to this flavor of production. Housed in Game Creek Video Encore, the same mobile unit that was used for the Daytona 500, the crew is augmenting the 10-game showcase with a handful of specialty cameras.
Most notable making its return is RailCam. Positioned on a 97-ft. track running the length of the floor, the robotic camera can cover 4 meters of the court per second. The production deploying two different cameras for this movable rig that gives fans a floor-level view: a Sony HDC-P31 with a tight lens and a Sony HDC-P50 with a wider lens. It all comes down to the preference of the person at the front bench.
“Each director has their own unique look,” says Doug Fuchs, manager, field operations, Fox Sports. “Rich Russo likes more of a close-up look for the first half of games, and Brian Lilley likes more of a wide look for the second half of games.”
This year’s iteration of the RailCam is operated by two people: Matt Lassandro controls pan/tilt/zoom, and Frank Scacciaferro drives the rig up and down the track. This camera system has been covered a number of Big East Tournaments, but the broadcaster is always aiming to improve the way the device is handled.
“Our goal is to have zero stutters when you see it stop and go [down the track],” says Meinking. “We change something every year to make these shots look as flawless as we can.”
Another camera returning to the Garden is the highly popular Megalodon. Camera operator Jarrod Ligrani is behind the handheld, capturing cinematic shots of the players, benches, mascots, and more during pauses in the action. With fans once again in the stands, he also provides shots of the student section and pep bands.
One new addition to the mix is a camera dedicated to the digital-only live stream on the broadcaster’s college-basketball Twitter feed. Fans are able to vote on what they’d like to see on any given game, and the selection receiving the most votes makes up this alternate-viewing option. For example, fans chose a camera concentrated on the Providence front court during the Friars’ 65-61 victory over the Butler Bulldogs in Thursday’s quarterfinals matchup. The main broadcast is also able to grab this feed and integrate it into the linear telecast.
The entire complement adds up to 30 cameras. Sony HDC-4300’s and Sony HDC-5500’s anchor the game’s production, joined by four super-slo-mo cameras and six DreamChip POVs (one on each stanchion, two behind the glass, two in the hallways leading to the court). NEP Fletcher is supplying all robotic cameras.
Nationwide Productions: Remote Resources Support Tourneys in New York and Las Vegas
College-basketball postseason is a busy time for Fox Sports. Besides back-to-back games in New York, the broadcaster is also responsible for production of three games in the Pac-12 Tournament: last night’s quarterfinals tie between University of Washington and USC at 11:30 p.m. ET on FS1, tonight’s semifinals finale featuring UCLA and USC at 11:30 p.m. on FS1, and the championship game on tomorrow at 9 p.m. on Fox. The entire competition, which is also being covered in 1080p HDR, is being played at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The staff in New York is using incoming and outgoing Haivision paths to link the onsite compound with the remote team in the broadcaster’s Los Angeles facility, and, for the first time the L.A.-based team is deploying a full Home Run Production (the broadcaster’s term for remote production) for the games in Las Vegas.
“We’re working with Pac-12 Networks and the conference on this new experience for us,” says Meinking. “We have pregame, postgame, and halftime coverage along with a slew of onsite cameras as well.”
Fox Sports is balancing production of the two tournaments. The broadcaster was focused on games for the Big East Women’s Basketball Tournament from Saturday, March 5 to Monday, March 7 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT. This 10-game tournament was another Home Run Production and derived from Fox Sports’ facility in Charlotte, NC.
“Planning for three tournaments was a lot of work, but we had multiple calls to coordinate all of our crews,” says Meinking. “It’s a challenge, but we have the right people where they need to be.”
Lively Onsite Presence: Studio Shows, 150-Person Team Travel to Manhattan
Although the Pac-12 Tournament is being produced out of Los Angeles, Fox Sports has a large contingent of production professionals in New York City. The 150-person team is not only responsible for each game, but the studio team connects the contests with pre/postgame coverage and keeps fans informed of the overall college-basketball landscape with halftime analysis.
Host Rob Stone and a duo of analysts — former UCLA and St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin and former UConn standout Donny Marshall — are featured on these on-court shows. And analyst Mike DeCourcy weighs in on the latest NCAA Tournament projections after each result. Mark Titus and Tate Frazier are onsite for the Fox Sports app and FOXSports.com, providing extensive postgame coverage after the telecast’s final live show of each night.
Veteran play-by-play announcer Tim Brando called Wednesday’s first-round games with Emmy Award-winner Bill Raftery and Thursday afternoon’s quarterfinals with former All-American and NBA veteran Jim Jackson. Lead play-by-play announcer Gus Johnson worked with Raftery for Thursday night’s quarterfinals and will be next to Jackson for Friday’s semifinals and Saturday’s championship. On the floor, Kristina Pink is serving as sideline reporter.
This logistical plan was put in place through meticulous planning on the part of Fox Sports and a stroke of luck from the sports calendar. With the NBA’s New York Knicks away from home since Wednesday, March 2, the NHL’s New York Rangers on the road since Sunday, March 6, and a lull in concerts and other forms of entertainment, the crew was given a window to set up without distractions. In addition, Fox Sports has become extremely familiar with the individuals at MSG.
“The benefit of being here every year is having a really good relationship with their crew,” adds Meinking. “There’s always something going on at Madison Square Garden, but we were able to have a rare, yet full set day.”
Back to Full Strength: Fox Sports Puts on a Show With Packed Crowds
Last year’s tournament had its fair share of technological innovation, but the one glaring omission was the large number of empty seats. The 2021 tournament limited the audience to players’ families, and the 2020 tournament was unfortunately the first major sports event cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. Fuchs was a member of the crew on that fateful day nearly two years ago, and, nearing the conclusion of this tournament — alongside Technical Producers Ron McGugins and Carlos Gonzalez and Operations Managers Tami Eiserer, Melissa Zimmer, and Rob Brotzman — has seen some drastic improvements.
“We were able to get some different camera angles without fans, but it’s great to have them back,” he says. “Like we were talking about, 12:00 game and MSG’s packed with people and the excitement. The electricity and excitement of this building is always amazing.”
Despite the cancellation in 2020 and the peculiar working environment in 2021, the broadcaster has learned a lot of valuable lessons. Not only has it gained a renewed appreciation for the energy that in-venue fans give to a broadcast, but it is integrating new methods and techniques into the work.
“We’ve brought this tournament back in a big way,” says Meinking. “Over the last two years, we’ve learned how to do things that we’ve never done before. Now we can bring everything full circle.”
The 2022 Big East Tournament continues with tonight’s semifinals doubleheader featuring Creighton University vs. Providence College at 6:30 p.m. ET and Villanova University vs. UConn at 9 p.m. on FS1. The championship game will be played on Saturday, March 12 at 6:30 p.m. on Fox.