March Madness 2022: Fans in the Stands, Onsite Production Are Welcome Sight to CBS, Turner at NCAA Men’s Tourney
2022 coverage includes more on-court coaches interviews, deeper access to the action
It’s beginning to look a lot like 2019.
As COVID restrictions have been rolling back nation-wide, the biggest events on the sports calendar are looking a lot more like they did prior to the pandemic for broadcasters. Last weekend’s THE PLAYERS Championship, for example, may have been dogged by weather, but it was a full-fledged onsite production by NBC Sports and the PGA TOUR, with more than 350 crew members on the course and in the compound.
The feeling is familiar for CBS Sports and Turner Sports. The partners are ready to tackle one of the year’s biggest sports productions: the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The duo is back together to execute their production, operation, and distribution partnership to deliver live coverage of all 67 games from the 2022 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship across four national television networks — TBS, CBS, TNT, and truTV — and streaming on March Madness Live.
“We’re back to our pre-COVID setup,” says Harold Bryant, executive producer/EVP, CBS Sports. “The fans are back in the arenas with their energy. All of our crews are back at the remotes. We’re back to producing and covering great games, and it feels good to get back to what we know and put on a great show for the viewers. We adapted well last year. What we pulled off was, I think, pretty amazing, but now we’re back to what we do best.”
Following Tuesday and Wednesday’s First Four games in Dayton, OH, CBS and Turner have crews spread across eight regional sites: Indianapolis; Buffalo; Portland, OR; Fort Worth; Pittsburgh; Greenville, SC; San Diego; and Milwaukee. That means trucks, announcers, crews, the works — all back to working at the venue. No remote-production workflows that became essential for the sports-production community over the past two years.
“[I’m] really excited about, what I would refer to as the ‘normalization of the tournament,’ says Craig Barry, EVP/chief content officer, Turner Sports. “We’re of a fan-first mentality, and it’s hard to be fan-first when there’s no fans in the building. Now we’ll get the energy back in the building, which translates to energy in the trucks and energy in the studio. We’re looking forward to reuniting our partnership [with CBS Sports] in a more traditional way and getting back to putting on the best show possible for this year’s tournament.”
Fewer restrictions also mean a return to more access. That’s a fact that both CBS and Turner want to leverage in a big way within their game coverage this year. Most notably, on-court interviews with coaches is an addition to the game plan. Those interviews will be done by the sideline reporter and occur coming back from commercial break at each of the 12:00 and 8:00 TV timeouts.
“Not only are we back to normal,” says Bryant. “We’re trying new things.”
Barry notes that coaches will also be made more available to participate in interviews with the studio crews in either New York or Atlanta during blocks of time between games.
“As COVID dissipates,” he says, “I think one of the things that [our coverage] has been missing most is this ability to have access. [We] live to get down and bring the fan as close to the court, to the game, to the players, to the coaches as possible. We really want to emphasize that.”
Bryant estimates that each first- and second-round game will average about 15 cameras. NEP Broadcasting’s Fletcher division is providing “Above the Rim” robo cameras to eight of the regional sites: Dayton, Milwaukee, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, San Diego, Indianapolis, Fort Worth, and Portland.
Graphics-wise, every site will have the ability to use enhanced on-court graphics, like the virtual shot clock that is inserted onto the court inside the free-throw circle.
In terms of game distribution, this is TBS’s year to carry the big games on Final Four weekend in New Orleans. TBS will televise 21 games: the National Championship, Final Four Semifinals, Elite 8, Sweet 16, and first- and second-round games. CBS, meanwhile, will broadcast 21 games: Elite 8, Sweet 16, and first and second rounds. truTV will carry a total of 13 games: the First Four and first and second rounds. TNT will air 12 first- and second-round matchups.
For the first time since 2019, it’s a full slate of hoops complete with fans, bands, buzzer beaters, and everything that makes March Madness the event that U.S. sports fans love. For the crews delivering it to homes across the country, it’s a thrilling return to normalcy.
“[During COVID], there was a lot of innovation around how we did games. We did full REMIs, we did half crews; we did announcers at the site, announcers in the studio. You always want to learn from the experiences that you have, and what I will say is that nothing’s as comprehensive as having everybody onsite. I’m looking forward to creating a lot of access, and the editorial narrative is going to be on point as well, because everybody’s back in place.
“So, yeah, we’re really excited to get back at it.”