Monmouth University Takes New Centralized Control Room Into Inaugural Season in Colonial Athletic Association
Parton Broadcasting Center is ready for Hawks’ football, basketball, soccer, baseball, softball
Down the Shore everything is more than alright at Monmouth University. A jump up to the Colonial Athletic Association and a new centralized live-broadcast–control room have brought a fresh glow to the West Long Branch, NJ, campus this summer.
With the fall sports season already under way, the Hawks are primed to produce their most robust lineup of live events yet, all from a beautiful new home that has been more than a decade in the making.
“This is huge,” says Greg Viscomi, senior associate athletics director, external affairs, Monmouth University. “Getting this done is something that we’ve taken a lot of pride in. I think Monmouth is special in that everybody that’s involved in this program wants to make it better. This was another opportunity to make it better.”
Located in the OceanFirst Bank Center (home to men’s and women’s basketball and indoor track and field), the Parton Broadcasting Center is built around new and repurposed gear from previous live-production setups the department has used over the years.
A Ross Carbonite TouchDrive production switcher sits at the center, accompanied by a Ross Xpression graphics engine, two replay devices (an Envivo Replay and an Abekas Mira), a Behringer X32 audio console, ClearComm comms, and a collection of monitors from Samsung, Planar, and Asus.
The department invested in a new Matrix router that is part-fiber, part-SDI. The combination is due to the fact that some athletics venues on campus still run through various qualities of connectivity and some of the repurposed gear still runs on SDI.
The Monmouth team worked with an independent integrator, former ESPN employee Al Fong, to guide the decisions in making the most of the dedicated room, including ensuring proper insulation.
“The biggest thing was to make sure we had enough space,” says Andrew Kurtz, assistant athletic director, live broadcasting, Monmouth University. He notes that the team built it as big as possible “so that we can grow into it. We want to use this room as a place, not only to do broadcast but to teach out of it as well. We built it big enough that we can have two, maybe even three people, at each station so that we can have students learn the new equipment in this production room.”
This academic year, the Parton Broadcast Center will handle live broadcasts of events from the OceanFirst Bank Center, Kessler Stadium (home to football, lacrosse, and outdoor track), and Hesse Field on The Great Lawn (men’s and women’s soccer). Plans are to directly connect the department’s venues for baseball, softball, and field hockey to the control room. Currently, the team provides live productions from those nearby facilities by running cabling from Kessler Stadium to them.
Although the control room may be new, the Monmouth staffers are seasoned vets when it comes to live production. In fact, the Hawks’ live video productions have been among the more aggressive and innovative at FCS-level schools over the past decade.
For many years, the athletic department has used workflows ranging from flypacks to a 22-ft. horse trailer hauled from venue to venue. The department first considered building its own control room in 2018 and 2019, when many Atlantic Coast Conference schools were erecting spaces to support live production for the soon-to-launch ACC Network. Essentially starting from scratch, however, proved too pricey for the department.
The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 threw a significant wrench into the department’s established live-production workflows when college sports returned: the horse trailer was no longer viable. University health officials couldn’t allow eight to 10 people to be crammed into the tiny trailer to work an event.
Kurtz, Viscomi, and Associate Athletic Director, Communications and Digital Media, Gary Kowal improvised, taking all the gear out of the trailer and setting it up on folding tables in a room in OceanFirst Bank Center that had been dedicated to media interviews (naturally, no in-person interviews were being done immediately following the pandemic lockdown).
They essentially built a makeshift control room to get them through the return to play, and, before long, IT was helping connect the space to other venues across campus.
Interestingly, the cobbled-together media center reopened the possibility of a more permanent production home. The team’s work garnered the support of university President Patrick Leahy, athletic director Jeff Stapleton, and former Athletic Director Marilyn McNeil and, through the help of donors Charlie and Trudy Parton, the Parton Broadcasting Center became a reality.
“I never would’ve thought this was going to happen,” says Kurtz. “When I got to Monmouth, I had never touched a camera before. They taught me everything I know, and I’m so grateful for it. It has been a crazy experience and a hell of ride so far. We just keep growing, and I can’t see us slowing down.”
The Parton Broadcasting Center went online late last year, broadcasting the MAAC Women’s Soccer Championship Game before squeezing in a pair of end-of-season football games. The space served all of men’s and women’s basketball last season, as well as a spring schedule of men’s and women’s lacrosse, baseball, and softball. Monmouth’s football home opener on Sept. 10 will launch the control room into football production.
With years of live production for ESPN3 and ESPN+ in the team’s nine-season stint in the Metro Atlantic Conference, Monmouth’s move to the CAA has also meant a major shift in broadcast distribution.
FloSports, the CAA’s live-rights holder (2022-23 is the final year of a four-year rights agreement) will be the new destination for Monmouth sports. This fall, the Hawks will send 26 live productions to FloSports across football, men’s and women’s soccer, and field hockey prior to a very busy winter anchored by men’s and women’s basketball. Selected road events will be available to fans as well but are produced by the host institution.
At the end of the day, this control room is about investing in one’s team. After all the years that Kurtz and his student crew made lots happen with only a little, the control room is a satisfying investment for those who work on the school’s live broadcasts week in and week out.
Says Viscomi, “This allows Drew and his staff to not worry about what they are going to do if it’s raining, if it’s 16 degrees and the heat doesn’t work in the truck, or how we are going to stick students out in a truck behind the arena when there’s snow on the ground? That’s all of the silly stuff that I’d rather have Drew not worry about and instead figure out how are we going to get that 11th camera on football.”
The dual replay positions exemplify a plan aimed at improving the overall broadcast-viewing experience. According to Viscomi, that was a goal from the outset, and he notes the desire to have a person dedicated to building replay packages, a task that’s difficult to expect of a single replay operator, who needs to be supporting the director on a play-to-play basis.
“I always want somebody to flip on one of our broadcasts and not know that it’s being done in a room on campus by students,” he says. “I wanted them to think that we were rolling up with a truck and had a professional crew doing everything. I think we hit that mark a lot more than we miss on it.”
The next Monmouth University Athletics-produced event streamed live will be a men’s soccer game vs. UNC Wilmington on Saturday (1 p.m. ET, FloSports). Monmouth Football opens its season on the road on Thursday night when the Hawks visit New Hampshire (7 p.m. ET, FloSports). Football’s home opener is Saturday, Sept. 10 vs. Fordham (1 p.m. ET, FloSports) and will be produced by the Monmouth Athletics staff and students.