Live From Daytona 500: Fox Sports’ Remote Studio Ops Boosts Prerace Energy With New PA System
The Old Victory Lane set will connect to Charlotte via Home Run Production
Last year, Fox Sports’ Remote Studio Operations shifted to a location on Old Victory Lane near the finish line at Daytona International Speedway. The transition, coupled with the return of full-capacity crowds, turned into a decision that defined a new chapter in the broadcaster’s studio production for the Daytona 500. Now, to further engage with the fans, the broadcaster has installed in a new PA system to boost the excitement.
“When fans returned to 100% capacity last year, it was a really big deal,” says Rob Mikulicka, director, remote studio operations, Fox Sports. “We’ll give the crowd a little bit more awareness that we’re here, and we’re people to come to the set.”
Bringing the Noise: PA System To Attract Fans to the Chevrolet Building
The beauty of the Daytona 500 is that, no matter the time of day or night, the racetrack will be abuzz with energy. During these two weeks in February, campers set up in the infield to enjoy the sun and the constant hum of revved-up engines. Over the weekend, the crowds continue to arrive until Daytona International Speedway becomes the epicenter of the NASCAR universe. Understanding the fans’ passion for the sport and their willingness to turn out in droves, Mikulicka and his crew are upping the effort to draw attention to the set.
Heavily involved in the production and back-of-house operations of Big Noon Kickoff, the broadcaster’s premiere college-football pregame show, the crew saw a path toward generating more energy to the Daytona 500 studio setup. Granted that it doesn’t have as much real estate as on a college campus, creating the vibe of a bustling town square is the main goal.
“It’ll be a small PA system with our partners at CP Communications,” says Mikulicka. “We’re not going to go as large as Big Noon Kickoff audio-wise, but we want to bring more of that feel to this onsite show.”
Increased Planning Time: Last Year’s Experience Proves Valuable to Current Setup
Last year, the team arrived at the Daytona 500 with a lot more questions than answers. A new location within a defunct area of the track posed a hefty number of unknowns. This year, through trial and error as well as thorough observation, the team is more prepared approaching this weekend’s race.
“We took tons of notes and a lot of pictures,” adds Mikulicka. “I also set up a Google Drive document that’s essentially a scratch pad that allows everyone to put their thoughts down whenever they think of something. We wanted to get ahead, and we’re now at least half a day ahead of where we were [this time] last year.”
Along with proper notetaking and documentation, the crew was able to learn through growing pains and being able to adapt on the fly. At a heavily congested event like the Daytona 500, only so much room and free space is available, so logistics require a creative idea. Whether that means fitting in a smaller space or sidestepping a sudden obstacle, the studio set and its necessary technology need to be ready to go before the prerace show goes live on-air.
“I remember one of the first times we did an [onsite] studio. I was asked what we do when team haulers arrive, and we found out [they were coming in] when we had to wait an hour for them to get into place,” says Mikulicka. “NASCAR is a unique sport, and there are several entities that all have to partner together to do this [show].”
Charlotte Connection: Home Run Production Links Daytona to North Carolina
Coming off the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum in Los Angeles, the broadcaster’s remote studio operations contemplated implementing a Home Run Production (HRP) for this show as well. After careful consideration, the team decided against it given its experience at a previous Daytona 500 and the importance a larger onsite crew for this major race. Although the studio set is linked to Game Creek Video Cleatus in the broadcast compound, the show is deploying the HRP model to connect to Fox Sports’ NASCAR mothership in Charlotte, NC. Teleprompter and other roles are controlled from Charlotte, but, more important, the ability to communicate with the content team driving studio shows in Charlotte is also important.
On the equipment side, the prerace show will rely on three hard cameras and an on-stage jib camera with a 9-ft.-long extended arm. On the opposite side of the set, the exterior LEDs on the Chevrolet building is being populated with Fox Sports-centric content to expand their studio footprint. Through the help of an extended jib carrying a camera that will be transferred to another jib between Turns 3 and 4, the videoboards will promptly display the new NASCAR on Fox logo acknowledging the sport’s 75th-anniversary season. The branding will continue throughout the rest of the season beyond the Daytona 500.
Besides Chevrolet, the studio crew has worked with other partners to bring the studio to life. The collapsible nature of the structure was completed by Filmwerks onsite crew: Stage Technician Caleb Reinert, Structures Technician Wesley Zeintek, Todd Wilkie, and Joseph Mayer. Set design was provided by Fox Sports Art Designer Johnny Chou and JCM Set Designs Founder/Principal Designer Jesse Medeiros, and lighting configuration and requests were sorted out by Airtime Lighting Lighting Director Jeff Gregson and Lighting Assists Adam Feig and Keith Averett.
Hat Tip to the Crew: Remote Studio Ops Overcome Action-Packed Three Months
It’s an understatement to say that the past three months have been one of Fox Sports’ craziest production runs in recent memory. The job would be a lot harder to accomplish without a reliable crew: VP, Remote Studio Operations, Rod Conti; Director, Remote Engineering, Matt Battaglia; Senior Manager, Remote Studio Operations, Anil Letherwala; Production Manager Brandon Goldberg; Tech Producers Kory Scudder, Michael Vaughan, and Daniel James; Director, Crewing, John Stapleton; Operations Manager Tara Schumall; HRP Tech Producer TJ Scanlon; audio mixer Roberto Nieves; audio PA Sean Sweeney; A2s Anthony Lomastro and Linal Getchell; field V2 Brent Mortara; camera operators Kevin Rogers and Jasper Barone; jib operators Zach Sanabria, Rick Johnson, and James Johnson; utility Brian Butcher; and Feig and Keith Averett.
“We’d been talking about this [run of shows] for about a year and a half,” says Mikulicka. “We did a really great job during these productions, and Sunday will be the cherry on top of it all.”