Fox Sports To Fly Live Drone Inside MSG for Big East Men’s Tournament

It will be the first use of an in-arena drone for live coverage of college basketball

Fox Sports will take its production efforts sky high at the Big East Men’s Basketball Tournament this year, deploying a live drone inside Madison Square Garden. According to Fox, the deployment will mark the first time an in-arena live drone has ever been used in a college-basketball broadcast.

“We consider New York City and the Garden to be a central character in the Big East Tournament,” says Geordie Wimmer, VP, production, Fox Sports, “so we believe a live drone is going to give the viewer a feeling of the emotion and the energy in the building that they’ve never had before. Our producers and directors for the Big East Tournament, who do a number of big-time events including the Super Bowl, are so excited to showcase these different angles and movements that the drone can provide over all four days and all 10 games.”

At last year’s Big East Tournament, Fox Sports deployed a drone for pre-tournament features shot in an empty arena. In addition to providing dramatic shots for features and in/out-bumpers throughout the broadcasts, this experience allowed Fox’s production team to see what kind of shots could be captured inside MSG.

According to Wimmer, Fox Sports President, Production and Operations/Executive Producer Brad Zager helped expand the concept after he saw live drone coverage of the UFC 281 pay-per-view broadcast from MSG in November. Fox Sports contacted MSG to sort out the necessary permits and ensure that all safety and liability concerns were covered.

“We spoke with MSG and the Big East,” says Wimmer. “Both were 100% on board with pursuing the ability to use a live drone during coverage this year. We did a mass conference call with MSG and the Big East and walked through every single item on everybody’s checklist to make sure we were all on the same page and were putting safety first.”

Fox Sports has successfully deployed live drones on several of its sports properties, including NASCAR, USFL, and at the MLB Field of Dreams Game. As with the previous events, Beverly Hills Aerials provided the drone and oversaw the operation at MSG for the Big East Tournament.

Fox intends to use the drone primarily during play stoppages and has agreed with the Big East that it will avoid flying over the court during play. Instead, Fox Sports’ primary directors Rich Russo and J. Bryan Lilley will look to include dramatic shots showcasing the venue and the crowd, including potentially flying the drone out of a suite all the way onto the floor in a single shot.

“We won’t be flying it over gameplay or anywhere near the players during live action,” says Wimmer, “but we still think it’s going to provide some amazing shots. Going from zero to 100 ft. live among 20,000 fans in just a few seconds is going to be really exciting, especially at a place like MSG.”

He expects the drone’s role to be quite different from that of a Skycam, which Fox used on its Pac-12 Tournament coverage a few years ago. He notes that Skycam tends to be forced into a left-to-right dynamic for basketball coverage, whereas the drone can embrace both X and Y axes to provide full 360-degree coverage of the arena.

“Sometimes with the Skycam on basketball, you get limited in using it because you’re typically stuck going from point-A-left to point-B-right,” he says. “With this drone, we’re intending on using it as a full 360-degree [camera] all around the court and in the stands. Our goal is to evolve slowly and methodically with how we use [the drone], so I think that where we start on Wednesday with Game 1 and end on Saturday with the Championship Game could be dramatically different.”

Stay tuned for SVG’s full onsite coverage of the Big East Tournament later this week.

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