Live From Big East Men’s Tournament: Fox Sports Rolls Out Live Drone, Megalodon, Courtside Robos at MSG

Unusual offsite setup was no obstacle for the production team

Each year, when the Big East Men’s Tournament takes over Madison Square Garden, Fox Sports’ production team plays a game of one-upmanship with itself in an effort to improve on the previous year’s coverage. This year, it’s safe to say, it has done just that: deploying a drone for the first time ever on a college-basketball broadcast.

The two drones being used by Fox Sports for the Big East Championship at MSG

And the drone isn’t the only evidence of Fox Sports’ push to innovate. The 1080p HDR production features a shallow–depth-of-field handheld roaming the sidelines and an extended super-slo-mo robo at each free-throw line.

“Between the [Big East] Conference and our production team, they are always looking to push the envelope and add something new,” says Sarita Meinking, executive director, field operations, Fox Sports. “With the drone, the robos on the floor, and shallow depth of field, we think we’re taking it to the next level this year — as we do every year. Our production team always sees something [in another sports broadcast] and says, ‘Can we do that on [Big East Tournament]?’ It’s our job to make it happen.”

Look, Up in the Sky!: Drone Makes College Hardcourt Debut

Fox Sports flew a drone for pre-tournament features shot in an empty arena last year, but this event marks the broadcaster’s first drone deployment during live game broadcasts. It’s also only the second time a drone has been flown inside MSG during a live sports broadcast (the other being the UFC 281 pay-per-view in November).

The Beverly Hills Aerials team onsite operating the drones at MSG

Complying with conference requests, Fox does not fly the drone over the court during active play, deploying it primarily during stoppages in play and coming in and out of commercial.

“The drone has been a nice addition because it just makes the event feel bigger,” says Fox Sports Director Rich Russo. “Even though it’s not getting on the court, it’s giving us some nice reset shots and nice tracking shots coming back from commercial. It allows you to see the big picture and capture the big environment here at the Garden. Obviously, the Garden is a very special place; [having] the drone lets us capture that atmosphere.”

During the Big East Men’s Tournament at MSG, the drone does not fly over the court during play but can still grab dramatic shots of the action.

For the tournament, Fox enlisted its longtime drone provider, Beverly Hills Aerials (BVA), which has supplied drones for Fox on NASCAR, on USFL, and at the MLB Field of Dreams Game. Prior to the first day of the tournament, BVA’s team was onsite early Wednesday morning testing various drones and flightpaths.

BVA selected for a pair of lightweight drones for MSG: one with a 20-minute battery similar to what Fox uses on USFL and one with a three-minute battery to provide lower, faster, more dynamic shots.

Drone shots are being integrated throughout Fox’s broadcasts of the Big East Tournament.

To operate the drone, BVA has a pilot wearing a head-mounted display; a producer, who oversees the operation and is in direct contact with the director at the front bench; and a spotter, who handles battery swaps and other logistics — all located in one of the tunnels just off the court. As with any other aircraft, the pilot and his team must predetermine flightpaths for the drones to ensure the safety of the thousands of fans in the stands.

“The great thing here is that the relationships are already [established] between our team and Fox’s [team] since we’ve worked with them so much in the past,” says Chase Ellison, aerial director, photography, Beverly Hills Aerials. “There’s a lot of built-in trust in both directions. They know we’re going to handle our side of things, and we know they’re going to handle theirs. That makes the process easy. And working with MSG has been great and really smooth as well.”

CLICK HERE for more of SVG’s coverage of the drone at MSG. 

Beyond the Drone: Courtside Robos, Megalodon, Onsite Studio Show

With new premium courtside seating this year, Fox opted not to bring back the RailCam system it has used for the past two tournaments. Instead, it has deployed an extended super-slo-mo robotic camera at each free-throw line to capture similar looks from the floor.

An extended super-slo-mo robotic camera system is positioned at each free-throw line.

A Megalodon shallow–depth-of-field camera is also included in Fox’s 20+ camera complement, capturing cinematic shots of players, benches, mascots, and more during pauses in the action, as well as shots of the student section and pep bands. In addition, an ATR (above the rim) robo is positioned on each basket, and a bevy of POV cameras capture behind-the-scenes action in the tunnels and locker rooms.

The studio show is once again onsite at MSG for the duration of the tournament, with host Rob Stone and analysts Casey Jacobsen and Donny Marshall providing bridge and postgame coverage, plus pregame shows before Friday’s semifinals and Saturday’s championship on Fox.

Operators guide the courtside robotic cameras at MSG.

Five-Alarm Set Day: With Knicks at Home, Trucks Head to the Firehouse 

Game Creek Video Encore (A, B, and C units) is once again serving as home base for Fox’s Big East Tournament productions. With the Knicks playing at home on Tuesday night, Fox and Game Creek were forced to move its set day offsite. An ideal, if untraditional, location turned out to be the Moonachie Fire Department in New Jersey, courtesy Video Operator 1 Chris Halloran, who serves as a volunteer firefighter there.

Game Creek Video Encore mobile unit is on hand at the MSG compound for Fox.

“It’s not uncommon for us to have an offsite set day, but that added an interesting twist to setup,” says Meinking. “It’s tricky because you never want to have an offsite set day, but it ended up being the perfect space and the [department] treated us extremely well.”

Trucks pulled in to MSG around 2 a.m. Wednesday, and the compound was up and running shortly thereafter. The crew of nearly 200 was able to set up the production in time for the 3 p.m. tipoff of the first of the three Day 1 games.

Fox Sports’ production team inside Game Creek Video Encore

“It’s never easy to do [an overnight setup] like that,” says Doug Fuchs, manager, field operations, Fox Sports, “but we were able to get everything set pretty quickly. And that helps set the tone for not only the whole day but the whole week.”

In addition to Meinking and Fuchs, other key members of the Fox Sports team are Lead Production Manager Casey McKee; Ops Manager Bernie Wells; and Tech Managers Carlos Gonzalez, Ron McGugins, and Steve Spurlock.


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