Live From Men’s Final Four: ACC Network Dances the Texas Two-Step With Studio Programming in Houston, Dallas

Network is covering Miami Men’s Basketball, Virginia Tech Women’s Basketball

Ties to the game of basketball run deep in the Atlantic Coast Conference. A conference that habitually have programs vying for places in both the Men’s and Women’s Final Four, the Miami Hurricanes and the Virginia Tech Hokies are this year’s selections, respectively. Aiming to amplify the coverage of each school, the ACC Network made the trip down to Texas for studio programming in both Houston and Dallas.

“We’re utilizing a model that was originally designed for our summer ACCN Road Trip Series,” says Kristy Higgins, supervising director, ACC Network, ESPN. “This is the first time we have this workflow working simultaneously in two different locations.”

Riggs, Latta, Brown, and McGraw at the set in Dallas. (All photos: Aaron Katzman)

A New Flavor of REMI: Bristol Control Room Serves as Basis of Remote Productions

Situated in the heart of Big 12 country, the ACC Network is going strong heading into this weekend’s Men’s and Women’s Final Four. Fans of the conference can tune into a total of 20 hours of programming from both locations, including onsite versions of Nothing But Net with host Kelsey Riggs and analysts Lexie Brown, Ivory Latta, Muffet McGraw, and Kelly Gramlich for the Women’s Final Four and Riggs and analysts Joel Berry II, Carlos Boozer, and Luke Hancock for the Men’s Final Four. Beginning on Thursday, March 30, Nothing But Net alternated between shows at American Airlines Center in Dallas and NRG Stadium in Houston. With LSU’s victory eliminating Virginia Tech, the show will not return to Dallas for the National Championship on Sunday, April 2. In Houston, the show will air on Saturday, April 1 at 4 p.m. ET and 1 p.m. ET and, if the University of Miami defeats UConn, on Monday, April 3 at 7 p.m. ET and for the championship postgame). ACC PM with Mark Packer and Taylor Tannebaum was also in Houston on Friday, March 31 at 4 p.m. ET and will be live on Championship Monday from Texas at 4 p.m. ET if the Hurricanes move on.

Operationally, the backbone of both sets are operating without an onsite production truck. With a five-person Versa Edge desk on a rolling stage in a parking lot at NRG Stadium and a kidney desk in PNC Plaza in front of American Airlines Center, the crew opted to go with a more flexible and mobile infrastructure. ESPN’s REMI (remote production) model is driving each setup via a production control room in Bristol, CT.

“By employing a switcher, we are able to cable three cameras and sync them locally before sending a line cut to Bristol via a TVU pack connected to Ethernet,” says Higgins. “We’re mixing audio onsite and sending that mix through the switcher down the TVU as well.  A Bristol control room then adds all b-roll, graphics, and music to our line cut.”

Efficient on Both Ends: 2022 Tournaments Provide Vital Production Knowledge

Pulling off an endeavor as massive as hosting multiple studio shows in two different cities can be quite daunting. A lot could go wrong, and before the network began hitting their stride this weekend, the operations crew had to overcome a handful of hurdles to make sure that productions went as smooth as possible. Some of these potential issues sprung up because of the decision to go with REMI productions and another was related to routine obstacles that come with a large-scale sporting event like the Final Four.

“The biggest challenges have been making sure we have all framestores and routing information correct so all parties know what’s coming from Dallas and what’s coming from Houston,” says Aaron Katzman, coordinating producer, ACC Network, ESPN. “The other challenges have been the small logistics like onsite transportation, working printers at both locations, and weather planning.”

Nothing But Net recaps LSU’s win over Virginia Tech on Friday, March 31.

Fortunately, the ACC Network has some experience with multi-city productions, and you don’t have to go back far in the history books. Last year, the Men’s Final Four took place in New Orleans and the Women’s Final Four was played in Minneapolis. As luck would have it, three of the total eight participants were ACC representatives: Duke and the University of North Carolina in Louisiana and Louisville in Minnesota. With this roadmap in hand, this year’s footprint and logistical plan could be figured out with enough preparation.

“We learned a lot of lessons from last year’s Final Four experiences,” continues Katzman. “We knew going into this year that we wouldn’t have a scenario like we did in Coach K’s final season, but we knew we needed to plan ahead going into these NCAA Tournaments. We worked on four different scenarios prior to the Elite Eight: a men’s and a women’s team advances, only a men’s team advances, only a women’s team advances, or no teams advance. Once we knew that the ACC was fortunate enough to be the only conference with a team in both Final Fours, we were able to put the wheels in motion quickly.”

Elevated Ratings, Rising Popularity: Women’s Final Four Continues Meteoric Rise

The women’s side of the sport has been gaining more and more attention with each subsequent year. March Madness has produced a ton of storylines: the undefeated and reigning National Champion University of South Carolina were rolling, Iowa’s Caitlin Clark was balling out, the University of Miami clinched their first-ever appearance in the Women’s Final Four, and more. The hype that was created leading into the tournament definitely matched the play on the court, and as the bracket continued its way towards the Final Four in Dallas, fans around the country have watched these broadcasts on ESPN in droves. For example, Iowa vs. Louisville in the Elite Eight saw 2.49 million viewers, which was 890,000 more than the average  nationally-broadcast NBA regular-season game at 1.6 million viewers. From ACC Networks’s perspective, telling these teams’ story and bringing more eyeballs to the sport is something that the crew is extremely grateful to be involved in.

From left: Kelsey Riggs, Luke Hancock, Aaron Katzman, Carlos Boozer, and Joel Berry II on ACC Network’s studio set in Houston for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four. (Photo: ACC Network)

“For many, the excitement that comes with any sporting event makes the long days and sleepless nights worth it,” adds Katzman. “We’re excited to support Virginia Tech and the ACC in Dallas and are honored to play a small part in helping drive the added popularity of women’s basketball. The fact that the Women’s Final Four is gaining more popularity just fuels the drive to provide ACC Network fans with the best product possible.”

Improving With Time: ACC Network Completes Another Year of College Basketball Coverage

Hosting two separate production sites takes a lot of coordination and collaboration. Leading the way was Director Laura Shaw in Houston and Director Cory Davis in Dallas, and their job has been done flawlessly without the help of an onsite production mobile unit. Logistically speaking, Production Manager Amanda Braunlich and Executive Assistant, Event Production, Zita Davis have provided a bulk of the heavy lifting for both locations. Alongside Katzman and Higgins, Braunlich and Riggs are bouncing between Houston and Dallas. Overall, conducting dual productions in two consecutive years can be considered a benchmark moment for the ACC Network. As the media entity continues to grow, the production and operations crews will enhance the coverage that they have to offer.

“Since the ACC Network is still in its infancy stages, we joked this season that University of Virginia star guard Kihei Clark has been playing in the ACC longer than our network has been on the air,” says Katzman. “We launched this year with live studio coverage on opening night from Louisville Women’s, Duke Men’s, and UNC Men’s. We capped the regular season with studio shows at UVA and Miami before spending two weeks in Greensboro for the ACC Women’s and Men’s tournaments. Coverage wise, this was our best season yet.”

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