CFP National Championship 2024: Game Creek Sets Up IP-based Compound as New Varsity Truck Caps First Season
ESPN lays out 18+ miles of cable, 1,000 strands of fiber to set up 2110 infrastructure
For the first time in broadcasting college-football championship games, ESPN has made a big operational leap by establishing a fully IP-based production compound. All the production trucks parked outside NRG Stadium in Houston for tonight’s CFP National Championship between Michigan and Washington are fully connected via SMPTE ST 2110.
According to ESPN Remote Operations Specialist Brian Ristine, it’s a step that the operations side of the house has been considering for some time.
“It’s still a very young set of guidelines,” he explains, “so a lot of the tools that go along with supporting it, troubleshooting it, and giving people the things that they need to work with it more efficiently haven’t been developed yet. There are a lot of challenges that go along with it, but I think our partners at Game Creek Video have brought in a lot of their smartest people to help with that. We have a team of people who are very savvy in what the standard is right now and can work with the challenges as they come up.
“It gives us a lot of advantages,” Ristine continues. “We’ve tripled the amount of infrastructure shared between all the trucks [compared with] in years past because [SMPTE] 2110 allows us to do that. It becomes a lot more efficient to do that. There’s not a lot of infrastructure we need to build up with I/O kits and different interfaces between the trucks. The trucks literally connect themselves to each other and come up from that. Technology-wise, it’s much simpler and gives us a lot more capacity to do the things we need to do.”
Game Creek Video is on hand en masse with eight trucks and 37 engineers and support staff to ensure everything goes off smoothly. Among the trucks are the new Game Creek Varsity, which is wrapping its first season as ESPN’s lead college-football truck, working the ABC Primetime Game. It debuted in the season-opener between Florida State and LSU on ABC. It did not, however, work either of the CFP semifinal games; all the trucks parked in Houston arrived on New Year’s Day. A seven-day turnaround is the tightest turnaround between the semis and the final in the 10-year history of the College Football Playoff.
The rest of the compound houses other Game Creek facilities as well: Centennial A (supporting overall MegaCast efforts and Tape Release), Gameday (which is, naturally, anchoring the College GameDay studio show), Centennial B (on the Field Pass With The Pat McAfee Show alternative broadcast), Justice (supporting the Field Pass MegaCast viewing option), Edit 1 (ESPN Deportes and game support, and Edit 2 and Edit 3 (both also providing game support).
Setting up this compound on IP was no simple task for ESPN and Game Creek: NRG Stadium is not equipped with a SMPTE or fiber infrastructure. To make it all happen, ESPN had to run more than 18 miles of cable and 1,000 strands of fiber to set up the ST 2110 infrastructure.
According to Game Creek Video Engineering Manager Brian Nupnau, the company’s lead on the project, Game Creek has a total of 6.4 TB of data flowing between trucks, all running on fiber. It’s also using 512 channels of AoIP backed up by 192 channels of MADI flowing among the trucks.
ESPN also has 75 transmission paths (55 outbound and 20 inbound), along with 394 discrete audio channels leaving the site.
At less than 60,000 sq. ft., the production compound outside NRG Stadium is significantly smaller than the one at last year’s event at Los Angeles’s SoFi Stadium, whose two compounds totaled more than 170,000 sq. ft.
The College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T between No. 1 Michigan and No. 2 Washington kicks off on Monday, Jan. 8 at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.