Mike Slive stepped to the podium in a ballroom in Birmingham, Ala., on May 2, 2013, to announce of the creation of the SEC Network. Since then, hundreds of staffers from ESPN, the Southeastern Conference office and all 14 member schools have been hard at work to bring that announcement to reality, a box that was checked off on Thursday, Aug. 14, with the most successful cable network launch in history.
Three schools hosted preseason soccer exhibitions that evening, serving as the first competitions shown on the network. Mizzou’s first broadcast was set for Friday, Sept. 5, a soccer game against Northwestern. Here’s our story of everything that happened – both that day, and in the 488 leading up to it – to bring that broadcast to your screen.
The hype and anticipation for the SEC Network has been at a fever pitch ever since the intitial announcement of a 20-year agreement between the Southeastern Conference and ESPN: SEC fanatics would be able to enjoy the conference’s first ever 24-hour-a-day television network.
With over 1,000 live events promised in the first year, SEC fans are now able to view their favorite sports in a whole new way. Included in the planned programming for the 2014-15 athletics season is 45 football games, 100-plus men’s basketball games, 60-plus women’s basketball games, 75 baseball games, and other selected events from the other 17 SEC sports.
The network features unique studio shows and exclusive coverage of popular events such as National Signing Day and football pro days with its 24-hour news coverage of the league.
Fast-forward a year after the original announcement. The University of Missouri and the rest of the SEC schools were entering the final stages of preparation on their own campuses; At each of the 14 schools, an official SEC Network control room had to be in place in order to properly produce an ESPN-quality broadcast.
Everything started the day prior to the game with a pre-production meeting, where Stan Silvey, the on-campus executive producer of Mizzou’s SEC Network productions, and Director Chad Pothoff could run through how the entire game will look for the crew, from start to finish. Silvey started the meeting right off the bat by reminding commentators Ben Arnet and Simon Rose that Friday’s Mizzou vs. Northwestern soccer match is a neutral broadcast. In short, the game production is running as an ESPN and SEC Network feature, and while Mizzou is the host and producer of the show, it is not considered an official Mizzou broadcast. Therefore, no biased cheering or comments directed towards either team will be tolerated.
Pothoff provided a rundown of the broadcast to the other members of the crew in attendance: Amber Barnett (Producer), Parker Leppien (Assistant Producer), Ben Arnet (Play-by-Play), Simon Rose (Color Analyst), Scott Schmidt (Graphic Artist), and Scott Hecht (Senior Operations Manager, ESPN / SEC Network).
First, the pre-game features will be pre-recorded (typically an hour prior to the game). Pre-game features include a tease intro recorded by Arnet, accompanied by a video package Leppien will create to showcase prominent landmarks of the city (in this case, Mizzou’s campus) where the sporting event is being played. For Friday night, the pre-game package will feature a shot of the historic University of Missouri columns, followed by a sweeping shot of Audrey J. Walton soccer stadium.
Once that’s done, Mizzou’s control room checks in with SEC Network Master Control in Charlotte, N.C. Once everything is checked out from a technical standpoint, the pre-game duties then shift towards the commentator duo of Arnet and Rose. They are to highlight two “Players to Watch” which includes one from Mizzou and one from Northwestern. [At this point, Pothoff intervenes and mentions that the visiting Player to Watch always goes first.] For the 10-15 seconds that Arnet and Rose focus on each player, pre-recorded footage of each athlete during their pre-game warmups will be shown on-screen. Following the Northwestern Player to Watch feature, producers then cut the live shot back to Ben who will then lead in Simon to highlight the Mizzou Player to Watch feature, again to be accompanied by footage of the player from their pre-game warmup (a “hero shot”, in production parlance).
While a seasoned broadcaster, with professional stops in Wichita, Tucson and Buffalo before returning to work for Mizzou Athletics three years ago, Arnet has bled Black & Gold his entire life. He grew up in Columbia, attended Mizzou’s heralded School of Journalism and worked as an undergrad at KOMU-TV, the university-owned and student-operated NBC affiliate. It’s not the first time Arnet has worked for Silvey; the duo paired to produce football and basketball coaches shows for statewide distribution.
Rose, a Manchester, England, expat who played as an amateur, brings a unique brand to Friday’s soccer broadcast. With his knowledge of the game, excellent soccer terminology, and quintessentially British accent, Rose is an asset to Friday night’s broadcast.
Hecht, who has traveled to each of the new 14 Southeastern Conference campuses to assist each school’s first in-house SEC Network broadcast, jumps in and stresses to Arnet and Rose that they must not use “we” or “us” when describing these pre-game features or anything else throughout the broadcast.
Hecht and fellow ESPN staff members had already taken many trips across the region to each of the 14 SEC schools. For Hecht personally, each visit to any given school involved a variety of tasks to ensure they were on the right track for launch day.
“This will be my third time around the SEC campuses,” Hecht said. “The first time through, I toured all 14 schools and did site surveys of their production control rooms and their sporting venues. I then put together notes of each school’s sites and suggested upgrades to their control rooms, camera platforms, and other things that would help in production.”
Most schools across the Southeastern Conference were already fortunate to have experienced broadcast and video production crews in place. The University of Florida has “GatorVision” while Mizzou possesses “Mizzou Network.” Even though schools like the University of Missouri may have these qualified individuals at hand, tensions still ran high before the Sept. 5 women’s soccer broadcast.
With stress levels going through the roof, it was Hecht’s job to deliver one simple message to any school’s new SEC Network staff: Simplicity rules all.
The goal is to have the broadcast look like a soccer game, sound like a soccer game and document the game so the viewer at home has no problem following the action.
Scott Hecht, Senior Operations Manager, ESPN / SEC Network
“What I mainly preach to everyone right now is simply ‘keep it clean’,” Hecht said. “Keep it incredibly simple. They should aim to put a clean telecast on the air and then we’ll build from there. The goal is to have the broadcast look like a soccer game, sound like a soccer game and document the game so the viewer at home has no problem following the action. I’m trying to set a benchmark with every school right now, so we can go in to October, November and December and continue to build upon that.”
For Mizzou and the other 13 SEC schools, these past few months marked the first time that their respective control room crews had worked together. With the unfamiliarity with not only each other and the specific style that ESPN seeks in these new broadcasts, expectations from Hecht and his ESPN counterparts were not considerably high.
However, during the first round of in-house athletics broadcasts, Hecht has been pleasantly surprised with the results he has seen.
“Everybody still has a lot of things to work on,” Hecht said. “Would I say that any school is ‘there yet?’ No, probably not. It’s going to take a while. Going back to the benchmark I mentioned earlier, if I had to rank the school’s performance on an A-F grade scale, I was hoping for an average C level, but actually I’ve seen a lot of B level productions. It has pleasantly surprised me. There has been several schools that have quickly picked up what ESPN is trying to teach. Again, the processes we put in place at all the schools is to keep it simple. If I get too technical then I’ll lose that production staff. If I simplify it right now and give them reasonable expectations then those will be easy for everyone to get to. If we can reach those benchmarks right now and build up the confidence and allow them to see how their work is improving then everything will fall in to place.”
As the 2014 SEC Fall sports continue their seasons, there’s no doubt that Scott Hecht and the rest of the ESPN and SEC Network headquarters will have a watchful eye on Mizzou and the remaining SEC control rooms.
The next group discussion evolves around the game’s major storylines. In Friday night’s case, a lot of focus will be on the game’s external factors. This includes the recent hot temperatures in Columbia, Mo., and the potential for rain delays if inclement weather makes its way to Audrey J. Walton Stadium. Another duty for Rose, as color analyst, is to create two or three “Keys to the Game” which will then be produced Schmidt, the crew’s graphic artist.
Silvey proceeds to run down the group’s duties at halftime: Following a commercial break, Pothoff will cut back to the stadium and have Schmidt flash the score on the screen, to be followed by game highlights and then off to another commercial break. After another break, Arnet and Rose will interview a relevant figure from the home university; in Friday’s case, Mizzou Associate Athletic Director of External Operations, Andrew Grinch, fulfills the role in order to give viewers some insight into how the control room that’s bringing the game to viewers actually came about. During the interview, the control room will play back recorded footage of the progress and construction of the control room.
At the conclusion of the game, Schmidt will display the final score graphic on-screen, followed by game highlights and information on Mizzou’s next SEC Network broadcast. It’s here that Hecht notes that the control room needs to aim for a 35-second time frame from the end of the game to the announcers’ sign-off.
It’s just after 9 o’clock on Friday morning, and Schmidt, Mizzou’s SEC Network lead graphic artist, is sitting at the same desk he does every morning; it just happens to also be the nerve center of tonight’s broadcast. He’s busy at work on lower-thirds and other graphical elements viewers will see on the broadcast. While it’s a change of address for him – he’s only been with the Athletic Department for a couple months – it’s not a new job. Like Arnet and Silvey before him, Schmidt came to Mizzou Arena from KOMU, the University’s NBC affiliate TV station; like Arnet, he also had extensive experience working with Silvey on Mizzou football and basketball coaches’ shows.
“I started in 1992, running cameras for newscasts and then slowly worked my way up by running audio, graphics and technical directing,” Schmidt said. “I stopped doing that sort of work in 2002, and then got in to working graphics full-time for commercial productions and news productions.”
Almost the entire field of live athletics broadcasts is new for Schmidt, and learning each individual sport and their corresponding nuances is vital at his position.
“Getting to know the new sports is crucial,” Schmidt said. “I’ve watched some sports like soccer and volleyball, but to actually make the graphics ready for broadcasts, that’s new to me. In the past, I was used to doing smaller stuff like just putting up the game’s final score.”
For Friday’s match, Schmidt will be responsible for all the eye-popping graphics that are displayed on-screen during the telecast. Throughout the match, Pothoff and Barnett will relay interesting game tidbits to Scott who will then translate that into a dynamic graphic.
“I’ll fill in rosters, stat information and any other graphics we’ll need during the broadcast,” Schmidt said. “Big things could include little game facts that pop up, series history and any other useful information for our viewers.”
Someone in Schmidt’s position plays a key role for so many people. The viewers at home are interested in seeing the latest up-to-date stat information during the match, while the in-game announcers (Ben Arnet and Simon Rose) must have these graphics be accurate and relevant in order for a consistent game flow.
1:57 p.m. – Barnett begins updating an Excel spreadsheet that will feed the Ross Xpression graphics engine.
2:17 p.m. – Pothoff is talking with Leppien and Brett Manie about their responsibilities tonight on the Akebas Mira replay machines, as well as their assignments. They’re ultimately responsible for providing, in order of importance: a final “melt” to SEC Network headquarters in Charlotte; first-half highlights (to be played back during halftime); a post-game wrap melt; and a melt of Mizzou-centric highlights that the Mizzou staff will keep on hand for archival usage. He’s also going over procedures with them, such as making sure that the final melt’s clips are compiled in chronological order.cHecht isn’t the only VIP from ESPN in town; he’s joined in the control room today by Meg Aronowitz, a 14-year veteran with a company colloquially known as the Worldwide Leader. If there’s a reason her eyes are wide-open, it’s because this is the first on-campus control room she’s seen out of the 14 schools.
As coordinating producer for ESPNU and the SEC Network, Aronowitz is responsible for hiring all of the talent and production crews, and driving the content initiatives that set the tone for all of the networks’ productions. She has direct oversight of all of the productions and content not just for the SEC Network, but for the college sports she oversees, which is most of them. If you’ve noticed the exponential growth in ESPN’s coverage of softball and the Women’s College World Series, for example, she’s the one responsible for it. “So I’m basically the one in the back of the room that gets really angry when things don’t go right. Ultimately, I’m responsible for what we put on the air, and hiring the people that do it from a production standpoint.”
She started with ESPN in 2001 on the assignment desk for Baseball Tonight. At the time, she was working at CNN, and had a friend who was working for CNN/SI. “They said, ’would you like to do baseball?’ I’m a big Mets fan, sadly. It’s been a long couple of years.” She had an interest working with Tim Scanlan (now ESPN VP for event production) to move over to production side. “Tim said, ’I’ll teach you everything you need to know.’” Being a New Jersey native, moving to Bristol, Conn. also got her closer to home.
“A while later, I got a call from John Vassallo, who was working in the Charlotte office, I’d met him during the Men’s College World Series. He says, ’We’re gonna turn the Charlotte office into that new ESPNU, have you heard about that new network we’re gonna launch? You wanna move to Charlotte?’ I said, ’You know what, I hate the cold. Going back down south might not be a bad idea.’
“I was one of 14 people that made the move from Bristol down to Charlotte, and we launched ESPNU. I think we launched into 3 million homes*, and (even though) they immediately cut our budget, it was one of those experiences where, ESPN doesn’t launch networks every day, I know it seems like we do, but it was one of those experiences that really helped a lot of us that work on the SEC Network now, because it taught us what not to do, and what challenges we were have, things to look out for.”
* ESPNU is now available in more than 75 million homes (the SEC Network is now available in over 96 million homes)
She moved up to coordinating producer for ESPNU, and is in charge of all 20 of the 23 NCAA Championship productions that ESPN operates out of the Charlotte office. And after the SEC Network was announced, (ESPN VP, production for college networks) Stephanie Druley came to Aronowitz and said, “There’s nobody that knows these sports better than you, so I’d like you to do it on the SEC Network.”
2:25 p.m. – Hecht decides to show off the bells and whistles to Aronowitz, and asks Barnett for a tour of the new Ross Carbonite switcher. One of the first things Barnett does is punch a couple buttons, and a swarm of virtual SEC pennant flags come sweeping across the screen. Hecht pipes in: Thanks to people like Barnett – who has worked as a trainer for Ross on its systems – every school’s board across the network is set up with the ability to automate certain aspects of switching sources, which guarantees that, whether a show is originating from the Columbia in Missouri or the one in South Carolina, the look and feel will be indistinguishable.
Barnett explains the automation process for the macros; Hecht explains that, unlike in the past in TV trucks, one person (in this instance, Schmidt) is now responsible for clock, score and graphics, whereas it used to be three. With a giddy look on her face, Aronowitz slides into the seat as she says, “I’m ready to step in.”
2:49 p.m. – The replay operators are organizing various video packages for playback during the game, and Leppien hits a button. At the same moment, a burst of music emanates from the pair of speakers at the front of the room. It’s not from Leppien’s video, though; it’s the A1, or audio director, checking audio levels from two rooms down the hallway on the music bed that has been supplied from Charlotte.
Brad Jenkins is one of several free-lancers who will be working the myriad of Mizzou athletic events for the SEC Network. His connection to the gig seems circuitous at first, but makes more sense the longer he speaks: Jenkins cut his teeth years ago in Denver, ultimately working for a recording studio, before a full-time job working as the creative director for a local church in Columbia brought Jenkins to town nine years ago. Through the years, his work caught the eye of two members of that church; they happened to be MU Executive Associate Director of Athletics Tim Hickman, and Dave Bartlett, the department’s director of production.
2:57 p.m. – There’s a problem with one of the cameras. It’s transmitting 1080i video (interlaced frames of video that are 1,080 pixels tall) instead of the ESPN-standard 720p (progressive frames 720 pixels tall), resulting in a zoomed-in images. Pothoff stares at the monitor wall in the control room and says, “Do you know how difficult it is for me to not want to go over there?” Pothoff explains that in his previous position at the University of South Carolina Upstate, he always had to set things up himself. “I was the engineer & director; Amber took care of things inside the control room.”
As the director of Mizzou’s new SEC Network control room, Chad Pothoff possesses an endless assortment of gameday duties. The diary above gives what is just a small glimpse of what goes into a pre-production meeting the day before the live broadcast. During the actual live Mizzou Athletics event, Pothoff serves as the control room conductor and keeps a watchful eye over everything happening.
“In short, I oversee everybody and everything,” Pothoff said. “I need to carefully put together, what I hope, is a good broadcast. My job is to execute the broadcast that our producer compiled, and make our entire staff come together as one. In the control room and at the venue, we have all these different people doing different things, so I need to be the conductor that gets them all on the same page. I have the final say of what goes on air.”
I need to carefully put together, what I hope, is a good broadcast, In the control room and at the venue, we have all these different people doing different things, so I need to be the conductor that gets them all on the same page.
Chad Pothoff, SEC Network director
Outside of the 10-15 people hunkered down in Mizzou’s SEC Network control room, thousands of fans across the country will be tuning into Friday’s women’s soccer match. While the average viewer from home may observe the live broadcast and think everything is running smoothly, the real-life difficulties happening within the control room will keep everyone on high alert throughout the match.
For Pothoff, challenges will arise each and every night in the control room and it’s his responsibility to overcome them and deliver a quality on-screen product. Most importantly, it’s vital that Pothoff can effectively work with each individual co-worker sitting alongside him.
“Simply, I must get everyone together on the same page,” Pothoff said. “Everyone is talented at their individual positions, but everyone works a little differently. For me, a challenge is to constantly know how far I can push each individual. Some people you can push really far and continue to get high quality work out of them, while some people might not take criticism as well. That other half could then easily shut down mentally and I won’t get a high performance from them the rest of the broadcast.”
Once Pothoff brings together his staff in an effective manner, the final product should result in a high-quality production each and every time. As Mizzou and the SEC Network roll into their first ever year of existence, its Pothoff’s personal goal to have his crew stick out above the competition.
“I’m looking forward to being the best in the SEC,” Pothoff said. “That’s what we do here at Mizzou, and I also like being a part of the best in anything I do personally. I like to watch every broadcast from every other school, so I can see what everyone else is doing. If they’re doing some really cool things, I may implement those ideas into Mizzou’s broadcasts. At my previous school, we considered our broadcasts as the standard in our conference, and I want the same for Mizzou.”
With Pothoff’s unmatched passion and dedication for the field of television broadcasts, there’s little doubt that the future of Mizzou Athletics’ SEC broadcasts are in good hands.
3:30 p.m. – Because of technical issues with commentators’ equipment, Pothoff is asked to come from the control room to Walton Stadium and work out the problems on-site.
3:57 p.m. – A line of thunderstorms begin to hit over Walton Stadium, temporarily delaying camera setup and communication with the control room. Weather will indeed be an ongoing problem throughout the day.
4:20 p.m. – The crew is confronted with a balky intercom system for Ben Arnet and Simon Rose, the game’s talent. Pothoff comes up with a Plan B in the event the system fails to function at game time: Arnet and Rose can work out hand signals with Travis McMillen, the duo’s stage manager, to notify each other of upcoming commercial breaks, cues, etc. Arnet reports to the stadium and jumps on his headset to begin pre-game communication with the control room.
4:34 p.m. – Schmidt works on updating both teams’ slates of upcoming schedules.
4:41 p.m. – Back in the control room, Pothoff gets on the headset and individually checks out each channel on the intercom, going around the room to ensure everyone can hear & talk. In the control room, all systems are go.
4:49 p.m. – The crew breaks for dinner. Three Shakespeare’s pizzas are on display in the Mizzou Arena media room as around a dozen crew members eat. Hecht pulls Pothoff aside for a few pointers, reminding him, “This is Day One. We’ll find out the things we need to work on and make adjustments.” Among the notes he’s made: a recommendation that Pothoff reformat the monitor wall at the front of the room to move the row of screens displaying the four game cameras from the top to the bottom of the screen. Also, if possible, Hecht would like to see two more monitors placed above the monitor wall in order for the back row to see the broadcasts Program & Preview sources. [Aronowitz nods in agreement.]
5:19 p.m. – The weather that everyone has had their eyes on for days has finally arrived. Dramatic shots of the incoming front from the four cameras appear more in place on a movie set than overhead the site of history being made. Pothoff and Hecht discuss what the crew at the stadium should do with torrential – though not necessarily severe – storms imminent. The call is made to unplug the cameras; before they do so, Leppien grabs several key seconds of footage off each of them that will eventually comprise part of the open. Players from both Missouri and Northwestern are streaming out of their sideline tents and scurrying to the Devine Pavilion, where they’ll spend the next hour warming up.
5:28 p.m. – Pothoff & Hecht get an update from Mizzou's Event Management unit: There may be a delay of up to 45 minutes until the teams get back on the field. Hecht shrugs his shoulders, noting that a) there's nothing they can do about the weather, and b) that means they'll still start on time. It will, however, put a large wrench in Pothoff's plans as they near broadcast.
5:32 p.m. – Barnett calls SEC Network Master Control in Charlotte, and informs them they can’t yet complete their transmission “fax check” – a test of all of systems at Mizzou Arena to ensure Charlotte that things are functioning in Columbia – because two cameras are still offline due to the storm. After several minutes on hold, they tell her it's fine to call back and not wait on the line. Five minutes later, she does the same with Verizon, which is the company ESPN contracts with to insert commercials into the WatchESPN app.
5:51 p.m. – Barnett gets Charlotte back on the line to start Fax check, but they’re slammed nationwide with other shows prepping to start, and thus have bumped Mizzou/Northwestern to the back of their line. At the same time, Pothoff receives confirmation the game will start on time as scheduled.
6:02 p.m. – Finally online with Charlotte, Pothoff instructs technical director Grant Portell to display color bars and for Jenkins to send a 1,000 Hz tone through the line. Upon hearing the tone, Aronowitz's head perks up: “There’s something peaceful about that sound,” as the room chuckles. Barnett hands the Charlotte phone over to Pothoff, who then has Portell punch through all of their sources: Camera 1, Camera 2, Camera 3, Camera 4, the score bug, and replay machine Red, Green and Blue. The entire process takes more than 10 minutes, which was a more-thorough check than what Pothoff, Hecht or Aronowitz expected for a digital broadcast. The latter two promised to check back with Charlotte upon their return and report back.
6:25 p.m. – In three years of working with Hecht and producing broadcasts for ESPN3, Pothoff had been forced to record an open live just once. Nearly an hour later than preferred and just five minutes before air, he gets Arnet and Rose to tape their open. A perfect storm, literally, set everything back.
6:30 p.m. – “Welcome to Mizzou, and the very first-ever SEC Network broadcast from the campus of the University of Missouri,” says Arnet. We're on the air.
6:35 p.m. – As scheduled, the referee blows his whistle, and we’re underway from Walton Stadium.
6:57 p.m. – A Mizzou player commits a hard foul on Northwestern star Ali Steiner, and Camera 2 is on top of it. The slow-motion replay comes back on Red. Aronowitz reminds Leppien & Manie to communicate with Barnett and Pothoff: “If you see a second angle on the handhelds (Cameras 3 & 4, positioned along the sideline at field level), you’ve got to sell it. ‘Red, second look, Green.’”
7:01 p.m. – Steiner just misses a golden chance to convert a header right in front of the goal. The replay guys get two solid looks sold, and Rose times his analysis well with the video.
7:14 p.m. – Another round of weather is looming in the distance. Event management warns that the length of halftime might be shortened. Stan Silvey monitors from the second row of the control room.
As much as it hasn't seemed like that long to him, Stan Silvey is nearing 30 years of service to Mizzou Athletics, mostly from his time at KOMU as a producer and editor before joining the athletic department in October of 2011. Since 1987, Silvey has been involved with Mizzou from a video production standpoint, in some form or fashion, for all but two years. And while he's said the least of anyone in the room tonight, he's the linchpin that brought this $2.5 million update to the bowels of Mizzou Arena to fruition.
Silvey was brought in to spearhead growth of Mizzou's video efforts, spawning the Mizzou Network. It has evolved from Silvey and Arnet as the lone staffers three years ago to the Louisiana, Mo., native managing a corps of nearly 30 individuals – seven of whom are employed full-time by Mizzou Athletics. Whereas KOMU was producing the video-board shows for Memorial Stadium and Mizzou Arena, Silvey & Co. have brought those jobs back in-house.
“Right now, I'm trying to develop a local crew,” he says. “A year from now, Chad’ll have a lot more input and responsibility in crewing these broadcasts, but for now I'm focused on working through managing our staff and crew.”
The group's role has evolved as well; whereas the unit was in charge of highlight packages and streaming games on mutigers.com, the primary focus of Silvey's operation now is producing these broadcasts for the SEC Network and the in-venue video boards.
7:20 p.m. – The first-half clock reaches triple-zeros, and the cameras show the officials conversing with Mizzou Head Coach Bryan Blitz as Arnet sends viewers to break. The first segment back is a feature on a unique turf management procedure new to Walton Stadium called Fraze Mowing. Halftime has been shortened five minutes, which reduces Grinch’s interview with Arnet to one question; with that decision from the referees, Leppien's pre-packaged footage of the control room hits the proverbial cutting-room floor.
7:34 p.m. – Second-half action resumes, and a look at the radar makes it clear this game will not end on time.
7:52 p.m. – The second delay for the crew, and first of the game, comes with 26 minutes left to play. We're just 6 minutes of play from the game being declared official.
7:54 p.m. – A flash of lightning brightens the monitor wall; Leppien logs the flash on Cameras 1 & 2, as Cameras 3 & 4 are turned off and unplugged as the crew again retreats to the press box.
7:59 p.m. – With the broadcast in a holding pattern, Hecht turns to the room and says, “Well, let’s talk about what’s happened so far!”
He and Aronowitz spend the next half-hour teaching a master class on remote production, giving critiques of what they’ve seen, and what choices they would have made in the director’s chair. They’re tough, but encouraging; they’re also offering praise for the job the crew has done in a challenging situation. “A weather delay in your first-ever show? Everything from here’s gonna be easy!” says Hecht, and Aronowitz segues into her recounting of the 2013 Women’s College World Series, when a tornado rolled through downtown Oklahoma City during ESPN's coverage of the tournament.
For the execs from ESPN, this trip back into the field provides fond memories, and a reminder of how easy the adrenaline flows in a live-production environment. “If you’re not ready to vomit in the trash can in the front row, you’re not ready to go,” Aronowitz says.
She concludes with a reminder to keep the production simple: “The best shows don’t need 27 cameras – they need to tell stories … and they all end up coming back to Camera 1.”
The best shows don’t need 27 cameras – they need to tell stories … and they all end up coming back to Camera 1.
Meg Aronowitz, Coordinating Producer, ESPNU / SEC Network
9:00 p.m. – After over an hour delay, we're back to action.
9:09 p.m. – Rose induces a collective chuckle from the control room when, as a Mizzou corner kick is about to come, he unleashes the phrase, “the Corridor of Uncertainty” on the broadcast. “I will buy whatever he’s selling,” says Aronowitz, an instant fan of Rose’s British accent.
9:12 p.m. – The replay crew is again on top of things when a Northwestern player goes down with a back injury; they provide two clear looks of the collision, but it’s unclear exactly how it occurred.
9:29 p.m. – Regulation ends with no goals scored. Arnet, with the help of an on-screen graphic that Schmidt dialed up (and prepared over eight hours ago), reminds viewers of the overtime rules: Two, 10-minute periods, and the next goal wins. If no goal is scored, it's a tie.
9:53 p.m. – The control room erupts in a chorus of “OOOOOOH”’s when Mizzou GK Mackenzie Sauerwein bobbles a ball in front of the goal off a Northwestern corner kick. At this point, any goal ends the game; the drama of the final minutes of play are getting to everyone.
10:01 p.m. – Over eight hours after most of the crew arrived on-scene, the referee blows his whistle to end a scoreless draw. Arnet and Rose take a few moments to recap the game, and just like that, they’re off the air.
The work isn’t done, however.
If I had to rank the schools’ performance on an A-F grade scale, I was hoping for an average C level, but actually I’ve seen a lot of B-level productions. It has pleasantly surprised me.
Scott Hecht, Senior Operations Manager, ESPN / SEC Network
As the crew at Walton Stadium begins disassembling their cameras, cables and fiber connections, and packing the equipment back into the trailer hitched behind Pirtle’s black heavy-duty pickup, the control room remains a hub of activity. Leppien and Manie still have to feed the raw highlight melt back to Charlotte (technical issues prevented them from providing a shorter, produced highlight package that would have been posted to the ESPN-managed SEC website nearly instantaneously).
While the Mizzou Arena control room starts to empty out, Aronowitz and Hecht trade glances with each other, pleased with the inaugural effort from their Columbia crew. “Great job, guys,” Aronowitz says, as she walks out the door. “That’s one down!” Tomorrow, they head to Tuscaloosa, with another visit set for Ole Miss later in the week.
A few moments later, the last of the 39 different clips from the game melt have made their way back to Master Control in Charlotte. As the clock hits 10:31 p.m., the Program monitor says it all: “GOODNIGHT FROM MISSOURI.”