BY ALEX THOMAS | Ball State Sports Link
Welcome to our new series: From All Angles.
With each broadcast Ball State Sports Link produces for ESPN3 and WatchESPN this year, one student will provide a look at how it all comes together. Every broadcast Ball State Sports Link produces for the ESPN platforms is entirely student-run — from the talent, to cameras, to graphics, to replay and on up to the director and producer.
This year Sports Link got the ball rolling on its broadcast season with Ball State Soccer against Ohio (Sept. 29) and Kent State (Oct. 1).
Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Alex Thomas. I’m a junior in Sports Link and worked as the sideline reporter for Friday’s match against Ohio.
I’ve worked as a sideline reporter for soccer a few times before and it’s always a joy to get things started out at Briner Sports Complex.
To produce and broadcast an event outside like a soccer game, we use a 40-foot HD production truck parked behind the press box.
On Thursday, the entire crew has to run cable from the production truck to various cameras, microphones and other equipment.
Running the cables and testing to make sure everything is working can take around two hours or more. From there, last minute adjustments can be made before our early start the next morning.
As Friday comes around, crew call is set for 10 a.m. to set up cameras, audio equipment and our broadcasters booth before a break at noon for lunch.
After lunch, everyone comes back ready to buckle down for the long haul.
At 2 p.m. first-time director Sam Ahrens has a meeting with his camera operators to review his plan for how he wants to cover the game.
Graphics operators, audio control, replay and technical director all get set inside the truck and start preparing for the broadcast. Talent arrives at 2:30 p.m. ready to roll.
Senior producer Nick Panozzo has a meeting with talent to discuss the rundown for the open to the broadcast, before chatting with the sideline reporter (me) about some potential sideline reports and our plan for halftime.
Soccer typically doesn’t have a sideline reporter because of the continuous nature of the game, but Sports Link is given lots of freedom and we consistently want to push the envelope and do more. Having a sideline reporter allows us to have a new voice and host halftime, plus conduct postgame interviews with the winning coach and player.
Leading up to game time, the director and technical director will get shots recorded that can be used during our open to the broadcast. The talent make their way down to the field to film what we call a “cold open.”
A “cold open” is a pre-recorded open to the show where the talent welcomes the viewer into the city and discusses the match before they discuss players to watch and keys to victory.
The cold open is recorded typically an hour before game time and we usually record three separate times to be sure we get the best one.
After the cold open is recorded, it’s game time. The cold open rolls, then a commercial, then we go live at 5:05 from Briner Sports Complex.
During the match, cameras are listening to the director’s calls, graphics are creating and pitching new ideas of tidbits to throw up on screen for the talent to hit on.
The replay operators are clipping close misses or great passes for use later. Audio is monitoring levels.
As the sideline reporter, I stay down near the field watching the game and looking for storylines or tendencies to report on.
The first half is fairly routine. It’s organized chaos as we have a crew of over 25 people all doing a job and communicating at once. It’s stressful, but a whole lot of fun being able to put it all together.
The halftime show on Friday, I believe, shows how much communication, planning and flexibility in live event producing.
Originally, I was supposed to do a promo about Ball State Sports Link then toss to break.
Then, we got to halftime and realized the graphic we had wasn’t compatible with the system we had, so we had to change to a graphic about how many miles the Ball State team traveled in their non-conference schedule.
Then, thirty seconds before we go live, the monitor that I had on the sideline went out. So as I’m communicating with the producer we have to change and have the play-by-play broadcaster, John Gordon, read through the graphic and toss.
All of that chaos happened within a thirty second span and effects literally every member of the broadcast.
Second half is more of the same from the first half, but each position feels more comfortable and we view the second half as a second chance to get better at our jobs.
The director tries to show more angles of everything. You can see the camera angles change faster. More graphics, more replays.
The best part? We know that we get a whole other game to get better on Sunday.
The postgame is similar to halftime. We toss to break after the game, while waiting for our coach and player to come over for an interview.
In a span of two minutes we have to bring a camera and grip over from the corner to shoot our interview.
Audio needs to be sure they have the right mic and camera pulled up. Graphics needs to get our names up on the screen. Everybody needs to have the timing down coming from the director.
Once the count down in my ear gets to one and I go live, I have to ask a couple questions, while every other person on the crew is doing something to make the shot where I ask questions look good.
It’s pretty incredible when you think about it.
After the game is done, everyone takes a second to breathe after that marathon of an event. Sports Link Director Alex Kartman tells us what needs torn down since we have to turn around and do the same broadcast again less than 48 hours later.
We all go do our part to strike before reconvening to talk about the broadcast briefly then head out. We always end a Sports Link broadcast with a breakdown from someone on the crew. This time it went to first time director Sam Ahrens and, as always, it’s the perfect ending.
Coming back on Sunday, Matt Craig was stepping in at sideline and halftime, so I was essentially an extra set of hands for setup at 9 a.m.
Just like Friday, we started to unpack equipment and get cameras back in place, but some of our equipment was in a garage that was locked, as well as, the press box with our broadcast booth.
A minor set back, but still a change of plans.
Thankfully, we can still set up majority of cameras and audio while waiting for someone with a key, which doesn’t take long and within two hours we’ve fully set up everything and checked everything to be sure it works.
The crew disperses for lunch and are to be back by noon for the game at 2 p.m.
For the second game, I got to sit back and watch the product of the hard work of my classmates on screen.
Let me go back briefly. For a weekend series of soccer like this, the game on Sunday is fundamentally the same thing as Friday.
However, with each half of soccer, every person gets better.
Friday was the first broadcast of our season, with a large number of people who are working in their position for the first time ever. You’re only as strong as your weakest link and every person has to do their job in order for a broadcast to run smoothly.
Furthermore, there are people that log hours of work in preparation for this weekend series. Graphics has to create every single graphic idea the producer, director and talent have.
The producer has to create an entire rundown for everything involving the broadcast through the week, including a production meeting, a talent meeting, cable runs, crew calls, layouts for the open, halftime and postgame.
The director has to establish a camera plan for his camera operators so everyone is on the same page in the event of a goal, yellow card, injury or other stoppage in play.
So, as I sit back and watch all that work pay off on Sunday, after being in the middle of it on Friday, it’s quite incredible to think about.
Ball State scores in the 35th minute and in a moment’s notice, camera operators are following the plan laid out by the director who tells the technical director to cut to each different camera shot. Graphics jumps to adjust the scoreboard. Replay gets ready to show the goal from multiple angles. The entire game has changed focus, leading the talent to follow a new storyline as Ball State leads.
Live event production is an absolute monster. It’s stressful, chaotic, creative — and a whole lot of fun.
Until you have seen it all behind-the-scenes, you can’t fully understand, but From All Angles, we hope to provide you with a glimpse into a small 48-hour span for Sports Link.
So what’s next? We’re only going to get better from here. Stay tuned.