Conference SportsNets Upgrade Facilities

BALTIMORE—Flexibility, scalability, adaptability and expandability. Those words are used to describe the system traits that allow users to upgrade broadcast facilities as needs arise, with ease at reasonable cost—which is the name of today’s broadcasting and video game. Just ask Bennie Ashford or Jim Sherrill, who are both in the latter stages of major facility installs.

On that note, Ashford, the assistant athletic director of video services, at Mississippi State University (MSU), in Starkville; and Sherrill, the assistant athletic director for video and broadcast services at N.C. State, in Raleigh, are heightening the audio approach at their new nerve centers.

WAITING GAME The new broadcast video facility at Mississippi State University is located behind the north end zone, right, at Davis Wade Stadium.

MSU had employed a Yamaha LS9-32 “that served us well for several years. But when the SEC Network was launched two years ago, we knew that there was something bigger on the horizon for us,” Ashford said. “We needed more capability and flexibility, with more channels, I/O and integration with our RTS intercom system for all audio, for air and recording.”

So while MSU and Atlanta-based design/build contractor Comprehensive Technical Group (CTG) were designing the school’s new dual-room facility, they opted to go with the DiGiCo S21 console. “ESPN [which owns SEC Network and SEC Network Plus] had a minimum standard when the network launched and, at the time, our Yamaha met those standards,” he said. “But as time passed, we saw what the other SEC schools were doing, which helped assess our needs before moving forward. We think that approach helped us.” That may have been a good idea, anyway, but it was also a necessity.

Bennie Ashford, (L) and Jonathan Ashley were able to quickly master the university’s new DiGiCo S21. “Earlier on, we wanted to move forward, too, but we don’t often get the kind of money from the school needed for this kind of investment,” Ashford said of the $10,000 DiGiCo system (which features Evertz routing); CTG’s integration services and options cost an additional $15,000.

He thinks the time and money were worth it. “I love having flexibility with mix audio from different sources, for IFB, on-air and in-stadium, and to mix it all together from a central location,” he said, “and we’ve positioned ourselves for the next three-to-five years. After that, we may move up to a bigger DiGiCo system.”

Jonathan Ashley, MSU audio/visual services technician, agreed. “Going to the DiGiCo S21 has been an eye-opening experience, in relation to ease of use. [The company] offers a good overview of what you have and what you might need to do,” he said. “Reading about it before it got here was a little daunting, but now that it’s here, it’s easier to operate.”


N.C. State’s new media control room opened in late August. Nerve centers at colleges end up in a variety of locations on campus; at MSU, it’s now in a former retail location in Davis Wade Stadium. “We have about 3,500 square feet in the north end zone, on ground level on the plaza,” said Ashford. “Without a doubt, it’s one of the best locations in the SEC, since it faces the main entrance to the stadium and can see the fans walking by.”

The circumstances at N.C. State were a little different, as the control room had been located in a first floor room at Reyn-olds Coliseum, with signals fibered to campus facilities, such as Carter-Finley Stadium, when the need arose.

Then came the renovation at Reynolds that began about 18 months ago, and a temporary relocation to the press box at Carter-Finley; but when Reynolds reopens in late August, the facility will be back in the refurbished Coliseum, this time in a suite on the second floor, which now features a larger control room A (20-foot by 25-foot) and a smaller control room B (20-foot by 12-foot).

Sherrill said the soon-to-be-completed upgrade is just a first step of a bigger project that will include the replacement of the current Yamaha LS9-32 console in mid-2017 with a DiGiCo system.

“Our next plans are to add two more studios, two more control rooms and a multi-position edit bay, at a cost of $6 million, by March 2018, in anticipation of the debut of the ACC Network” in August 2019, he said.

But like Ashford and Asthey, Sherrill is working within a new conference broadcast plan that will serve a prelude to the network launch; in this case, it’s the kickoff this fall of the ACC Digital Plus streaming service.

Matt Larson, national sales manager for U.K.-based DiGiCo, said the popularity of the S21 stems from that aforementioned flexibility. “You can buy it with just a rack and a desk, thus you can future-proof it and add to it as your requirements grow,” he said. “When the sports department has a limited budget, you can do something the first year, then add racks and equipment as you go.

“Whatever existing infrastructure a sports department has, we can easily integrate with any protocol,” he added. “It also can serve as a redundant system, so you can have backup when needed.”

Indeed, the installs that accommodate open upgrades are becoming more the norm in the industry, according to John Curtis, integration manager for CTG. “I think we’re finally seeing the end of large amounts of analog audio,” he said. “While it has analog connections, the DiGiCo S21’s primary interface to the system at Mississippi State, for instance, is a MADI connection. This allows us to easily transport and route the several different audio mixes that are required when producing linear events.”

That ability to repurpose equipment as needs change in the production workflow is becoming a key component of many installs.

“N.C. State had invested heavily in some core products [such as Ross and Multidyne for fiber transport],” he said, “and those early selections allowed us to save them money on the new build, as we could reuse those items in the build, and save on training costs.”

With the ACC Network launch on the horizon, he expects more of the same.

“Several schools have invested in equipment and control rooms already,” said Curtis, “but will need to make changes to their workflow and operations to support the new [ACC] Network.”

Mark R. Smith

Mark R. Smith has covered the media industry for a variety of industry publications, with his articles for TV Technology often focusing on sports. He’s written numerous stories about all of the major U.S. sports leagues.  

Based in the Baltimore-Washington area, the byline of Smith, who has also served as the long-time editor-in-chief for The Business Monthly, Columbia, Md., initially appeared in TV Technology and in another Futurenet publication, Mix, in the late ’90s. His work has also appeared in numerous other publications.