At BU, Scoreboard Productions Are an Inside Job

By Carolyn Braff

Many video directors would be overwhelmed with the task of designing and building their own control room, but, for Joel Kitay, producer/director of the scoreboard shows at Boston University’s Agganis Arena, having the freedom to build his own control room gave him a significant production advantage.

“When you have people who work in these facilities involved in the planning of them, as opposed to relying on consultants who design systems but don’t operate them, there is a lot more you can do,” says Kitay, president of Kitay Productions. He has been directing scoreboard shows for BU hockey and basketball since Agganis Arena opened in 2005.

In conjunction with the audio/visual consultant hired by the general contractor during the facility’s construction, Kitay designed the arena’s production room and now handles crewing for every event, in addition to creating all the content that rolls during the show.

Kitay’s Agganis shows are three-camera shoots, aided by four effects microphones and two announcers, one at ice level and one marketing and sponsorship announcer at the top level. The audio Webcast alongside the scoreboard video is generally the radio feed, but Kitay switches to the PA program at intermissions.

“People at home are watching our JumboTron feed, so, if we leave radio up during the breaks, who knows what they’re talking about,” he says. “While we’re doing an on-ice presentation, we switch to the PA program so people at home can follow along.”

The control room is equipped with an Avid 24-input switcher, Ikegami monitors, a Deko two-channel character generator, and a four-channel EVS. A staff of five students and 10 freelancers keep the shows up and running.

When it came to equipping the control room, Kitay’s decisions were not too painstaking.

“I don’t want to say it’s a formula,” he says, “but you know what the good stuff is.”

Keeping the Crew Busy

In addition to cutting highlights for TV broadcast partners and feeding alternating content to concourse monitors, Kitay’s team does a postgame podcast immediately after every game. Cut using Final Cut Pro and voiced-over by a student, the podcast is turned around for use on iTunes and the athletic department’s Website within an hour of the final buzzer.

“We do a lot of stuff,” Kitay says. “We also support all the television in-house. We maintain all the [TV and scoreboard cabling], provide a melt reel. We work really closely with our broadcast partners, much more so than in other buildings that I’ve worked in.”

Kitay has worked in quite a few buildings, having begun his career at NFL Films before becoming manager of broadcasting for the Baltimore Ravens. He then started Kitay Productions, providing similar live-event production services at the college level. One of his first projects was the University of Maryland’s Comcast Center, where the Terrapins’ basketball teams play and from which scoreboard show at the football stadium is produced ⎯ even though the football stadium is about a mile away.

The biggest difference between producing professional and college shows, Kitay says, is the sheer volume of sponsorships. “It’s less stressful at the college level. There is less pressure because there isn’t that cramming in, where every possible second is filled.”

He also works as a producer for Comcast SportsNet in Baltimore, so he has experience with both the network and team production perspective.

“I work both sides, which is very helpful when designing this kind of a facility,” Kitay says. “Making sure that the needs of TV are being included with the needs of the scoreboard show doesn’t happen at most places. Most athletic department don’t bring in the networks to make suggestions.”

Instant-Replay Pioneers

Because Kitay was involved in the design process, he was able to ensure that Boston University is the first ⎯ and so far, only ⎯ school in the Hockey East conference to offer instant replay.

“All the other buildings are old and don’t have video, so we’re a test cast for the conference,” Kitay explains. “But when they came up with this whole thing, it wasn’t a big deal to set it up because we had planned for it when we built the building, even though there was no such thing at the time.”

Using an aux bus on the switcher, Kitay sends a video feed to a referee on the ice, who has a communications link back to the control room. BU is serving as a test case for the conference, which, budgets permitting, may soon require every team to implement a similar system.

“The next step is to put robotic cameras over the goals,” Kitay says. “That’s something that we’re interested in doing, and we’ve been working on it for a year.”

Also on the horizon ⎯ although perhaps further away ⎯ is a switch to high-definition, but, with the quality of the Daktronics scoreboard currently in place, Kitay is happy with the way his video looks right now.

“When the arena was built four years ago, it was just the start of HD, so everything’s SD 16:9,” Kitay says. “But if you watch the screen, I honestly don’t know that you’ll see that much of a difference. We only run that screen at about 60% of its full luminosity because if we turn it up to 100%, it blows the building out.”