University of Washington, FSN Put Husky Softball in the Spotlight

The University of Washington women’s softball team won the national championship in 2009, and that success has brought some extra television coverage to the Husky athletic department. The University of Washington’s longstanding partnership with FSN Northwest has just been expended to include the broadcast of at least eight Husky softball games during the 2010 season, set to air live on the campus television station, UWTV, and on tape delay on FSN Northwest.

“FSN Northwest has been a longtime partner for us,” explains Richard Kilwien, associate athletic director for communications at the University of Washington. “This deal with UWTV increases our exposure beyond just football and basketball.”

Adds Jon Bradford, executive producer for FSN Northwest, “In an ideal world, the network would have a game on every night of the week. This gets a little closer to that goal.”

Prior to this expansion, the agreement between the RSN and the athletic department, which is concurrent with the Pac-10 Conference’s deal with FSN, called for FSN Northwest to televise every available football and men’s basketball game. This new deal not only expands that exposure to Olympic sports, but brings more sports content to UWTV, the university’s PEG channel.

Adding Sports to the Lineup

UWTV is primarily an educational station, offering re-airs of classes, campus events, and services to the community. Among the station’s three channels – UWTV, UWTV2, and a research channel – UWTV offers minimal sports programming, but this partnership will begin to change that.

“In the summer of 2009 we embarked on a new mission to develop a much broader audience for the station within the local community, and one of the planks to that strategy was to provide local sports,” explains John Haslam, general manager of UWTV.

Because of the university’s in-place agreements to televise the revenue-generating sports – football and men’s basketball – Haslam sees Olympic sports as the best way to enter the sports market.

“We think we can provide a service to the university, and the community as well, by producing these events,” Haslam says. “Softball was a natural for that because our softball team won the national championship last year and we’ve got some terrific young ladies with great personalities that make them a natural for television.”

A First Taste of Production

To produce the lineup of softball games, UW is bringing in the ECO 2 16:9 digital mobile production unit from LDM worldwide. Rather than purchasing a mobile production truck in their first year of sports production, UWTV will use this season to test the waters in sports programming.

“This is the first sports programming that we’re doing of this scale,” explains Jack Hoffman, director of production for UWTV. “This opportunity presented itself and we didn’t have time to build our own system. That may happen down the road, but for now we’re going to use existing resources.”

The 48-foot expando ECO 2 truck houses a Grass Valley Kalypso Duo switcher, a Midas Heritage 2000 audio board, a 6-channel EVS XT server, EVS X File, a Philips Venus digital video router, a Chyron Duet Hyper X character generator, four Sony DVW-A500 VTR’s, six DNF slo mo controllers, and a DVEous Dual Twin for video and special effects. The truck is equipped with six Philips LDK-2000 studio cameras, as well as four LDK-2000p handheld cameras, all with Canon lenses, although only five cameras (plus two lockdowns) will be used for the softball productions.

“We’re going to try to get creative with how we staff this and how many cameras we have so that we can make it look like a much bigger production than it actually is,” Hoffman explains.

The softball productions will be staffed by a combination of local professionals, WUTV staff, and some students.

A Cost-Effective Partnership

For FSN’s part of the bargain, the network gives UWTV a Fox Box to incorporate a score bug into the productions, as well as the play-by-play talent of Angie Mentink, a former UW softball All-American and current FSN Northwest sports reporter. FSN Northwest will also replay all of the live UWTV games on a tape-delay.

“This is a way to get a lot of bang for the buck and to have the broadcast look very much like a network-level broadcast without the cost of that,” Hoffman explains. “We’re all very quality-oriented, but we also have the reality that this is not a national broadcast. Two million households receive UWTV, so that’s our target audience.”

That target audience grows significantly with the addition of the FSN Northwest replays, as that network reaches 3.4 million households. UWTV is available throughout the state of Washington on Comcast channel 27, Broadstripe Cable and Click! Network. It is also available across the country, via satellite. The broadcasts will also be provided to the UW athletic department to stream on the GoHuskies.com Website.

“We have fiber connections from our ball fields back to our master control, so we get great quality from our transport,” Hoffman says. “We have a Vyvx pop and streaming encoders, so from our master control we can basically send that signal anywhere in the world.”

Husky Shoulder Programming

In addition to the live games, UWTV will produce a 30-minute preseason special for UW softball, and plans are in the works to produce a series of insider vignettes to air during the game broadcasts. UWTV will also produce and televise Dawg Dish, in conjunction with the athletics department. Dawg Dish is a 30-minute show that offers an inside look at Husky sports teams and student athletes.

This January, UWTV began airing archived sporting events, courtesy of FSN Northwest, featuring UW football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, softball, and volleyball games. These “Husky Classics” have brought a whole new following to the campus television station, one which everyone involved hopes will spill over into the softball broadcasts.

“To be able to provide Husky Classics has really been a special thing for our fans,” Kilwien says. “Fans that didn’t know UWTV even existed are tuning in.”