SportsMEDIA Provides Data Backbone for NCAA Tournament

While Indianapolis, host of the Final Four, may be the center of this year’s NCAA Basketball Tournament, SportsMEDIA Technology Corp.’s data operations center (DOC) in Durham, NC, is the lifeline. For the 12th straight year, every statistic, clock, and score pertaining to all 65 games will flow through the DOC before being sent on to CBS and DirecTV for integration into television and online feeds, enabling fans around the world to keep tabs on every game during the three-week tournament.

“The backbone of what we are providing is a live stats feed that we create at every venue,” says Don Tupper, VP of business development for SportsMEDIA. “We are inside the production truck, integrating stats and clocks from the stadium scoreboards and supporting the remote broadcast.”

Similar to the system that SportsMEDIA provides for CBS’s coverage of NFL games, the NCAA system features a Data Matrix (DMX) Switchboard into CBS’s mobile-production truck at each game site. That DMX Switchboard integrates the in-game statistics with pre-loaded season and career stats for each player in every game. The company’s Autograph Clock and Score system captures data from the game clocks and play clocks, marries it with that statistical information, and pushes everything to the Vizrt graphics system, where CBS operators can integrate it into the broadcast as they see fit.

“They want to have access to the most accurate real-time information that is possible in the truck,” Tupper says. “So we have an operator in each truck working with a spotter who is on PL courtside, scoring the game.”

Working on TV Time
The NCAA already has someone at each site scoring the game, but those statistics do not come through fast enough for CBS to use them.

“The official-stats side of the NCAA does not have the urgency of television,” Tupper explains. “They may get that Kyle Singler scored a basket, but they may not get that into their system until the other team goes down the court, and, at that point, CBS has already lost the ability to get that graphic. If you don’t get that information on the screen at that specific moment in time, it’s about useless, so all of our systems are designed in TV real time.”

Preparing the Team
All of SportsMEDIA’s operators are full-time employees — although the company taps workers from other departments, such as software developers and account managers, to come up with the 16 technicians it needs on the road for the opening round. To fully prepare them, a simulation environment is set up at the DOC where everyone, including the team’s 10-year veteran technicians, must score 30 games, looking for speed as well as accuracy.

“We always match official stats during TV timeouts, so, if we scored one guy with a rebound, and the official scored it as a team rebound, we can make the change at the first opportunity,” Tupper says.

The SportsMEDIA team works with the NCAA during TV timeouts to make sure both stats sheets align. The team’s first priority is to get the information as quickly as possible, but 100% accuracy is the ultimate goal.

Real Data, Real Time
The stats and clock information aggregated at each site are sent from the truck to the DOC, where it is aggregated with data from every other host venue. That information is then integrated into one simultaneous feed in real time and pushed to the CBS studio in New York and DirecTV studio in Los Angeles, where it is integrated into the broadcasters’ graphics systems.

“That way, when they spin around the country to do live look-ins, the out-of-town scores are all being driven by our real-time data feed that has all of the games and scores in it,” Tupper says. “That gives them maximum flexibility to switch between games.”

SportsMEDIA has triple redundancy at its DOC. “If we lose an Internet connection to a certain venue, we have a dial-in modem that we can go to so that there’s 100% uptime for CBS,” he says. “That requires that somebody’s watching these feeds from the data center 100% of the time, so there are some long days and nights. But it’s actually a great place to watch a game.”

Bringing the Clocks Up to Speed
New for this year is an integrated electronic presentation of the shot clock.

“As early as two years ago, we didn’t interface the shot clock,” Tupper points out. “It was a camera of the shot clock displayed on-air for CBS. Last year, 50% of the venues had the shot clock available in the data feed, so that we could integrate it and push it to the Vizrt. This year, 100% of the arenas will have the shot clock available.”

Tupper’s team spends a considerable amount of time integrating that clock and pushing it to the Vizrt graphics system, but the presentation is much more elegant when all of the clocks are electronically interfaced.

For its coverage of the tournament, CBS uses many of the same mobile-production units it uses for coverage of the NFL, so SportsMEDIA equipment is, in many cases, already on board the truck. Technicians can switch the equipment from the NFL to the NCAA system within an hour.

March Madness tips off on Thursday March 16 and continues through the Championship game on Monday April 5.