Crosscreek Drives ESPN’s SEC Tournament Production for Fourth Straight Year

ESPN was on hand at the Georgia Dome last week when the University of Florida stormed through the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament en route to a No. 1 overall seed in the Big Dance, and Crosscreek  Television Productions’ Voyager 9 HD mobile unit served as the home base for ESPN’s tourney production for the fourth consecutive year.

Crosscreek's Voyager 9 and B-1 units in the compound at the SEC TournamentCrosscreek's Voyager 9 and B-1 units in the compound at the SEC Tournament

Crosscreek’s Voyager 9 and B-1 units in the compound at the SEC TournamentCrosscreek’s Voyager 9 and B-1 units in the compound at the SEC Tournament

Although the scale of the SEC Tournament production is on par with other top-level ESPN and ABC college-basketball shows that Crosscreek works on throughout the year, the need to serve three production crews on most days — a day-games crew, a night-games crew, and the studio-show crew — kept Crosscreek on its toes.

“The game crews, while doing very similar jobs, have their own preferences for what they want to see in the monitor wall, what things are called, and even how things operate,” says Voyager 9 EIC Joe Rainey. “On top of that, we have the studio crew with their need to ingest footage from off-site, create their own graphics, and edit their own packages and prep them for air, all while working within the game-production environment. There’s an awful lot going on in a very limited amount of space, and we want everyone to get the same level of support, so we tend to keep busy.”

Around the Clock at the Georgia Dome
To handle all that action at the SEC Tourney, Voyager 9 was deployed with two fiber feeds, a press conference feed, and three tunable feeds in-bound; five discrete HD feeds to the house; and three transmission paths: two 16-channel audio paths back to ESPN’s Bristol, CT, headquarters and, for the Championship Game on Sunday, a transmission path to serve the ESPN3 Surround second-screen companion offering (which features alternative cameras, nat-sound audio from the arena, and the ESPN scorebug graphic). To serve media needs within the Georgia Dome, an additional path was dedicated to a special SEC release feed with remapped audio.

Inside Voyager 9 mobile unit during ESPN's SEC Tournament production

Inside Voyager 9 mobile unit during ESPN’s SEC Tournament production

“Our system for alternating between production crews worked really well, with router salvos to quickly swap between the ‘day’ and ‘night’ production environments,” says Rainey. “V-9’s very large electronic capacity allows us to have every production system available all the time, simplifying life for the TD and the A1 and enabling us to instantly shift from one environment to the other. This is not something the EIC normally has to worry about; one production crew is usually enough to handle.”

In addition, Crosscreek has been able to provide ESPN with a sense of continuity and anticipate its SEC Tournament needs by maintaining largely the same engineering crew for Voyager 9 over the past four years — led by Rainey, second EIC Jason Madison, and maintenance engineers Larry Masters (who is also engineer on Voyager 11) and Kris Hendon.

No Shortage of Gear for SEC Tourney
In addition to Voyager 9, Crosscreek rolled out its B-1 secondary unit and a massive haul of gear to support the ESPN production.

ESPN’s camera complement for the SEC Tourney included four hard cameras, three handhelds, two jibs, one super-slo-mo handheld, one CP Communications RF handheld, two Fletcher Sports ATR robos, a Panasonic robotic for beauty shots, and two I-MOVIX ultra-slow-motion systems mounted on the basket.

As for replay and media sharing, ESPN used Voyager 9’s variety of EVS equipment — a six-channel XT2, four-channel XT2, two four-channel XT2 ROs, four-channel SpotBox, XFile, and two media-sharing Hub systems — as well as two Panasonic AJ-HD1800 DVCPRO VTRs and an AJ-HD1200A DVCPRO VTR. In addition, the ESPN ART system in the tape room used a dedicated EVS channel to create animated overlay graphics that follow players and action on the court. And an Apple Final Cut Pro NLE accessed the EVS IPDirector and XT Access systems to transfer media via file-based workflows from the EVS server farm and transcode it to QuickTime media and back.

Also included in Crosscreek’s package were a Fingerworks HD telestrator system, two ChyronHego HyperX3 graphics systems, two Vizrt graphics systems, and ESPN’s score and slider systems.

Outside the truck, ESPN deployed 17 monitors of various types, several converters, and more than 6,000 ft. each of SMPTE fiber and single-mode fiber.

“If [all this equipment] looks like a lot, it is,” says Rainey. “Every single seat in the house and then some is taken for this one.”