People ask us all the time how we are able to do all we are doing — what's the secret ingredient? It’s a combination of an incredibly talented professional broadcast team paired with an incredibly talented and dedicated team of student employees — approximately 350 per year. —Kevin Worthen, BYU vice president of advancement who oversees both athletics and broadcasting
Editor's note: This is the first in a two-part series on BYUtv. Part two deals with the network's direct value to the school and its students. In preparation for this series, Ryan Teeples was an on-site observer of the game-day broadcast process.
It’s football game day in Provo, and the Cougars are playing host to Georgia Tech.
ESPNU is on-hand to broadcast the game live, bringing in a seasoned crew of about 60 to deliver the product to fans across the country. At any other university in America, that’s the sum of the effort.
But at BYU, that’s just the beginning.
The BYUtv broadcast
Before ESPN even unloads gear, BYUtv’s broadcasting crew is prepping to shoot its own pregame show. By night’s end it will also produce its own game broadcast side by side with ESPN, a post-game show and other online features.
Overall, BYUtv has about 70 people assigned to work broadcasts like this, and only about 30 percent of the crew are professionals. The remaining 70 percent are students. Like BYUtv itself, this student participation is unique to Provo.
In the past two years, this collaboration of students and professionals has produced nearly 300 live broadcasts of sporting events across the spectrum of athletics with basketball, soccer, volleyball, baseball and others joining football on the network. Add to that another 163 studio shows, and this resume rivals any sports network anywhere.
"People ask us all the time how we are able to do all we are doing — what's the secret ingredient? It’s a combination of an incredibly talented professional broadcast team paired with an incredibly talented and dedicated team of student employees — approximately 350 per year," said BYU vice president of advancement Kevin Worthen, who oversees both athletics and broadcasting.
Nowhere in the country can so many students gain such real-world broadcasting experience.
Inside BYUtv studios
Walking into the BYUtv broadcasting facilities on game day, you can’t help but be impressed with the building itself. Mikel Minor, senior coordinating producer of sports programming at BYUtv, explains the building’s architecture was designed with broadcasting in mind. Architects visited ESPN, Discovery and other networks for inspiration for the building's design. The end product, Minor says, would fit in easily on ESPN’s Bristol, Conn., campus.
BYUtv produces all of its athletic pre-game and post-game shows out of this building, which sits conveniently adjacent to the Marriott Center and a stone’s throw from LaVell Edwards Stadium. The studio is also home to BYUtv’s other original programming, which the network promotes during sports broadcasts.
A walk down one of the studio’s hallways reveals room after room prepared for the demanding technical aspects of broadcasting. The equipment looks impressive, and it turns out it’s leading edge.
Edward Placey, senior coordinating producer for ESPN/ABC College Football, said any production team at any level would love to have the setup that BYUtv has.
“BYUtv’s facilities are as impressive as any you’ll ever see, on or off a college campus. First rate all around,” he said.
The production room is packed with electronics and people as the pregame show begins. There’s a palpable vibe of enjoyment in the work among the half-dozen employees and students in the room. While the show hosts sit in front of cameras at the stadium, this crew works feverishly to mix sound, put up graphics, follow the Twitter conversation, switch cameras and deliver the product to fans' televisions. It’s all done with professionalism trimmed with a happy vibe.
As the show host talks about the importance of Cody Hoffman to the team, the director orders a camera change to show Hoffman on the sidelines warming up — right as he drops a pass thrown to him. “He’s not following the script!” shouts someone as those in the room collectively laugh. There’s an infectious enthusiasm among members of the production team as they carry out their work.
High above the field
LaVell Edwards Stadium is anchored by two large silos on its west side. These tubes hold elevators that take fans, media and VIPs up to the boxes. At the very top of the structure, literally on the roof, sit less glamorous rooms where TV production crews work.
Up here, it’s all business as BYUtv’s on-air personalities Dave McCann and Gary Sheide call the game while right next door ESPN’s talent is doing the same. BYUtv’s broadcast won’t be seen until later that night when the window for rebroadcasting opens.
A student works a camera, which is shared with ESPNU, while a handful of staffers shuffle around to keep things moving — and possibly stay warm in the windowless room.
The play-calling and camera feeds around the stadium all filter down toward the northwest corner of the stadium and into BYUtv’s production truck, affectionately called “Big Blue.”
Inside “Big Blue”
Stepping into BYUtv’s huge blue production truck, it’s a little confusing to hear “Go Yellow!” yelled across the room of more than a dozen employees and students.
But the outburst has nothing to do with BYU’s opponent, rather it refers to the camera image the producer wishes to have shown on the broadcast. A plethora of camera feeds displayed on screens all over the wall are each outlined by a color to allow the producer to easily identify which she wants live.
This is a no heads-down work environment. It’s an all-hands-on-deck effort where anyone may call out something important to the broadcast.
“Flag, flag!” “Anyone see the hold?” and “What number is Bills?” are examples of questions and comments thrown to the group throughout the game.
While there are those assigned to engineering, instant replay, graphics, sound, down and distance and other specific tasks, everybody pitches in to make the broadcast solid. It’s clear that everyone in the room is knowledgeable about the game of football.
And again there’s a clear, genuine air of friendliness in the room.
“The comraderie we have here is natural but encouraged,” Minor said, when asked about the working relationship the team has in the truck.
He goes on to explain that the tempo that BYU plays under Robert Anae’s “go fast, go hard” mantra has added new challenges to the broadcast this year.
“It changes how we produce shows, not only us, but ESPN even had to change. The way we do starting lineups now is a great example. If pace of play is 30 percent faster, you’re doing 30 percent more work. But it’s an adrenalin rush,” he said.
Minor is quick to point out that to make this work at the quality level BYUtv demands, it has to have talented employees. He would know, having produced SportsCenter at ESPN for the better part of a decade.
But for all that experience with the best of the best at ESPN, Minor speaks unflinchingly about the tremendous staff, students and partners he has to work with at BYUtv.
A clear purpose
With the availability of BYU game broadcasts on ESPN networks, some wonder why BYUtv produces its own football broadcasts. To understand, you must think beyond traditional formulas.
For BYUtv, the goal is to develop an audience it can introduce to its other programming. To do that, it must offer fans a compelling reason to tune in.
Fans love the rebroadcast to relive the game. But the shows that bookend the live ESPN broadcast draw viewers.
“The football game rebroadcast audience is a niche audience. It really solidifies the brand. But the post-game show is where we see the numbers,” Minor said.
The network is working to establish a viewing pattern in which fans first watch the BYUtv pregame show, switch to ESPN for the game, then come back to BYUtv for the post-game show and rebroadcast.
So far, for BYUtv, it’s been a pattern of success.
Ryan Teeples, twitter.com/SportsGuyUtah, is a marketing and technology expert, full-time sports fan, owner of Ryan Teeples Consulting Inc. (RyanTeeples.com) and regular contributor to LoyalCougars.com.