CHAPEL HILL — Jason Rogers was about to walk out of the door of his North Hills home to take his son and daughter to dinner at Bad Daddy’s when he got a frantic call from ESPN.
“They called and said, ‘we have an emergency, can you come over to the Dean Dome? Our transmission went down. We need to get this game on the air,’ ” said Rogers, who is president of 15up Media LLC, and owns a satellite truck (top picture).
There was a glitch between the Smith Center and ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn., on Wednesday night of the fiber transmission of the ESPN2 broadcast of the Wake Forest–North Carolina game. ESPN needed his truck to transmit the broadcast via satellite, the way most broadcasts were done up until a couple of years ago.
Rogers got the call from ESPN at about 6:40 p.m., which was a problem considering that the game started at 7 p.m. and he was in Raleigh. In the meantime, viewers instead could only watch the Texas-West Virginia game or listen to either the UNC or Wake Forest radio broadcast.
Rogers arrived at the arena’s back parking lot at about 7:30, and the game telecast began a few minutes later, with 3:24 left in the first half. There still were seven brief switches to a cyan screen before the first half ended, but the broadcast had no second-half glitches.
“Once we were made aware of the fiber issue, we called the uplink truck and got back on air as soon as it arrived,” said ESPN spokesperson Rachel Siegal via email.
How fast did Rogers drive? He would only say that it was fast. “I don’t want to incriminate myself,” said Rogers, who finally ate his dinner at Denny’s after 11 p.m.
Rogers (at left before a Donald Trump rally at Dorton Arena in December) started 15up Media in April 2015 after previously owning a company called Carolina Uplink. He had three trucks with Carolina Uplink but only has one with his current company. Luckily for ESPN, that truck wasn’t being used Wednesday. The truck is mostly used for news and political events, although it was used last week for a George Washington University basketball game.
In just about every other case, he knows about a job well in advance. He never expects that sort of timetable.
“It is very rare,” said Rogers, standing next to his truck in a Smith Center parking lot on a frigid evening. “For a 7 o’clock game, you normally get here at 1 o’clock and you’re called a month ago. It was really tight.”
Ken Cleary, UNC’s assistant athletic director for new media, said that there probably have been 300 broadcasts transmitted using fiber in the last three years without a glitch. It worked fine for Saturday’s ESPN broadcast of the UNC-N.C. State game. But not Wednesday night.
“We verified the signal out of the piece of equipment that we have, so the output was good,” Cleary said. “So, as far as we can tell, everything was fine. So it was somewhere between that box and Bristol where it was getting lost. But by the time everyone got involved to figure out where it was, we had to come up with a different plan. It was just a technical glitch.”
There was a huge power outage around UNC’s North Campus on Wednesday night, but Cleary didn’t think that was related to the transmission issue. The arena is on South Campus.
“This is a relatively new process,” Cleary said. “It used to always be satellite uplinks, but now ESPN has installed fiber at various campuses because they are using it for lots of different things. For the last two years, it’s been the only transmission path.”
He said that using fiber is a more cost-efficient process.
“I have been told the glitch was not on our end or the university,” Siegal said.
The video moves via fiber from the UNC campus to the Rosemary Street office of AT&T, Cleary said, to a repeater in Cary, then to a building on Morgan Street in Raleigh, where it gets encoded before going to Bristol. The process worked flawlessly many times before.
Cleary says that just about every major sporting broadcasts uses fiber, and that many times there is a satellite truck that is used as a backup.
“I’m sure in the future there will be multiple backup plans that didn’t exist tonight,” Cleary said.
With no backups until Rogers could get his truck to Chapel Hill, the only way fans could initially see the game at home was to watch a broadcast of it from my Android phone via the Periscope app. Once I heard that the game wasn’t being shown yet on ESPN2, I began to broadcast using the app from a booth at the top of the lower arena behind the UNC bench as the game started.
It wasn’t of the best quality, of course, but the feed quickly went viral with numerous people watching. About 10 minutes into the game, Josh Mayo, a UNC junior from Chapel Hill, began his own Periscope broadcast from a much-better vantage point on the risers behind the baseline closest to the Carolina bench.
Once I heard that the ESPN2 broadcast of the game had started, I ended my broadcast, as did Mayo.
There were many appreciative viewers who thanked me on Twitter, and my Periscope link was retweeted many times. When Jones Angell, the voice of the Tar Heels, asked on Twitter for votes for player of the game, below is one suggestion that he received.
— UNC Humor (@UNC_Humor) January 21, 2016
By the time the second half started, everybody was happy. Neither Mayo nor I needed to hold our phones up to broadcast the game and, more importantly, everybody at home could actually enjoy the ESPN2 telecast.
Oh, and if you missed it, there were glitches to the Tar Heels’ shooting as well — many problems unlinking the ball to the basket — but they still managed to easily beat the Demon Deacons 83–68 to go 6–0 in the ACC.
Coach Roy Williams wasn’t happy with the effort and was particularly frustrated with his team’s defense. But at least it was much easier for him to watch, even if he didn’t like a lot of what he was seeing.