BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech is ready for its close-up.
The athletic department has spent $10 million to prepare for the launch of the ACC Network, adding equipment and converting facilities so that its games can air on the new TV channel. Production of Tech sporting events will now originate from two new control rooms in the south end zone portion of Lane Stadium.
“This theoretically ends the need to ever have to roll a TV truck in here,” said Eric Frey, Tech’s senior director for ACC Network operations. “Other than football, most of the broadcasts will be done from this facility, with the hope that a couple years down the road, maybe we start seeing some football games done in here [too].”
The ACC Network is a regular, linear TV channel — just like ESPN or CNN — that will debut Thursday. The ESPN-owned channel has deals to be carried on some TV providers, including the DirecTV satellite service, Shentel cable and Citizens cable.
The bowels of the south end zone complex are now home to two control rooms, an engineering room and offices. Virginia Tech began work last November to convert rooms that had previously been used for other purposes, such as for the Tech football team’s postgame press conferences.
But most of the $10 million has been spent on TV equipment, not for construction. Tech has bought everything from walls of TV monitors to replay machines to fiber technology.
“Each [ACC] school has met with ESPN on numerous occasions,” Frey said. “They’ve done site visits and have come in and said, ‘You need to build camera towers here, platforms here. You have to have so many strands of fiber to and from each venue.’”
In 2016, the ACC not only announced the planned 2019 launch of the ACC Network but also began airing sporting events on the ACC Network Extra digital channel (moving those online broadcasts over from ESPN3)
Tech has been handling the ACC Network Extra digital broadcasts of its games from two preexisting control rooms in the Merryman Center for the past three years.
But Frey said those control rooms would not suffice for the new ACC Network television channel.
“The infrastructure down there isn’t what we need for prolonged success doing digital and linear television,” Frey said. “It requires more intercom channels, more graphics, more replay channels, more cameras. … The biggest part of that is broadcast cable and fiber infrastructure; we’ve been able to significantly improve both of those areas at all of our venues.”
The new engineering room is connected to all of the Tech athletic venues, and is also linked to ACC Network headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut.
The two control rooms in the south end zone will not only handle ACC Network games but also the digital broadcasts of Tech games on ACC Network Extra.
Tech will now be able to broadcast two home events that are being held at the same time, which it could not do before.
The control rooms are where the director, producer, technical director and others will sit. Each control room also has an audio booth and a replay booth.
Tech tested out the new control rooms in April and May by handling 10 baseball broadcasts from there — nine ACC Network Extra games and one linear telecast for ESPNU.
Virginia Tech engineers had inspected the equipment and facilities at Tennessee, Missouri, South Carolina and several other schools before the $10 million project began, in hopes of avoiding others’ missteps.
“We wanted to invest in equipment that would expand with the ESPN requirements,” Tech senior associate athletic director Angie Littlejohn said. “What our staff learned from the SEC [Network] and looking at what happened to a lot of the other schools is they [had to] …. make another big investment two years down the road.”
The new equipment is not just for the south end zone, though.
Tech also bought new equipment for the Merryman Center control rooms, which will now be used to handle scoreboard video operations at Tech athletic venues.
The project also includes a “bureau cam” room that has been carved out of part of the Cassell Coliseum press room. A camera in the new room will enable all Tech coaches to be interviewed remotely by ACC Network and ESPN anchors back in Connecticut.
Camera towers are being added at the soccer, baseball and soccer stadiums.
Construction has yet to occur on one part of the project. The memorabilia room in the west side of Lane Stadium will be converted into a studio for scoreboard video features.
Frey is among eight Tech employees who will be handling production or engineering tasks for the regular and digital broadcasts, including six employees who have been hired since 2018.
That does not include the 55 Tech students who will be involved in the broadcasts behind the scenes.
“It’s great for them to step in and get experience working in a multitude of different positions that hopefully they can use to find a job when they graduate,” Frey said.
For the telecasts on the ACC Network, ESPN will send down a director, producer, announcers and some other personnel, but the rest of the crew will be Tech staff and students. For the ACC Network Extra games, everything will still be done by Tech employees and students.
The Virginia Tech women’s soccer team’s home game with Liberty on Thursday night will air on ACC Network Extra, but Thursday night’s debut of the ACC Network will include some whiparound coverage from Tech and other women’s soccer games. The debut night will also feature interviews with Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney and other ACC sports figures; a Duke basketball documentary; and an ACC football studio show.
Some area viewers won’t be able to see those programs, though. The new TV channel still has yet to strike deals with Cox cable, Comcast cable or Dish Network.
Some fans will no longer be able to watch ACC Network Extra games, either. Beginning Thursday, ACC Network Extra broadcasts on ESPN.com and on the ESPN App will be available only to fans whose TV provider carries the ACC Network.