What's Cool In Road Cycling

Sunny King Criterium Leads the Way with Online Broadcast

A whirl of wheels, a kaleidescope of colors, and a chorus of cowbells and cheers. This is the annual Sunny King Criterium in Anniston, Ala., where you can hear it all and see it all in person April 8, 2017 as part of the two-day Alabama Cycling Classic. Not in Anniston? No problem. The online broadcast of this event makes it possible for people in 123 countries around the globe to see and hear the action.

With a combination of talent and technology, organizers of the Alabama Cycling Classic will provide a seventh year of online broadcasting for the races. This allows cycling fans from near and far to experience a bit of southern hospitality via a computer or mobile device. Last year, there were more than 27,000 page views of the broadcast feed. In addition to the U.S. and Canada, the other top five countries which had viewership were United Kingdom, Spain and Italy. In the U.S., some of the top cities represented with viewership were Atlanta, Birmingham, Phoenix, Los Angeles, New York City and Nashville.

Saturday’s Sunny King Criterium is part of an all-day street party in Anniston. The Noble Street Festival operates on nearby streets in downtown Anniston with the bicycle races, providing residents and visitors with plenty of family-friendly activities, food and fun. In fact, the festival has been named a Top 10 Event in Alabama for tourism. And the bicycle races are the only pro cycling events in Alabama that are part of the prestigious USA Cycling Professional Road Tour.

The Sunny King Criterium was an early adopter of video production and broadcasting for bicycle races, going back to 2008 when organizers streamed footage to closed-circuit televisions and a large screen video board for course-side fans. Live streaming began two years later with the help of a director/producer from WEAC TV24 in east Alabama.

“At the time, there was no blueprint for how to cover a downtown criterium. We made it up as we went and learned better coverage techniques every year,” said Matt Wilson, who has moved from TV24 to ESPN working as a remote director for the sports giant, including SEC Network. “After a couple years of producing a live video feed for the big screen, it occurred to me that if we streamed to the Internet then fans all over the world could watch. I approached the race director with the idea and and we set out to make the stream happen for the first time in 2010. The response was overwhelming.”

Streaming content on websites doesn’t sound like a big deal in 2017. However, just a few years ago the only way someone could watch a live sporting event was via a traditional feed on a television. Now there are multiple ways to consume sports programming, and webcasting is leading the charge. For viewers, the best part is the live feed for the Sunny King Criterium is free. But Wilson says it is still a challenge to pull everything together.

“In the business of remote television production, racing and golf are two of the most technically chal- lenging sports to cover because the action happens over such a large physical area, sometimes miles. This type of broadcast generally requires miles of cable, big crews, and big budgets. Over the years, we added cameras, a play-by-play announcer and high-definition,” noted Wilson, who will not be part of this year’s production team for the first time in 10 years.

Sunny King Criterium is unique in that it broadcasts a full day of amateur and junior races before the celebrated pro events in the evening.

“Itʼs really cool for the amateurs to have their races streamed,” said Brad Sohner, who is the an- nouncer and co-producer for the online broadcast for a second year. “It gives a chance for the friends, family members, and sponsors of the amateur team riders to see them race, which is sometimes a rare treat for athletes who travel a lot.”

So how does a broadcast of a bicycle race happen? How does this stream actually flow? According to Sohner, it’s the three T’s – teamwork, time and technology.

“We will have a total staff of 26 people on site for the broadcast, all converging on Anniston on Friday and Saturday. The logistics include running six miles of cable for a blazing fast internet connection, acquiring enhanced power supplies, operating 11 camera feeds, and so much more. Each camera is wired with power, video, audio, intercom, and tally so every person on staff can communicate, so the ‘to do’ list is very long,” Sohner said. “The production really starts weeks in advance, gathering interviews, editing features, creating graphics, scripting, and confirming the crew. Then it all comes together in a very small window before the event.”

This year’s indepth coverage will include seven manned cameras, three fixed camera positions and a drone flying above the course, provided by Calhoun County. The drone coverage was a special permit from the County and approved by the City of Anniston to up the ante on the broadcast coverage.

Calhoun County will provide the drone on race day. One of the only challenges with that new equip- ment involved the power supply for the unmanned aerial device. The batteries on the drone only last 15-20 minutes, so a half dozen additional batteries will be needed, used in rotation, to keep the drone in the air as much as possible on Saturday.

Alabama Power and their infrastructure provides much more reliable energy resources for the com- pound rather than using multiple generators. The production truck alone uses about 150 amps, which is quite a bit more than the 15 or 20 amp circuits standard in most American homes. CableOne and the City of Anniston work together to provide solid high-speed internet connectivity. This bandwidth serves for the high definition upload, as well as support for the festival vendors and staff.

“We work with Jacksonville State University for some of their students and staff to work on set up and race operations. They always provide us with incredibly talented students, trained on the latest technology and ready to get the difficult job done,” said Sohner, who calls most of the race action on the streaming broadcast both days. Expert race analysis is also provided by former Olympian and Tour de France pro cyclist, Frankie Andreu, who calls the action along the course and conducts post- race interviews.

He noted the camera operators also put in a long day outside. “It’s a long show. Sometimes the cam- era operators have to sit through through the worst weather conditions, like rain, wind, cold. And then we pack up and pack up in the middle of the night, set up for the McClellan Road Race and are back at it a few hours later for the road race on Sunday.”

For the Sunday production of the two road races, the production crew uses two cameras on motorcycles, and five cameras at the start/finish area in the Buckner Historic area. A circuit of 16 miles is used for the road race, with many miles in rural areas that are out of cellular phone range. This was a challenge to produce a live broadcast without the use of helicopters and specially-equipped trucks for radio-frequency (RF) engineering. The solution was to record each lap of the race and stream with a one-hour delay.

WHO DOES WHAT FOR BROADCAST:
– Director (calls the shots)
-Technical Director (pushes the buttons to make whatever the director says happen) – Replay Operator
– Graphics Operator
– Graphics Coordinator
– Video Engineer
– Audio Mixer
– Network Engineer (keeps an eye on the internet and stream)
– 2 truck engineers
– 7 camera operators
– 2 field engineers
– 1 drone operator
– 2 commentators
– 2 motocycle camera operators
– 2 motorcycle drivers

Web – annistoncycling.com – Facebook – Alabama Cycling Classic – Twitter – @SunnyKingCrit #annistoncycling

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