Orange County

What’s $10 million buy? For UNC-CH, better TV-production facilities for sports

Tucked away in a state bill that authorizes borrowing for new university construction projects, UNC-Chapel Hill officials are seeking permission to build a $10 million television-production center that they’d use to create sports programming for the ACC Network.

The product would add three control rooms and two studios to the Koury Natatorium, supplanting an office suite at the front of the building. Campus leaders have picked one of the mainstay firms of the Chapel Hill architectural scene, Corley Redfoot Zack Inc., to design the center and hope to put it on line by May 2019.

That would coincide, roughly, with the launch of the 24/7 cable-TV channel the Atlantic Coast Conference intends to set up in collaboration with ESPN. At UNC-CH, officials like Ken Cleary, assistant athletic director for Go Heels Productions, expect increased TV-rights payments and revenue sharing from the conference to eventually cover the project’s construction cost.

“The more profitable the network is, the more revenue the ACC and its institutions will make,” he said, giving the elevator-pitch business case for the ACC Network. “The tradeoff is, ESPN is trying to offset some of its production expenses by [having] its partners producing more of the content.”

For now, the campus needs an OK from the N.C. General Assembly because it figures on borrowing money for the production center up front and repaying it in the coming years as cash from the TV deal supplements the nearly $27.0 million the university was getting each year from the ACC as of fiscal 2014-15.

Approval would come via a pending bill that also would authorize such things as a major dormitory renovation at N.C. Central University and the replacement of Chapel Hill’s Fetzer Field soccer complex.

State universities “cannot borrow money without permission from the legislature,” even when taxpayer subsidies aren’t at stake, the bill’s manager, state Rep. Bill Brawley, R-Mecklenburg, explained recently.

The TV center’s $10 million price tag nonetheless proved eye-catching earlier this year when UNC-CH’s request made its way through the system Board of Governors. Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Matt Fajack then said “a lot of the cost is in the equipment” that will go into the control rooms and studios, rather than actual changes to the structure of Koury Natatorium.

N.C. State University Chancellor Randy Woodson also helped Fajack make the case for it in January, telling the board’s budget committee that his institution “is doing the same thing” via roughly $6 million worth of upgrades and TV gear that’ll go into the Wendell Murphy Football Center near Carter-Finley Stadium.

At UNC-CH, officials want to end up with a center that’s capable of hosting a couple of live game broadcasts and a studio show all at once, with multi-camera production values across the board, Cleary said.

“We’ve got 28 sports here and we’ll try to produce live broadcasts of 14 or 15 of them,” Cleary said. “Those are overlapping all the time.”

An existing TV control room in the Smith Center handles the production of about 150 sports events a year, for internet video and other outlets, but two-thirds of those get limited coverage from a single camera. The new center should be capable of up to handling up to 180 events a year — “pretty much every live event being contested on campus at this point” — and take feeds from several cameras covering each.

It’ll also be bigger, present assumptions being that it might have up to about 12,000 square feet of floor space, versus the 1,600 to 1,800 square feet of the present facility.

As Woodson pointed out, UNC-CH isn’t the only ACC school that’s adding TV facilities in anticipation of the launch of the ACC cable channel.

Duke University has already built what Vice President for Public Affairs and Government Relations Michael Schoenfeld terms “state-of-the-art studios” and control rooms into Blue Devil Tower, the recent, $100 million-plus addition to Wallace Wade Stadium.

Duke officials last year told the Associated Press that Blue Devil Tower’s TV facilities alone cost more than $10 million. And like their counterparts at UNC-CH, they intend to use them not just to produce sports broadcasts, but to create video for the campus public-relations operation.

Ray Gronberg: 919-419-6648, @rcgronberg