The opening of the 2011 season ushers in a new era of Big Ten football, and the conference’s exclusive network is prepared to mirror those changes.
Big Ten Network (BTN) kicks off its fifth season on Saturday with a slate of home non-conference games featuring Penn State, Iowa, and Purdue at noon ET. The festivities begin with BTN Football Pregame-Live at 10:30 a.m. ET, and viewers will immediately notice a wealth of improvements, including a shiny, new studio.
“The timing on this was just perfect,” says Mark Hulsey, VP of production/executive producer at BTN. “We are entering our fifth year as a network, and, with the addition of Nebraska, it just all made sense to implement a cosmetic change to our look.”
A New Aesthetic
Virtually every visual aspect of BTN’s presentation is getting a complete overhaul this season. A new name (Big Ten Network officially became BTN) and logo were introduced in May, and, with the first slate of games this weekend, production will roll out new graphics packages, animations, Fox Box, score ticker, and transition music. A redesigned studio will also debut this week in BTN’s Chicago offices.
”We’ve got an incredibly hardworking, energetic, creative staff, and, for us, it’s just about getting better each year,” says Hulsey. “The positive press has been nice, but we just need to be better, and, with all of these additions, I think we are poised for our best year ever.”
Mobile TV Group remains a constant at the network, again serving as BTN’s primary production-truck vendor. Given the high volume of games — more than 400 linear events across all sports — the network plans to carry this year, BTN will have to sub out trucks from time to time. That will be the case on football Saturdays, when the network will be working as many as five stadiums in a day.
Welcoming a New Member
The new kid on the block in the Big Ten is the University of Nebraska, a traditional football power, and BTN will help welcome the Huskers to the party by carrying the team’s first two telecasts of the season: Sept. 3 at 2:30 p.m. CT vs. Tennessee-Chattanooga and Sept. 10 at 6 p.m. CT vs. Fresno State.
In preparation for broadcasting Huskers games, BTN executives and crew have made eight trips to Lincoln over the past three months, according to Hulsey, to become familiar with Memorial Stadium prior to game day.
“We feel like we’ve got a really in-depth knowledge of what the stadium is all about,” says Hulsey, who knows the venue intimately from broadcasting games there during his years at Fox Sports Midwest. “We feel confident that we’re going into Nebraska knowing everything they have available to us. [Memorial Stadium] is one of the finest college football facilities in the country from a television standpoint.”
BTN has also hired former NFL running back and Nebraska alum Ahman Green to serve as a sideline analyst and to bring some home-cooked Husker flavor to the show.
“We’re going to experiment with adding former Big Ten players on the sidelines this season,” says Hulsey. “We’d like to see that role evolve into a second analyst position, someone that can provide some immediacy to what’s going on on the field, and I think that Nebraska fans are really going to enjoy what Ahman is going to bring to the telecast.”
Hall of Fame sports broadcaster Keith Jackson and former Michigan football star Dhani Jones will host shows on BTN this fall as part of the network’s “Football Fix” programming block, which includes new shows every weeknight beginning at 7 p.m. ET.
Jones will host BTN LiveBIG, one of the network’s six new shows this fall. The program highlights how current and former members of the Big Ten community have impacted the world by living and giving “big.” The eight-episode series airs at 7:30 PM ET on Mondays starting October 3.
Jackson returns for a second season on BTN to host Big Ten Icons (Tuesdays, 8 p.m. ET). This year, the series will focus on iconic coaches in Big Ten history. The 12-episode series will stretch into the winter, and profile one coach from every Big Ten school.