For Midco sports, it's bigger and better
In the offices of Midco Sports Network this week, vice president Mark Powell and others reminisced about its first venture into broadcasting live sports 10 years ago.
Midco televised a University of South Dakota football game—the only live event it attempted in 2007. The next year, Midco televised three college football games.
"So, we really bumped it up the second year," Powell said with a laugh.
Midco Sports Network has since become a major player on the regional television scene—and with new technology, executives are mapping out their most ambitious broadcast schedule to date.
Midco is planning on broadcasting 220-plus live events this sports season, and it will venture into new territories.
This weekend, for example, the network had live telecasts of River Cities Speedway dirt-track car racing and of the McQuade Softball Tournament in Bismarck—both firsts for Midco.
Other new ventures include televising a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference football game of the week on Thursdays and 10 prep football games on Friday nights along with their expanding coverage of the big four Dakota Division I schools—UND, North Dakota State, South Dakota and South Dakota State.
"We're going to capture more live events," Powell said. "We've kind of moved from what we had been doing with tape delayed games to more live games. If we can capture it live, we'll do it."
This summer, Midco has been installing a new centralized production system that will allow the network to produce games from its home base of Sioux Falls—and soon Fargo—without taking its massive 48-foot production truck and production staff to the site.
Instead, it will take a smaller, sprinter van to events along with on-air talent, camera operators, a timeout coordinator and an engineer. The producer, director, technical director, graphics and replay staff will stay back in South Dakota.
The van makes it easier to access some venues and it also makes the same production staff available to potentially do two games in one day in separate locations.
Midco recently sent a couple of staff members to California to see how the Pac-12 Network operates their centralized production.
The Pac-12 Network and ESPN are doing some games with centralized productions—the Pac-12 calls it "At Home" and ESPN calls it "REMI."
"It's going to be a huge game-changer," executive producer Nathan Aamodt said. "In the past, a lot of times, we would go to a school with two cameras, a play-by-play guy, tape it, edit it in post-production and run it on tape delay. Now, we can take everything live."
Last season, Midco broadcasted 14 or 15 football games live. This season, it is planning on doing more than 40.
"I think the emphasis on trying to do more live events has really grown in the last couple of years," play-by-play announcer Alex Heinert said. "It has really grown in the last couple of years. This is just Year 9. We've been able to add some contracts and we've been able to extend some contracts and expand coverage to the NSIC and high school sports. You can tell the network really wants to push live sports—not just at the D-I level. That's been the biggest change."
But Midco's bread and butter is still the Division I programs in the Dakotas.
It has contracts to broadcast sports at UND, South Dakota and South Dakota State. It also has the North Dakota State basketball contract.
It just re-signed a five-year, $1.425 million deal with UND, re-upping after its previous five-year, $1 million deal.
While men's hockey is the big draw at UND, Midco executives are excited about the school's move from the Big Sky Conference to the Summit League and Missouri Valley Football Conference, bringing the four Dakota schools under the same umbrellas.
Midco thinks familiar opponents will increase interest in the games.
UND football, basketball and volleyball games will likely now also be more attractive to fans in South Dakota, because the teams are in the same league, and vice versa.
"There's nothing wrong with the Big Sky," Powell said, "but UND is now going to be playing, NDSU, USD and SDSU a lot more. Those are really intriguing matchups. We here at Midco think that adds tremendous value."
Midco currently has two high definition channels and a third standard definition channel. It could make the third channel high definition if it needs to.
Midco also is moving into the Lawrence, Kan., market and will cover some events in that area, but those won't be televised to the North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota region.
The tri-state region's schedule will be packed this season already.
"We're extremely blessed with the number of people we have—and their willingness to work," Powell said. "We're going to be keeping them busy."
Midco has continued to hire broadcasters from local television stations to lead its teams.
The latest move was hiring Jody Norstedt from WDAY-TV in Fargo, but its Sioux Falls and Grand Forks stations are also full of people who previously worked for KELO-TV in Sioux Falls and WDAZ-TV in Grand Forks.
Heinert said Midco has been a good spot for those who are more interested in the live event side of broadcasting.
"We're always trying to find ways to engage an audience every day of the week across all platforms," Heinert said. "Doing a lot of live games has always been the goal, but the ability to do it has really grown in the way the network has grown in the last couple of years. It's great that we get to be a part of it."
Aamodt, who grew up in West Fargo and attended college at UND and MSU-Moorhead, said: "It has been a lot of fun watching these teams grow along with us."