While the launch of the Big Ten Network in 2007 was aspirational and audacious (a first-of-its-kind network specific to a college athletic conference seemed both precarious and prescient back then), the network’s latest endeavor comes with many similar challenges -- and, like BTN itself, with room for ample success.
The debut of “BTN Tailgate,” an on-site pregame show originating each week from a conference football game, comes Saturday from East Lansing, Mich., site of the matchup between No. 11 Wisconsin and No. 8 Michigan State.
The show debuts at 10:30 a.m. and the game, which also airs on BTN, kicks off at noon.
Producer Marc Carman, like a head coach with a talented team, is ready for the months of preparation and meetings to turn into an actual show. He has some typical logistical concerns (any good producer would) but those pale in comparison to his excitement.
“I’m just looking forward to getting into the truck,” Carman said. “I’m not worried about content and look. I’m not worried about attendance. There’s no better more important game in America this weekend and we’re there. Plus it’s a noon game, and we’re 90 minutes out.”
The “Tailgate” team -- host Dave Revsine and analysts Gerry DiNardo and Anthony Adams -- has been working through rehearsals for weeks. There was no live audience, of course, but mock storylines, standing segments and repetitions together have been important in building the most important part of any show: chemistry.
Carman expects the show to possess an energy and personality, and he expects that to come across well with viewers.
In addition, he thinks preparation has put the production team in a good position to utilize the “Tailgate” set to its fullest potential during the inaugural season. The footprint of the site will not rival that of ESPN’s award-winning “College GameDay” and BTN wisely plans to take a measured approach to the this season.
For example, there will be no mock football field for live demonstrations of Xs and Os or separate standup areas for reporters. For “Tailgate” simple might simply be the route to success in the inaugural season.
“For the most part our set will be our home base,” Carman said. The network has invested abundant time in finding just the right place for the set each week, too. That included site visits to every conference school during the summer. The biggest motivation was finding places with heavy foot traffic and where college students could congregate.
Thanks to “GameDay,” college football fans of all ages know the drill with on-site pregame shows. It’s largely about fans and interaction, a model perfected by “GameDay” and practiced by and by any number of other, not-quite-as-good studio shows on other networks and for other sports.
While the shadow of “GameDay” could loom over the launch of “BTN Tailgate,” Carman insists that’s not the case. He and his team are focused only on their endeavor.
“I’m not going in thinking we’re trying to compete with ‘GameDay.’ We’re not going to be that. They’re 20-plus years in. We’re starting from where we’re starting,” Carman said. “I’m much more personally focused on what we’re doing. Our mindset it to do a great 90 minutes and go from there.”
“I really feel like we’re moving in a good direction. I don’t think there’s a tone of comparing.”
Make no mistakes, though, there will be comparisons. And, if BTN’s track record is any indication, “Tailgate” should live up to a viewer-pleasing standard.
Best of all for the network, the show has already earned strong support from sponsors. Of course that includes a debate segment, dubbed Slim Jim Settle the Beef, and four presenting sponsors -- each with its own on-site presence.
All of that support is enough to make network officials optimistic about an even longer version of “BTN Tailgate” next year. First things first, though -- an initial show with a look and feel Carman thinks viewers will like and an on-air team he thinks they’ll like even more.
The network has rallied about the program, too.
“This is my sixth year at BTN and I’ve never seen a more coordinated effort to prepare everything as I have for this show,” Carman said. “Our communications, our event planning, so many groups have come together. For me all that starts to unlock great possibilities for what we can do and the stories we can tell.”
On location, BTN promises more than just the chance to watch TV happen. While the show airs at 10:30 a.m., activities begin at 9 a.m. and include a DJ and ample interaction between the on-air talent and fans.
This week’s show is the first of six campus visits already set for the “Tailgate” this season. Once November begins, the show will move to more week-by-week approach, allowing it to “be where it should for the games it should,” according to Carman.
For now, where “BTN Tailgate” should be is on TV each week at 10:30 a.m., and that should be a good thing for viewers.