There are no electric blankets in the new Major League Fishing production studio in Tulsa, but for a professional fishing sports broadcast center it’s got just about everything else.
“This would have been our dream studio back in the early Winnercom days when we were producing a lot of programming,” MLF President and CEO Jim Wilburn said of the new space that will stream live and produce more than 550 hours of MLF bass fishing programming this year.
In the 18 months since the MLF Bass Pro Tour launched, the home office has grown from 15 or 20 full-time employees to about 85, not counting the 100 boat officials, 80 anglers and about 40 freelancers who help make the bass broadcasts happen, Wilburn said.
Now the organization has a new home broadcast center in Tulsa, too, and it is broadcasting a tournament currently underway at Lake Okeechobee, Florida.
For the inaugural 2019 season, the entire crew followed the anglers and broadcast from a mobile center outdoors that pro-angler-turned MLF sports analyst JT Kenney said was not as comfortable as it might have looked.
Hunting or fishing on a 50-degree day and sitting for hours behind a desk commenting on a monitor in a shaded, elevated, open-air portable studio are two different things, he said. So much for the hot lights of sports broadcasting fame.
“We had electric blankets they used to shock us with,” joked the Florida outdoorsman, who will travel to Tulsa for each tournament this year instead of following the anglers around the country. “We did, really, we had electric blankets on our laps under the desk.”
MLF sportscaster Chad McKee, who lives in Edmond, said the event at Lake Conroe in Texas about this time last year hit them with temperatures in the mid-30s in the morning.
“Then the wind would come up off the lake,” he said. “That was about as cold as I’ve ever been.”
Climate-controlled office space aside, the studio came to be over the past 30 days, as KWHB Channel 47 vacated its space behind Regent Preparatory School near Memorial Drive and 81st Street. Crews moved in to do some rewiring and create a sports broadcast center out of what was at that point “a big black box,” said director and senior editor Corbin Daily.
“The paint was still wet for the first broadcast last week,” he said.
Daily and executive producer Dean Holbird said the Tulsa base makes it a lot easier to focus on story lines and presentation of the sport.
“Out on the road it was more about operations, getting it up and down and transporting everything from site to site,” Holbird said.
Both Tulsa natives, who got to know each other while working at Winnercom for years, said they like being at home and enjoy that short drive to work.
A division of Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, MLF chose to invest in Tulsa despite the opportunity to produce remotely or from existing studios in Denver.
“I think it’s great for Tulsa to be the host of a television show that airs on six networks and has the No. 1-rated fishing or hunting show on any network. There’s a big source of pride in that,” Wilburn said. “It elevates our sport, too, having a studio that looks like it would be part of a studio for a major sport.”
Holbird said about 25 people work on the productions in the studio and in a semi-truck trailer outside that is loaded with equipment.
Another 100 or more people still travel, including production people, camera operators on the boats, 50 boat officials and another 25 or so who focus on putting on a fishing tournament in addition to the television productions.
This season, in addition to 480 hours of live broadcasts February through July, the studio will produce 15 two-hour episodes that will air on Discover, CBS, CBS Sports Network and Outdoor Channel beginning in July. An additional 54 hours of live streaming and 12 to 14 hours of television programming will focus on the Fishing League Worldwide championship, Wilburn said.