A Change in Venue
SVBT began shifting its business model from weddings to sports after Childs was introduced to the boxing world by a friend of a friend. He walked into his first match and "was blown away that there was no one there filming the fights. It was wide open, largely ignored by media," a fact he finds ironic. "Boxing was the first sport that was ever filmed," Childs says. "I think I read that on a Snapple bottle."
Childs filmed his first fight while interning at a public access television station. Soon he was filming all the local fights in Baltimore and in northern Virginia. SVBT's resulting series Boxing Spotlight ran from 1991 to 1996.
Originally, Boxing Spotlight aired only on CTV in Prince George's County in Maryland. To get more exposure for the show, Childs created his own distribution program, producing a dozen tapes at a time and bicycling them over to D.C. and Baltimore.
The show quickly spread to other cable systems on the mid-Atlantic, including MCT Montgomery County in Maryland; and Channel 10 in Fairfax County and Comcast Channel 95 in Richmond, Hanover, and Henrico County in Virginia. Within a year, Boxing Spotlight was the highest rated sports show in the community and was already winning CAM awards.
After five years, SVBT stopped producing Boxing Spotlight and developed a new boxing television show, Ballroom Boxing, which aired on commercial TV. Ballroom Boxing was filmed in the same ballrooms in which SVBT would shoot weddings on the weekends. The ongoing wedding work paid for equipment to produce boxing programs.
But graduating to pay TV—at first on just one channel, Home Team Sports in the mid-Atlantic region—from public access wasn't as glamorous as it might seem.
"Everyone would think, ‘Oh, you're getting money from the stations,'" Childs says. "It's usually the opposite. Usually the stations want money out of you, and then it's up to you to sell the ad space. A lot of times you can enter into barter deals where you give them half the commercial space and [you retain half] the ad space. As long as you have sponsors, you do well."
SVBT right away received an education in what stations required of producers as far as formatting, "such as the number of billboards you can have, and the seven-second announcement that says, ‘Brought to you by UPS or FedEx,' or something," Childs says. "And the commercials all have to be laid out in a certain fashion so they have their one-minute breaks every half hour for their affiliates and things like that." Then there are legal obligations that stations are required to fill, such as having their programming closed-captioned, a cost that they often dumped on SVBT.
SVBT worked its way all the way down to Florida, where the company got Ballroom Boxing onto on the Sunshine Network, and all the way up the coast to the New England Sports Network. Ballroom Boxing soon started filling in all the locations in between, including upstate New York's Empire Network; Carolina Sports Entertainment Television; and Comcast Sports Network Philadelphia, Mid-Atlantic, and South.
Ballroom Boxing quickly spread to markets outside the United States, including Fox Sports International, UPN 27 in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Armed Forces Network. In ten years, Ballroom Boxing reached 60 different TV markets in 182 countries.
In addition to a large and far-flung viewing audience, Spero's Ballroom Boxing work brought the company several awards, including a 2002 Telly award.
Beyond the Ballroom
Finally SVBT left the ballroom to produce three new programs. They had to start fresh with their distribution efforts, and they are now working with five outlets. Mohegan Sun Fight Night USA is one current production. The show began as a seven-card professional boxing series. It ran successfully for two seasons on Fox SportsNet NY and then aired on the Comcast Network for the third season.
Comcast has proven a lucrative outlet for SVBT. Childs explains, "More and more sports teams are owning stations now and are taking their games that used to be on Comcast and putting them on their own networks. So now Comcast needs content, as do start-up stations."
There are also international networks that need content. "I just got an email from Fox wanting to know if we want Cambodia," he says, laughing and pondering how the company will generate revenue in that market. "The idea is just to get on these markets and hope to pick up more sponsors once you get out there."
The Sweet Science
Childs prefers producing boxing shows to wedding videos (which Spero's continues to produce) but acknowledges that there's less autonomy for the videographer. Producing videos for specific stations sometimes means giving up creative control of his productions to fit the look and format stations want.
These days, Childs says, producing boxing shows to station specs has become second nature to him. "Once you [are familiar with] the format they're expecting, that gets easier."
He has a pretty set formula for producing Mohegan Sun Fight Night USA. Fox wants the show "while it's still fresh and everyone's talking about it," Childs says. SVBT shoots the matches live-switched on Fridays, and readies the show so it can be aired on Tuesdays.
Graphics are done in post in After Effects. Non-live-switched shots of boxers being interviewed in their dressing rooms are interspersed throughout the fight, and shots of the athletes shadow-boxing in front of green screens, along with their stats, are plugged in where appropriate.
Fox actually gives SVBT a generic package so that the production conforms to the look and feel of other Fox programming. "They give us a lot of TIFF files to work with—the time clock, announcer brush, replay wipe. Typically we like to create our own look, but if you're working for a certain station you have to conform."
Childs says that as much as he enjoyed wedding and event work when it was his primary focus, he's happy with the direction he's taken. "There are thousands of boxers out there—few of whom get exposure nationally. I'm showing the guys working up to that top position, and they're still good performers. I've found a nice niche for myself, and I enjoy it."
Elizabeth Welsh is a freelance writer based in Madison, Wisconsin.
Early on the morning of March 28, Rudy Childs's Rockland, MA home burned to the ground. Childs and his wife and four daughters (all aged 7 and under) escaped unharmed, but lost the house and nearly all their property. The damage to Childs's video equipment (some of which was in a garage) was undetermined at press time. NPVA videographers in the area rallied to Childs's aid with diapers and other supplies, and Hal Slifer helped Childs complete a pressing photo montage job.
If you are interested in assisting the Childs family with their recovery, a fund has been established at a local bank. Send donations here:
Childs Family Benefit Account, Rockland Trust
ATTN: Jennifer Quigley 288 Union St.
Rockland, MA 02370
For more information on how to help the Childs family, click here.