Whether a Super Bowl, a major Hollywood productions or newscasters following the President, it’s someone’s job to provide the logistics for the equipment. And chances are SOS Global is there.
By George Lauriat, AJOT
Steve O’Connell, owner/founder of the New Bern-based North Carolina, SOS Global Express Inc., had just returned from the West Coast where he was attending ESPN’s the Espy Awards, the sports world’s answer to the Emmys, when AJOT called for an interview.This might seem a little unusual venue for a project forwarder but really it was just another day in the office for O’Connell. “In sports, we handle broadcast logistics in everything - the NFL and the Super Bowl, NBA, Hockey, Major League Baseball, the British Open, Seniors, Wimbledon, World Cup and Olympics.”
According to O’Connell, the business of handling broadcast/media logistics started with the Olympics.
“Back in 1986, we started as a small five person New York-based forwarder. Myself and my partner, Fernando Soler, who I’d known since grade school, were working 24/7 365 days a year, when in 1987 we were approached by ABC to handle some peripheral equipment pickups in vans for what was to be the Winter Olympics, in Calgary Canada.”
“We said we’d give it a go,” O’Connell said in a recent interview with the AJOT. “At that time ABC had six buildings in New York.” “The van was full by the second building, so the next day we started sending trucks to handle the business. ABC and us, really underestimated how much equipment needed to shipped to Calgary.”
What made the expedited service to Calgary possible was that American West Airlines had a late night flight to Las Vegas. This in turn connected with a 2:00 am “gamblers’ special” to Calgary. “We would buy the plane, load the cargo and top it off with a six foot New York deli hero sandwich for the crew. By noon the equipment was in Calgary ready for setup,” O’Connell said.
The Calgary Olympics gave SOS Global a special market niche with sports television. “It snowballed, the networks weren’t used to our work ethic and in an incestuous business like television, ‘word’ gets around fast - both for better and worse: Worse because alternatively, if you screw up everybody knows very quickly.” The bottom line result was that the Calgary Olympics propelled SOS from “obscurity” to being a medium sized forwarder overnight.
With sports there is an element of predictability. There will be a British Open, a Wimbledon and every four years a World Cup. According to O’Connell, the predictability of sporting events helps smooth out business cycles – sports hasn’t had quite the hit that the rest of the economy has suffered – but has its own set of demands.
“We’ve, been working the Super Bowl for twenty two years,” O’Connell, said of the NFL’s signature even and arguably the largest TV sports event in the US. “We started with the Denver-San Francico, matchup in New Orleans.” “What we do with the Super Bowl is put our people in the network office a month ahead of the game. This works very nicely as our ‘imbedded’ personnel can react on the spot to whatever challenges occur.”
O’Connell explained the philosophy behind the logistics. “Your really need people on site.” “It’s a little unreasonable to expect a broadcaster to sort out equipment logistics. We have to be the eyes and ears.” “Our teams can spot issues before they become problems – if you have equipment duplications, we can ask do you really want three of these at this one event?”
The nature of management of these events has changed at SOS. In the old days the office buzzed and visitors would say it was like “the floor of the New York Stock Exchange” O’Connell said. With automation a great deal of the predictable requests for events could be automated enabling the forwarder to juggle the demands of the various projects far more efficiently.
The work with the networks also introduced SOS to the movie business. “We’d put an ad in magazine for movie productions and got a call from an agent that wa