Regionally Speaking...

Regionally Speaking...

  • MSI provided comprehensive support, including lighting, sound, video and scenery to the National Safety Associates annual conference in Phoenix.Since being founded in 1946, MSI Production Services has evolved into one of the largest regional production companies in San Diego. The company was started as an AV supplier to San Diego's fledgling convention and tourist industries at the end of the Second World War. What began with a few small audio systems and carbon-arc projectors grew to become one of the area's leading concert support company in the 50's and 60's. The 70's and 80's saw explosive growth in the convention industry, so MSI focused on servicing the region's hotels. The opening of the San Diego Convention Center in 1989 marked the beginning of MSI's transition into the full-service production company it is today. Through it all, MSI has always been associated with San Diego and Southern California.
  • "I think our experience here is fairly typical," notes John Brinkman, MSI's president and part of the ownership team that includes Ray Lucy, Ed LaFever, and Tom Bollard. "We started here, we've raised our families here and this is simply our home."
  • MSI has worked hard to build an A-list of clients that includes AARP, Major League Baseball, the Boy Scouts of America, the NHL, and ESPN's X-Games. "We've built our business by servicing end-user clients and other production companies coming into Southern California," notes Ed LaFever, director of sales. "80 percent of our business is with existing, established customers that have used us here and then insisted on taking us on the road to support them in other cities."
  • One example of this is MSI's continuing relationship with ESPN's X-Games. When the summer event was held in San Diego in 1997, MSI was hired to provide equipment and technical support. Since that event MSI has been a primary supplier to every X-Games event, including all of the Winter X-Games. MSI TD Ken Freeman is involved year round in the design and planning of the technical systems and has become the go-to guy for all interface between the broadcast and live event teams. The multi-venue format requires complex systems integration over a variety of terrain, including entire snow-covered mountains, stadiums and sports arenas, including their parking lots, and beaches all over LA County. The trucks are loading at this moment for the Winter X-Games in Aspen.
  • Another example of a large corporation relying on MSI over the years is Major League Baseball. Events surrounding the MLB All Star Game have featured MSI gear and staff for years. This July, MSI will support FanFest, MLB's featured All Star event, for the sixteenth consecutive year. The event uses, on average, 2500 feet of truss, 175 motors, 1200 lighting fixtures, 17 separate audio systems, a variety of multi-camera switching systems, 35 video projectors, and plenty of special effects. FanFest remains our marquee event and the one that really defines us as a company. MLB demands the very highest level of production so their continued support over the years is a real testament to the quality of our work.
  • MSI, like nearly all equipment rental companies, pays a lot of attention to the issue of sub-renting equipment versus purchasing it. We identify capital expenditures for the following year in the fourth quarter of the current year based on sub-rental history and input from clients and MSI technicians.
  • "Equipment that shows a history of sub-rental goes to the top of the purchasing list," says Ray Lucy, MSI's director of operations, "We also pay a good deal of attention to trends in technology. Our employees attend most of the industry trade shows and always have a list of things they'd like to see us stock. Our freelance team adds great insight because they also work for other production companies and see how things have worked for them. Sub-rentals used to be frowned on right across the board but because the pace of innovation makes it nearly impossible for most companies to keep up, we have learned to use our vendors as a tool."

MSI's home office in San Diego, CA.
MSI has been able to keep their lighting and sound inventory on the cutting edge as the industry transitions into the digital world. As a result, their sub-rentals in these departments are low. "We do use the big national video rental houses for projection mostly," states Lucy. "Because their business is to support companies like MSI, we don't see them bidding shows to the same end-user clients we are, so we're not in direct competition. The day we're bidding against them our model will change but for now it's working. We're getting the support we need from the two big national video rental companies and that support continues to keep us competitive. Having said that, we always go to the local vendors first for our subs and will always do that. We seldom select sub-rental vendors based solely on price," adds Lucy. "We look for the ability to support us at the same level we support our clients and as often as not, it's the local vendors that get that done."

The biggest challenge facing MSI as a regional vendor supporting their clients nationally is the cost of trucking. The downside to a San Diego location is that it's quite a drive to most major cities and the cost of fuel has continued to rise. We're close to developing a semi that will run on the half used AA batteries from our RF mics but we're not there yet. Our challenge is to find new ways to be more efficient with our truck packs and systems design. The regional vendors across the country understand this and have done an excellent job of networking to keep trucking costs down. We stock miles of truss here in San Diego because it's cost effective for most companies to get it from us than to truck it themselves. The same logic applies everywhere. We're all looking to be more cost efficient for our clients.

Southern California has never had a shortage of qualified companies servicing the production needs of the convention and entertainment industries. We're honored to be thriving in a market that has so much quality competition. In San Diego we all know each other and there is a lot of good will. We subcontract equipment and services and share a pool of excellent freelance engineers and technicians. On the other hand, we're fiercely competitive and committed to maintaining our position in the top tier of regional production companies in Southern California and throughout North America.

Adds LaFever, "We've worked hard to develop a network of supporting companies across North America and in return we'll be here for the companies that count on us in this region. We are truly a national company, headquartered in Southern California."

MSI is housed in a 70,000 square office and warehouse facility and maintains a full-time staff of over 120. Roughly 40 percent of its business is in San Diego County. In addition to providing equipment and technicians, MSI provides scenic and lighting design services, including full 3D rendering of all projects. Please visit for more information. Tom Bollard can be reached at