French Open Serves New Challenges for ESPN
Following January’s Australian Open, ESPN had a three-month hiatus between Grand Slam tennis events. This Sunday, the network will kick off its tour of the remaining three Slams, beginning with the French Open, and, without a comprehensive live schedule or cameras of its own, the ESPN team faces some new production challenges in Paris.
“This is really the start of our season,” says Jamie Reynolds, VP of event production for ESPN. “With the full rock-and-roll tour of Paris to London and on to New York, this is the first of a building progression of trying to bring all of our assets and personalities together to tell good stories over a 14-day run.”
A Creative Production Plan
Overall, ESPN2 will present more than 56 hours of coverage from Roland Garros in Paris, beginning each day at noon. ESPN2 will go live on-air directly following the morning live coverage on Tennis Channel and continue until 6:30 p.m. ET (after midnight in Paris), when the network will re-air matches from earlier in the day. This requires a creative production plan on the part of ESPN to keep fans engaged and watching during primetime hours, even if they already know who won the match.
“What we’re trying to do now is make that whole window a better sporting event, because we are partially on tape and partially live,” Reynolds explains. “Throughout the day, we’ll be packaging and deconstructing more of the matches that happened during the day. For the taped matches, where potentially people have the results already, how are we going to make it an entertaining watch?”
The answer, primarily, lies in the use of Orad’s MVP tracking system. Reynolds’s team has used the Orad graphics tools to deconstruct, telestrate, and amplify the importance of tennis matches for the past few Slam events.
“That is becoming a very valuable tool for us as we endeavor to change the complexion of what is essentially a world feed,” Reynolds says. “Those tools allow us to give the coverage a signature look.”
With the other Slam events, ESPN is given a few cameras to control on its own and can enhance the look of its coverage by using those cameras in creative ways. For the French Open, however, the network does not have that luxury and is at the mercy of the world feed, over which Tennis Channel and NBC have some control, depending on the day.
From Live to Tape
The workflow of the French Open is different from that of any other Slam event because of the six-hour time difference between Bristol, CT, and Paris and the inversion of ESPN coverage windows.
“We start every day taping the best matches available,” Reynolds says. “During the course of that production window, Tennis Channel is live with the first part of the day, and we pick up the back half of the day live [noon–6:30 p.m. ET]. Starting at 7 a.m. ET, we start processing and lining up the best matches of the day, so that, when we join live, we can be in a fully functional update of what has transpired on the day so far.”
After play concludes, by 6:30 p.m. ET, the announce team tosses the coverage back to network headquarters in Bristol for playback of matches from earlier in the day, which were ingested in the morning hours.
“We’ll lace that taped playback with augmented joined-in-progress segments,” Reynolds adds. “Those will be interviews, expanded highlights, or expanded deconstruction with almost a SportsCenter feel. There will be more of a news and information feel to it to keep people in a second level of appreciation of what has transpired today and how it will affect play tomorrow.”
In addition to the televised coverage, ESPN3.com will offer 270 live hours of multi-court offerings online, beginning May 23 and continuing throughout the tournament. The broadband channel will offer matches on courts not televised on ESPN2, as well as the network’s programming, either live or delayed. Matches will also be available after they finish, on-demand.
Back in the Swing of Things
The French Open is a production challenge for ESPN but also a chance for the network to get ready for the Grand Slam season.
“We look at it as our ability to get a major done in advance of Wimbledon,” Reynolds says. “We can put our systems in place and turn smart content around coming out of the world feed. The edit facilities that we have on-site give it the look and feel and the branding of ESPN, and the deconstruction of highlights, replays, and storytelling can bolster more than just conventional coverage of a match.”
The Next Dimension
Orange France will once again produce the French Open in 3D, and ESPN’s team on-site will be watching closely, and taking plenty of notes.
“This is Orange’s third year of 3D production,” Reynolds points out. “In the coverage, you really have to rethink the position of the primary cameras to enhance that 3D experience. We’re hoping that we’re going to learn a lot watching what Orange is doing, and, hopefully, we gain some momentum going into New York [for the U.S. Open].”