ESPN Opens New Meadowlands Stadium With Monday-Night Tune-up
Preseason football games generally do not enjoy the fanfare of regular-season matchups, but Monday night’s Giants-Jets showdown at New Meadowlands Stadium broke the mold. ESPN’s Monday Night Football team is ramping up for another analysis-heavy season, led by analysts Jon Gruden and Ron Jaworski, and the crew used Monday night to continue shaking off the off-season rust, as well as to showcase the NFL’s newest building, New Meadowlands Stadium, in front of a raucous New York crowd.
A TV-Friendly Home
“The stadium is a bigger version of the Meadowlands,” says Chip Dean, director of Monday Night Football. “What’s unique about it, at least before the game, is how they color-code the stadium from green to blue [for the Jets and Giants, respectively]. There’s a lot of work that’s involved with that, which is impressive — not just electronic changes but physical changes. I hope we can showcase some of that.”
CBS Sports’ Bruce Goldfeder worked closely with the New Meadowlands Stadium team throughout the planning and building of the new stadium to ensure that it was compatible with network television. Over the past year, ESPN has done plenty of site surveys of its own, but Dean says CBS’s diligence made the load-in process relatively simple when ESPN pulled in for this week’s show.
“It’s always a challenge when you build a new stadium to incorporate the broadcast partners, because every stadium now has in-house productions doing their own show,” Dean says. “CBS and Bruce Goldfeder did a great job of wiring and preparing this building, and that made it easier for us.”
Learning on the Job
“The toughest thing is, it’s new, so there’s a lot that we just don’t know about it,” says Steve Carter, senior manager of event operations for ESPN. “In a new stadium, you just don’t know where things are. Where do cables terminate? How do you get to the announce booth? Little things like that.”
New Meadowlands Stadium is swarming with cable, including triax, single-mode fiber, and SMPTE. All of ESPN’s cameras were on triax for Monday night’s game except in the announce booth, where fiber-based cameras are always used.
The camera positions in the new stadium are fairly standard — two high end zones, raised 45-degree slash positions, low end zones – but Dean is pleased that, instead of two slash positions, New Meadowlands Stadium has four.
“For my purposes, I’d rather the low end zones were higher so that you don’t get blocked by people, but they’re pretty standard,” he explains. “But, with new stadiums, instead of having two slashes, you probably have all four. [On Tuesday,] we have cameras in two high end zones because Jon and Jaws are used to watching coaches’ film, which is all from the high end zones. Now we’re training them to look at our other angles so they see the game another way.”
A True Team in Production
Gruden and Jaworski are training the production team as well. During pre-game camera meetings, the former coach and player talk to the production staff as if they were teammates, motivating them to win that night’s broadcast.
“It’s like you’re one of their teammates; they coach and teach you,” says Dean. “They both have such energetic personalities that it’s like no other sport that I work on. In football, because we’re together so much, you have the chance to almost go through training camp.”
That training camp is particularly important this season, because the production support group features four returning staff members and four new faces. Dean and producer Jay Rothman spend all year thinking about Monday Night Football, and preseason games offer a chance for new staffers to get into a groove and for returning members to get back into one.
This season, the Monday Night Football team will focus on educating viewers and continuing to break the game down. Gruden and Jaworski watch two days’ worth of film before every broadcast and will pay special attention this year to comparing current players to the greats.
“Jon and Jaws are able to talk about a specific receiver running a slant route and compare it with how Jerry Rice did it in practice with Joe Montana or compare Justin Tuck to Reggie White,” Dean explains. “That’s really something unique that they do, and football fans just love that. That’s what separates these guys a little bit.”
Preemptive Problem Solving
To prevent any in-game issues, Dean and the camera operators meet with both teams’ PR staffs, as well as on-field security, prior to kickoff. These meetings are important at every stadium, but, for the first football game played in New Meadowlands Stadium, Monday night’s meeting was particularly crucial.
“Chip explains to everyone that we’re more aggressive than other networks,” Carter says. “We have an RF Steadicam that goes down onto the field, so we move around quite a bit, and they need to be prepared for that. We explain that, if there are any issues, we’ll get them resolved and move from there. It’s not all that often that we have issues like that.”
Says Dean of the New Meadowlands Stadium team, “Everybody’s really accommodating. I can sense the butterflies of everybody in the stadium going into their national-TV debut.”