ESPN Navigates High-Octane MLB Opening Week With Ease
It doesn’t get much busier than MLB opening week for Terry Brady and his team. This week, the ESPN director of remote operations has overseen a monumental season-opening effort that included five national MLB telecasts in four time zones in less than 36 hours (plus two more games on Wednesday). ESPN’s annual opening-week MLB blowout is no small task, especially when considering the fact that the network looks to up the technological ante on its productions every year.
“We are always trying to improve our storytelling, and we are open to any technical enhancement that would do that,” says Brady. “We always are eager to try out new things and look to the future to implement new technologies. I think you’ll definitely see that in our [MLB coverage] this year.”
All About Slo-Mo
ESPN experimented with a variety of new production elements during spring training this year, including a split-block I-MOVIX ultra-slow-motion camera (shooting at approximately 600 fps) and a split-block 3X Sony super-slo-mo. The Sony super-mo will be in a mid-home position and serve as both a live–cut-in camera and a slow-motion–replay tool for plays at the plate and pitcher-catcher interaction.
The positive response to these new tech toys during spring training resulted in their use for the MLB openers, and fans will likely see them regularly on ESPN telecasts throughout the season.
“We tried them both out in spring training this year and liked them both, so we [kicked] them off in the regular season for the opening games,” says Brady. “We are going to run with this for the first few weeks, and, if we like it, then it might be something that we use for the rest of the year.”
ESPN will also deploy NAC Hi-Motion ultra-slo-mo systems throughout the season and may use a Vision Research Phantom camera after experimenting with it during spring training.
“We’ve looked into using a Phantom camera, and we have used it at the Home Run Derby going back as far as 2006,” says Terry. “We might use that this year as we go through the season. We’re just hoping to bring the fan closer to the field, and, since baseball is a game of inches, we’re really looking to showcase that.”
More Robotics, Wireless Cams
In addition to the I-MOVIX and Sony high-speed cameras, ESPN is looking to increase the amount of aerial coverage on its Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday Night Baseball telecasts, as well as adding in-dugout robotics on the bulk of its Monday Night Baseball shows.
Returning this year are wireless RF audio/video packages on Sunday and Monday Night telecasts, as well as the use of mini GoPro cams on Monday nights.
“We are also looking at placing a small wireless camera in different spots, but we have to continue to work with MLB on that,” says Terry. “We looked at that in spring training as well. They are really small, low-profile RF cameras that we can place in locations that the fan wouldn’t otherwise see. But that is a work in progress.”
Odds and Ends
NEP and Game Creek provided the horde of mobile facilities needed for ESPN’s chock-full week, starting on Sunday with NEP SS25 in Houston for the Astros’ American League debut against the Rangers. Then, on Monday, NCPVII was in New York for Yankees-Red Sox, NCPX handled Giants-Dodgers in Los Angeles, SS16 took on Phillies-Braves in Atlanta, and Game Creek Glory housed the Cardinals-Diamondbacks production in Phoenix.
In terms of graphics, ESPN has upgraded its Vizrt VizArtist and VizEngine platforms to the latest, 3.5 version. Sportvision’s K-Zone technology is returning for Sunday and Monday Night telecasts with periodic use on Wednesday nights.