2013 College Football Preview: ESPN’s Five-Day, 46-Game Bender

With nearly four dozen games in five days across a bevy of networks and digital platforms, the kickoff of the college football season is among the busiest weeks of the year for ESPN’s production and operations teams. Beginning with 10 games tonight (starting at 6 p.m. ET with North Carolina at South Carolina), ESPN will produce a total of 46 college-football telecasts across ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN3, ESPNEWS, ESPN Goal Line, and the Longhorn Network over the next five days.

ESPNCollegeFootball“We have obviously been planning it over the last several months — negotiating with our vendors, mobile-unit providers, and rental houses — all for this week,” says John LaChance, associate director, remote operations, ESPN. “It’s a collaborative effort as a team — not just my college-football team but also crewing — and our net-traffic team has put together phone lines, Internet access, and transmission from all 46 events.”

An Extra Day for Prosperity’s Sake
All linear-network telecasts will use an HD mobile unit, and a handful of ESPN3 productions will have an SD truck or flypack on hand. In addition, all ESPN, ESPN2, and ABC shows will have an extra day of engineering/technical setup in order to ramp up their respective trucks for the season ahead.

“We are installing so much gear into the mobile units and having our vendors — the mobile-unit vendors themselves, Fletcher, VER, Bexel, RC Gear [Reality Check Systems] — bring in so much gear,” says LaChance. “There is a lot of gear being installed that will live on these trucks for the entire season. So, to insure that we get off to a good, clean technical start to the year, we give the majority of those shows an extra technical-engineering day.”

ESPN Doubles Down on On-Site Studio Shows
ESPN’s signature College GameDay pregame show will also hit the road this Saturday, broadcasting live from Clemson (for its SEC matchup against Georgia). However, GameDay won’t be the only the remote studio show in play on Saturday: that night, ESPN will present a special College Football Live Kick Off pregame show from Columbia, SC (site of the UNC-South Carolina game).

All Out for ABC Primetime Game
Beginning with Saturday night’s SEC showdown between No. 5 Georgia and No. 8 Clemson, ABC’s weekly primetime game promises to be among the largest weekly college productions any network has to offer. ESPN will deploy 15 or more cameras — depending on the week — including seven hard cameras, a Sony HDC-3300 super-slo-mo, an NAC/Ikegami Hi Motion II ultra-slo-mo, a wireless RF handheld, two cable handhelds, a handheld on a jib cart, a beauty shot, and a robo booth cam.

The ABC primetime game will have a Skycam aerial camera system at its disposal, as will the Thursday-night game on ESPN, Saturday noon game on ESPN, Saturday 3:30 game on ABC, and Saturday primetime game on ESPN.

A Four-Team Playoff—Finally
ESPN’s 2013 college-football campaign will, of course, mark the end of an era. The Bowl Championship Series format will come to an end and make way for a four-team playoff system next year. ESPN, which inked a 12-year deal for the rights to these bowl games, is expected to produce three bowls per day played on consecutive days around New Year’s Day. The championship game will follow on the following Monday.

“We’ve been happy to be a part of the BCS, and we are looking forward to the new challenges that go along with the new format,” says LaChance. “From our technical side, you are going to have a week where you’re going to have some great, huge matchups. You could be rolling out national-championship–type [productions] to multiple venues on the same day during semifinals. That means more crew, more high-caliber trucks, more of everything. That is going to be a challenge, and we look forward to it.”

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