Live From Pan Am Games: ESPN, ESPN Deportes Join Forces on ‘Massive Operation’

ESPN and ESPN Deportes have partnered to tackle the multinational, multisport Pan American Games and will broadcast live from Toronto throughout the 17-day event. The two networks will work side by side to deliver the Games — surpassed in size and scope only by the Olympic Summer Games and Asian Games — to English- and Spanish-speaking audiences.

“We set up one massive operation in Toronto that services everyone,” says Maria Soares, senior coordinating producer of ESPN’s Deportes/international coverage. “In terms of collaboration, our goal is to set up the appropriate [broadcast facilities] — whether it be IBC facilities, studio facilities, standup facilities — and that’s what everyone will be using.”

ESPN’s control room inside the IBC

ESPN’s control room inside the IBC

The two networks are headquartered in Corus Quay, a commercial office building on the Toronto waterfront roughly 2.5 miles from International Broadcast Centre (IBC). The building, which offers sweeping views of the Toronto skyline, houses three studio areas: a main studio, with a three- to four-person desk; a secondary studio, with a standup podium position; and relaxed lounge area, with comfortable chairs and a coffee table for more casual conversations.

ESPN and ESPN2 will present 66 hours of live Pan Am Games coverage, and ESPN Deportes TV plans approximately 200 hours. Longhorn Network will present 44 live hours dedicated to diving, swimming, and women’s volleyball, and ESPN3 and ESPN Deportes+ will present more than 650 hours of live programming, including 249 sports events in their entirety (210 in English, 39 in Spanish).

“We’re not looking at this as if it’s two different productions: an English and a Spanish production,” says Bill Graff, senior coordinating producer of ESPN’s English/domestic coverage. “It is one big production team with a large force in Toronto that will be servicing all of the different platforms with content and a couple of teams in Bristol that will put all of those things together and present them somewhat differently, because of the different languages, but with a lot of similar elements that should make this a very attractive sports property for us. We’re really excited about it.”

ESPN and ESPN Deportes’ production-control room lives at the IBC, which is located within the Exhibition Centre at the CIBC Pan Am Park. In total, ESPN and ESPN Deportes have between 15 and 20 cameras at the Pan Am Games — including four in the Corus Quay studio, which are switched at the IBC — and transmit feeds from the IBC to Bristol, CT, over 11 paths that, in addition to supporting the English- and Spanish-language linear feeds, carry digital, radio, and more. The production is led by a team of about 200 onsite, including more than 25 on-air personalities, supported by a studio and an in-studio team and production staff with full editing capabilities in Bristol.

ESPN Deportes' main set in Toronto

ESPN Deportes’ main set in Toronto

Within the IBC, ESPN and ESPN Deportes will take CBC’s host-broadcaster feed of competition from each venue, supplementing the coverage with ESPN reporters stationed at different venues, many reporting in both English and Spanish.

“When Bill and I were putting this all together, we very much looked at [which reporters are] bilingual,” Soares explains. “The thought is never to have two ESPN people covering the same thing: if we have a bilingual reporter, when they go out to a venue or when they file a report, they can actually file it in two different languages to serve both entities.”

ESPN and ESPN Deportes’ plans to cover the 2015 Pan Am Games began with lessons learned at the 2011 edition in Guadalajara, Mexico. Tonight, the Games begin with the Pan Am Opening Ceremony at the Rogers Centre, airing live on both ESPN and ESPN Deportes. For the next two weeks, the ESPN and ESPN Deportes teams plan to have daily conference calls to determine daily priorities and how the teams can work together to maximize resources.

“We have production people working side by side that will be able to see what the other is doing and share with each other things that are being gathered,” says Graff. “One of the interesting things will be, you’ll see many similar things on both networks yet our approaches will be different, mostly in language and in host personalities.”

ESPN added an addtional set area for live hits, with the Toronto skyline as the backdrop.

ESPN added an addtional set area for live hits, with the Toronto skyline as the backdrop.

The areas of focus for the two networks also are similar. Both ESPN and ESPN Deportes plan to focus efforts on the bigger team sports, such as basketball, and American favorites swimming, gymnastics, and track and field; in addition, Deportes will spotlight Spanish-speaking athletes and nations, emphasizing the events in which they are projected to do well, such as soccer and volleyball.

ESPN, in particular, will benefit from CBC’s English-language commentary on the host feed and plans to tap into CBC’s play-by-play announcers for selected events, supplementing them with analysts stationed in Bristol. ESPN Deportes will create an announcer-less feed, voicing-over selected events in Toronto and sending others to Bristol for Spanish-language commentary.

“Our plan, entirely from an editorial standpoint in all of our windows, is to give people a feel of what happened everywhere in every sport on every given day,” says Graff. “We will have feeds from some of the non-team sports and the individual sports that we will shoot ENG that the host feed will not be providing full-game coverage for. We’ll have results from all of those different venues every day that there are events. … And we’ve been able to work with the host broadcaster to make sure that some of the more marquee events are in our windows.”

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