Women’s Flat Track Derby Association Ratchets Up Productions for ESPN3 Finale

This summer, Erica Vanstone watched the FIFA Women’s World Cup with a twinkle in her eye. Not because of the play on the field and not because the USWNT lifted the trophy for the first time since 1999 (though that was all great). As director of broadcast for the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), the national governing body for flat-track roller derby, she admired the production quality that Fox Sports brought to its live coverage of the event. It’s that kind of commitment to quality she looks to bring to the WFTDA every day.

Erica Vanstone, left, has headed broadcasting for the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association since 2010.

Erica Vanstone, left, has headed broadcasting for the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association since 2010.

“What we are looking for is the type of coverage that a woman’s sport deserves,” says Vanstone, who has headed the organization’s broadcast strategy since 2010. “We’ve always approached this from the perspective that we deserve this kind of coverage: the camera angles, the graphics packages. The sport requires that as part of the storytelling, and we shouldn’t be skimping on that.”

This weekend in St. Paul, MN, the WFTDA’s International Championships will get just that next level of production and exposure to a whole new audience. The league will produce three days of coverage for its digital platform WFTDA.tv, including the big finale on Sunday, which will be streamed on ESPN3.

The deal with ESPN3 marks the first time flat-track roller derby will be carried by a major national network. The league, however, has been live-streaming its playoffs and championships for WFTDA.tv since 2012.

Vanstone and the organization work with Portland, OR-based Blaze Streaming Media, which produced and distributed live multicamera productions of flat-track derby events across the country for WFTDA.tv. The organization’s pay-per-view model has worked as subscriptions have helped offset the cost of production.

“The evolution of this product and converting this audience into a sustainable revenue model is, I think, one of our best accomplishments working with the WFTDA,” says Joe Christiensen, producer, Blaze Streaming Media. “All of us can look at a gear magazine and put together a broadcast, but it’s really challenging to take a sport that had nothing and [a viewership that] was incredibly resistant to paying for their content, and now we’ve converted that into a level of broadcast that [viewers] can count on week after week and we can be financially sustainable.”

WFTDA.tv live events are produced using a flypack model.

WFTDA.tv live events are produced using a flypack.

WFTDA.tv productions are based on a flypack model with a traveling producer and director working at a NewTek TriCaster 400 set up on 6-ft.-long foldout tables. Local freelance camera operators used Sony HXR-NX5U NXCAM cameras, and the production was connected via Blackmagic fiber camera and studio converters. The WFTDA’s streaming platform is Livestream, and, to handle the pay-per-view side of the equation, the organization works with Cleeng, a tech company specializing in the monetization of live and on-demand video.

“We’ve learned a lot in the very short time that we have been on this planet, and we did a lot of that learning with Blaze Streaming Media,” says Vanstone. “Blaze has really helped spearhead what we’ve cultivated as our ‘video language,’ how we relate the sport to fans.”

To help the WFTDA reach the level it needs to meet the standards of an ESPN3 production, the WFTDA and Blaze are also working with Digital Wave, an independent video-production company based in Wellington, FL. Traditionally, WFTDA.tv shows haven’t featured a graphics package (a shot of the in-venue scoreboard would be overlaid onto the main shot) or instant replay. For Sunday’s ESPN3 show, Digital Wave will roll in a small production van to supplement the overall production with a graphics engine, a replay server, camera shaders, and more.

“We approach every broadcast we do with more than the minimum requirements that [ESPN] calls for,” says Ray Colaiacovo, owner of Digital Wave.

Just the kind of requirements that Vanstone can get excited about.

The 2015 International WFTDA Championships begins Friday at 3 p.m. ET and continues throughout the weekend. Friday and Saturday productions are available for purchase at WFTDA.tv. Sunday’s finals (beginning with consolation rounds at 1 p.m. ET) will be available for free at ESPN3.com.

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