ESPN Bolsters College World Series with On-Site Baseball Tonight Presence, Ump Cam, New File Transfer Workflows
Sunday Night Baseball Coordinating Producer Tom Archer oversees production for first time
In Omaha, what’s old certainly is new again. ESPN – in the midst of its 37th consecutive year broadcasting the College World Series – has been bringing a new coat of polish to the event with a new face at the helm calling the shots.
Tom Archer, who has spent the past 12 years as coordinating producer on Sunday Night Baseball, is overseeing this year’s production (which continues through next Tuesday or Wednesday), and with it, he’s bringing some MLB brushstrokes, including the debut of live K Zone, the first-ever on-site presence of the Baseball Tonight set, and file-transfer workflows that are elevating this year’s edition of the CWS to new heights.
“This is a bucket list item as a sports fan and for you, if you can’t be there, we want to take you there,” says Archer, who once worked a College World Series back in the infancy of his career in 1992. “For us, at ESPN, this has become a tent-pole event of the summer.”
Three trucks – NEP NC8, its B unit, and NEP’s Super B unit – fill the compound outside TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha and approximately 24 cameras are deployed throughout the stadium. A little more than half of those cameras are manned. The arsenal includes a NAC Hi-Motion II and a Sony 6X high-speed camera that’s shooting from the outfield in from down the left field line.
Making its College World Series debut is the Sports Emmy Award-winning K Zone technology that is live for every at-bat, much in the way has been seen on MLB productions on ESPN over the past two seasons. Developed in partnership with Sportvision, live K Zone shows the strike zone and provides pitch data, including location and speed and, in replays, can also layer on a virtual track of the path of the ball from the pitcher’s hand through the strike zone and display the numerical sequences pitches thrown during an at-bat.
Back for a second year is UmpCam, the high-definition RF device developed by 3G Wireless that provides a view of the home plate umpire’s perspective. It has been used as both a live look and for replays.
“It got great exposure last year,” says Archer. “We think with a couple of tweaks in camera positioning that we will have greater success with it this year.”
As for those file-based workflows, ESPN is leveraging up to as many as 20 staffers at a time back in Bristol to handle postproduction and editing work. The engineering and operations crews have established a file-transfer system that allows ESPN to push clips from its EVS networks in the trucks back to Bristol when editors and do their work and send finished products back to site. These are workflows commonly seen on Sunday Night Baseball productions – and is a similar workflow being used by the network for its EURO 2016 coverage – but is typically not possible for a college production.
“It’s unusual for college facilities to have the ability to do this from a technical standpoint so it’s exciting to be able to bring that to the college game,” says Chris Swihart, Remote Operations Producer for ESPN. “It allows for more flexibility because now we have so much processing power, in terms of editing, at the Bristol plant that goes unused sometimes at remotes. This will allow us to use a lot more of that.”
There’s little new on the audio end, but it’s not to be overlooked as it is a robust operation. Approximately 100 microphones have been meticulously placed throughout the ballpark, everywhere from in the bases to on the umpire and in the outfield walls. Two audio mixers bring it all together in an audio submix that places special focus on emphasizing those special effects mics.
“I think we pride ourselves in sports television in entertaining folks that, in a lot of cases watching in sports bars,” says Swihart, “but boy are they missing a great audio commensurate when they are watching with the volume turned down. It’s some spectacular stuff.”
ESPN’s coverage of the College World Series continues Friday with Oklahoma State vs. Arizona beginning at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN2 and continues with Baseball Tonight live from Omaha at 7 p.m. on ESPN prior to first pitch between TCU and Coastal Carolina at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN. The College World Series continues daily through June 30*.
*if Finals Game 3 is necessary