ESPN Plans Major Onsite Effort for Women’s Final Four, National Championship

The production will involve 185 crew members, 27 cameras, and NEP EN1 A, B, and D units

The NCAA Women’s Final Four tips off tonight at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, OH, and, for the fourth time in tourney history, all four No. 1 seeds will be there. And, although ESPN found success with a REMI, or at-home, production model throughout the tournament, the network will be onsite in full force for tonight’s games and Sunday’s National Championship.

That onsite presence includes NEP’s EN1 A and B units for game production of the Final Four and National Championship and D unit for studio programming. Because many on ESPN’s Women’s Final Four crew also work Monday Night Football (EN1 is the main MNF unit), the inherent familiarity with the facilities benefits the production as a whole. Says ESPN Associate Director of Operations Larry Wilson, “Having that relationship and that familiarity with [EN1] is a real efficiency for us to coordinate our activities between game and host effectively.”

According to ESPN Operations Producer Barb Williams, between production and operations, ESPN will have 185 credentialed personnel onsite.

ESPN’s road to the 2018 Women’s Final Four began almost a year ago with its first site surveys of Nationwide Arena. Because the arena is home to the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets and does not have a year-round basketball tenant, ESPN needed to construct a camera platform at center court for the main game camera.

“Nationwide Arena has hosted two college championships in the last two years — volleyball and now women’s college basketball — so we’ve had some definite challenges because it is a hockey arena,” says ESPN Operations Manager Donna Capone. “We’re definitely making some adjustments on some angles for college basketball versus hockey.”

The network also looked to bring in Spidercam for its Final Four and National Championship broadcasts, which required separate surveys to determine cable and camera placement.

“We started working on organizing this tournament operationally with the NCAA in June, so it’s been about a 10-month effort of doing site surveys and [being in] constant communication with the NCAA and Nationwide Arena,” notes ESPN Operations Producer Traci Flohr. “It’s been a great effort all the way around by building vendors, ESPN, and the NCAA to make this event special.”

ESPN will deploy 27 cameras, including the Spidercam aerial camera system, two Sony HDC-4300 cameras operating in 6X super-slo-mo, and an NAC high-speed camera. EN1’s complement of Sony cameras with Canon lenses will be supplemented by above-the-rim camera systems on each backboard, 10 Marshall POV cameras, an RF Steadicam, and an outdoor jib to capture red-carpet arrivals. An indoor jib and three additional cameras will handle the studio coverage, and CP Communications will be responsible for all RF.

Two onsite Avid Symphony systems will support preproduction pieces for both game and studio, and ESPN will leverage its file-transfer portal to exchange content with its Bristol, CT, facility. ESPN’s ART system (telestrator device) will be used in the telecasts for the seventh consecutive year.

New this year, ESPN has shifted its Women’s Final Four transmission to the XAVC Intra codec. “It’s fairly transparent to most users,” Rainey explains, “but, under the hood, it means a lot for us going forward in being able to embrace more high-resolution media and move into the future.”

The first of tonight’s Final Four games tips off at 7:00 p.m. ET, with Louisville taking on Mississippi State. At 9:30 p.m., perennial powerhouse UConn faces longtime rival Notre Dame. Both games will be broadcast on ESPN2. The winners will compete in the National Championship on Sunday at 6:00 p.m. on ESPN.

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