Live From X Games Minneapolis: ESPN, Echo Entertainment Take Viewer Deeper Into the Action

Coverage features new course layout, bolstered camera complement, strategically placed robos and POVs

Anyone who works in sports-video production will tell you: the second year in a venue almost always goes more smoothly. True to form, the team from ESPN and X Games production partner Echo Entertainment are feeling very much at home this time around, with X Games Minneapolis returning to U.S. Bank Stadium for the second year in a four-year deal.

This weekend promises an end-to-end marathon of content, with ESPN and ABC televising a combined 19 hours of live action-sports coverage, with an additional 8hours of exclusive coverage live-streamed to X Games’ Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter pages (U.S. only).

For the second straight year, U.S. Bank Stadium will serve as host of X Games Minneapolis, the summer edition of the popular action-sports franchise.

This year’s coverage also promises to be even more engrossing. The operations team is putting more cameras in places they’ve never been before on a major action-sports broadcast.

Click here for Live From X Games Minneapolis: ESPN Rolls Out New, Colorful Graphics Package.

ESPN and Echo learned quite a few lessons in their first year at this venue, most notably that they wanted to lay out and shoot the various courses in a different way. During last year’s production, there were many points where, even with tens of thousands of fans in the stadium’s bowl, cameras were shooting with sightlines into empty seats.

“It’s a very big stadium,” notes Tim Reed, VP, X Games, ESPN. “One of the things we were trying to do was create more of an arena feel within Park, Street, and Moto to create a smaller environment. We didn’t want to be shooting into seats as much. Also, it gets people closer, so they can have that touch and feel of the actual event.”

“For events like Skateboard, we had 20,000-25,000 people in here, but, when you go wide, it doesn’t look like that many people,” agrees Hugh Arian, president, Echo Entertainment, “but 25,000 people watching a skateboard contest is quite a big number. That was a big part of the thought process of trying to make an arena feel bigger.”

Echo Entertainment’s Hugh Arian (left) and Pierce Williams (right) are working alongside ESPN’s Tim Reed on X Games Minneapolis, which airs on ESPN and ABC throughout the weekend.

That thought process also changed how ESPN and Echo approached camera deployment within the bowl of U.S. Bank Stadium. According to Echo Entertainment Technical Producer Pierce Williams, there are as many as 130 unique camera positions with a total of 65 cameras ranging from full-fledged manned cameras to POVs, robos, and slo-mos.

“Our directive from X Games and Tim [Reed] was, Let’s get more into it,” says Williams. “We want to be in the sport. We’ve got more POVs, more robos, more slo-mo robos. Those get us deeper in this year, so we have a lot more infrastructure.”

Some of the highlights of that effort include a couple of Grass Valley LDK’s set up as robos at the top of various ramps shooting down the ramp at 6X and a special proprietary RF camera solution developed for X Games by RF partner BSI. On-board POVs can be affixed to a helmet, bike, etc., and were being called a “home run” by ESPN and Echo execs and will likely be seen on such events as Moto and Big Air.

Logistically, behind the scenes, ESPN and Echo again are working with their mobile-production–facilities provider Dome Productions. Three A units and a B unit from the Canadian mobile giant are here in Minneapolis. The main A-Venue truck is Echo, the B-Venue truck is Pacific, the truck running the host set onsite is Thunder, and a B unit is housing everything from comms to MADI routers, robo ops, and more.

On the replay side, 13 EVS XT3’s are being used on this show, with 54 channels of record and 32 channels of playback.

Four paths of satellite are being used for primary transmission to ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol, CT. At U.S. Bank, well-known as one of the best-fibered venues in the country, four paths of fiber are providing backup to Bristol.

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