MLS 2019 Preview: ESPN Looks To Innovate With New ChyronHego AllCam, Fletcher Polecam Systems
The broadcaster will also have a new voice on play-by-play: Jon Champion
This weekend, ESPN enters its 24th season producing MLS matches, having been the only rights partner to carry the league since its debut in 1996. As it has done for several years, the broadcaster will use its slate of 31 regular-season games (25 on ESPN, six on ESPN2, and all 31 simulcast on ESPN Deportes) as a proving ground to test out new technologies, including ChyronHego’s AllCam system and a pair of Fletcher-provided Polecam systems, the Pico Polecam and IntelliJib.
“ESPN’s soccer production and operations groups are in lockstep when it comes to a commitment to pushing technological innovation and testing new cameras,” says Terri D’Ippolito, senior operations manager, ESPN. “The philosophy is that the sport is growing so we must always push to give fans something new.”
Innovations Galore: AllCam, Pico Polecam, IntelliJib, Drones, and Jon Campion
With the assistance of Brad Griswold, Creative Services & Technology Group, ESPN, the broadcaster is working with ChyronHego to test AllCam during the MLS Season opener in Washington, DC, on Sunday.
First used by ESPN at the CFP National Championship Game in January, AllCam stitches together images from three 4K cameras placed alongside the all-22 camera position and gives the production team the ability to zoom in anywhere on the field to capture events taking place away from the action.
The new toys don’t stop there, however. On March 10 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, ESPN will work with Fletcher to test out the new high-speed Pico Polecam and IntelliJib camera system behind the goals. The IntelliJib features a mini-Polecam boom, Antelope Pico high-speed camera, and Fletcher robotics and can be accurately positioned and controlled directly through the goal netting, delivering a fresh perspective on all the action. The system is operated remotely from a bespoke twin-joystick panel.
ESPN is also looking to coordinate the use of a drone to capture exterior views of new stadiums, such as Minnesota United FC’s Allianz Field home. The effort is assisted by the Remote Production and Operations Department, led by ESPN Senior Managing Producer Chris Alexopoulos.
ESPN’s standard MLS camera complement consists of six hard cameras, one handheld, one booth camera, one beauty camera, two POVs behind the goal upright, and four of ESPN’s exclusive InGoal POVs. For marquee matchups during the season, additional production tools — such as an RF Steadicam, high-speed SSMO cameras, jib, and host set — often supplement the standard complement.
In addition to the new tech toys, ESPN will also have a new face in the booth. Jon Champion, one of the world’s top soccer commentators, has moved to the U.S. to serve as MLS play-by-play voice. Teaming with analyst Taylor Twellman, Champion will be a leading voice in the company’s year-round coverage of the sport.
REMI Back in Action: Two-Thirds of MLS Matches To Be Produced at Home
ESPN continues to lead the way in at-home production. The network will use its REMI (remote-integration) model for approximately two-thirds of its MLS matches this year. Generally, ESPN has 12 paths from the stadium to a control room at its headquarters in Bristol, CT, and three return paths. Seven or eight manned cameras are deployed on these shows, along with six POVs, including four in the goalposts.
“The MLS REMI is one of the biggest that the network does on a regular basis,” says D’Ippolito. “[It has] the most cameras, including POVs, and inbound/outbound paths. Sideline reporters, backstage interviews, support for ESPN Deportes, and our commentators are always onsite.”
F&F Productions returns this year as ESPN’s primary remote-production–facilities provider. Its GTX14 mobile unit will be stationed on the East Coast; the GTX-11 will handle West Coast MLS matches. Each will be equipped to handle ESPN’s regular nine-camera MLS game or a 12-path REMI game no matter where it’s located.
“We are always excited to start a new season and provide our fans with the high-quality game coverage they are used to seeing from us,” says D’Ippolito. “The production and operations teams are exactly that, a team. We work well together, communicate on a daily basis and take pride in what we do. To succeed, you must work with each other and take nothing for granted.”
ESPN will kick off its MLS coverage on Sunday with a doubleheader: D.C. United vs. 2018 MLS Cup champion Atlanta United FC at 6 p.m. ET and Los Angeles FC vs. Sporting Kansas City at 8:30 p.m.