NFL Kickoff 2020: ESPN’s New Studio on Roof of Seaport Facility Houses Sunday NFL Countdown, Monday Night Countdown
Climate-controlled, COVID-safe environment offers practical option for network’s marquee NFL studio programming
Mike Greenberg opened his new ESPN Radio program on Thursday by stating that. if you had asked him as recently as a month ago whether this NFL season would begin on time, his honest answer would have been, simply, no.
In the world of sports-television production and operations, however, it doesn’t matter what you think is going to happen. You need to prepare for what is scheduled to happen.
So with a new, albeit unique NFL season on the horizon, ESPN brass decided about a month ago to not take Monday Night Football pregame show Monday Night Countdown on the road, choosing instead to build a studio in a scenic location from which both Monday Night Countdown and Sunday-morning pregame program Sunday NFL Countdown could originate.
Enter ESPN’s rapidly expanding Seaport District facility, where the network’s behind-the-scenes team has built a climate-controlled studio on the roof, offering a one-of-a-kind backdrop of New York City and, most important, a safe environment for its on-air talent and stage crew to perform their jobs.
“This whole thing was designed to try to create a safe environment for talent coming in from various places and to try to separate that talent out from a normal studio location,” says Terry Brady, director, remote production operations, ESPN. “Number two: to highlight the location here in New York.”
The full space is 1,972 sq. ft. with the set measuring 34 ft. x 58 ft. There’s plenty of space at the 11-ft. 5-in. x 6-ft. 5-in. desk for up to five talent to sit safely and socially distant. The windows of the space also feature a unique shading system that allows the onsite crew to adjust the conditions according to weather and sunlight positioning.
There are up to 10 cameras in the space, and, according to Brady, the studio is designed to shoot in the round to maximize the background views. As a result, the layout features low-profile PTZ camera units to keep “camera clutter” out of the shots. In addition, two virtual jibs (one inside, one outside) help grab beautiful scenic and establishing shots from around the Seaport.
Hosts will also be flanked by movable 85-in. monitors that can slide along tracks. Additionally, there’s a touchscreen-enabled 85-in. monitor to break down plays, a small casual seating area for more-conversational segments, and a small practice field for a bit of live action analysis.
As with other studios at Seaport District, this is a fully “REMI” operation with 12 outbound paths and 14 return paths fibering the studio to a control room at ESPN’s main Bristol, CT, campus.
Although the studio is dedicated to housing this marquee NFL programming for the duration of the season, ESPN is also planning to use the space for NBA Countdown during shoulder programming supporting the Eastern Conference Finals and the NBA Finals.
This was the goal for the space when it opened in April 2018. Although its flagship show was the original iteration of morning show Get Up!, ESPN hoped the Seaport District facility would become a content factory of sorts. It has certainly become that, now housing (COVID-pending) First Take, Around the Horn, and various ESPN Radio programs.
“The design was all about flexibility and adaptability,” says Brady. “We’ve made the best of that. Coming back from COVID, we’ll be at roughly six hours of linear television every day. So we’re filling up our dance card, no doubt. That’s why we’re here, and I think we’re doing a pretty good job managing all the content in and out. It has been a bit of a challenge, but it has been a fun challenge.”
Sunday NFL Countdown premieres Sept. 13 at 10 a.m. ET on ESPN, and Monday Night Countdown premieres Sept. 14 at 6 p.m. on ESPN.