College Football Kickoff 2020: In Season of Logistical Challenges, ESPN To Tap Into Every Flavor of Onsite and REMI-Based Production Workflows

The college campaign ramps up Saturday with 14 games across the ESPN family of networks

Following an offseason riddled with uncertainty and debate – and a majority of collegiate conferences deciding not to play fall sports amidst the COVID-19 pandemic – a busy Saturday of college football finally arrives this weekend.

ESPN will deploy a variety of on-site and REMI production models to broadcast a total of 14 games across its family of networks. Also, a modified edition of College GameDay will broadcast live from the campus of Wake Forest, site of the marquee game of the week: No. 1 Clemson at Wake Forest (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC).

It’s the first loaded slate of a unique college football season that will see the “Worldwide Leader” produce upwards of 325 games over the next three months.

To do so, ESPN operations will pull every flavor of live production workflow out of its pockets, ranging from the COVID-altered on-site full truck productions with crew and on-air talent on-site to varied levels of “REMI” (or “at home”) productions. The network even stated that, potentially, they may utilize the on-campus control rooms built at ACC and SEC schools at some point during the season. Those facilities were originally designed to support school-produced live broadcasts for the ACC Network and SEC Network.

“We’re executing every possible model we can think of at this point,” says Tommy Mitchell, an operations manager at ESPN. “It’s been a fun challenge but it’s interesting to see all of these types of models plat out. In this world, it’s happening so fast.

Here’s a look at the programming schedule for Week 2 of ESPN”s college football coverage:

“REMI”-style productions are nothing new for the college football ops team at ESPN but, as Mitchell noted, its never been executed at the scale it will be this season purely to uphold safety measures needed to keep crews and collegiate programs safe during these games being played among the coronavirus pandemic.

Over the past two weekends, ESPN has gotten the chance to produce a few games sprinkled through Weeks 0 and 1, including a few REMIs and a game between BYU and Navy on Labor Day Monday evening that was a full on-site truck production. All three games on the schedule last Saturday (which included matchups hosted at Marshall, Texas State, and Memphis) were all full-on “REMIs” with the announcers calling the game off screen from either an ESPN studio or their own homes.

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Mitchell also went deeper into the different flavors of “REMI,” noting that the ESPN Ops team has a “REMI” model and a “REMI Pro.” REMIs feature no on-air talent (with the exception of maybe a sideline reporter, if possible) on site and very minimal crews at the stadium either. Virtually all of the truck-based positions resde in a control room in an of the three primary ESPN facilities: Bristol, Charlotte, or Orlando (at Wide World of Sports). ESPN has been using the REMI model aggressively since sports began returning from the pandemic, be it with on-air talent in studio (like on Sunday Night Baseball) or with on-air talent calling the game from set ups in their own hows (like on KBO – or Korean Baseball Championship – broadcasts). Than there’s REMI Pro, which does allow for the on-air talent and a couple of more technical positions to be on site, but the majority of the production is still pieced together in a studio control room.

All of these models will be used in some way or another throughout this college football season. Plans are for all of the main primetime games on ABC to be produced as on-site shows with modified crews on site along with on-air talent.

“College football is unique and one of those things where we don’t get any preseason games,” noted Mitchell. “There’s no practice rounds,. We start and all the games count. So we’re executing on the fly, and so far it’s been working out fairly well.”