NFL Kickoff 2023: ESPN Ops Team Preps for Doubleheaders, London, and Pair of Playoff Games as Part of Company-Record 25-Game Slate

All games will be produced in 1080p HDR this season

Tonight, ESPN and ABC kick off the biggest slate of NFL games in Walt Disney Co. history with Bills–Jets at MetLife Stadium. Headlined by 20 Monday Night Football games, ESPN, ABC, and ESPN+ will combine to broadcast 25 games this season, including doubleheader in Weeks 2, 3, 14, and 18. Add in a trip across the pond in Week 4, flex scheduling beginning in Week 12, and a second playoff game for the first time, and it becomes clear just how big this year is for ESPN’s operations and production teams.

NEP EN1 mobile unit was given a massive IP overhaul prior to MNF’s kickoff last season.

“We’re always excited to get back into football, but this year especially because of the [enhanced] schedule,” says Steve Carter, senior operations manager, ESPN. “It’s a very long season, and it’s going to be a big challenge, but it’s certainly satisfying because Monday Night Football is such a great show to work on. That’s because this team knows exactly what needs to get done and they all do it very well.”

On the tech side, ESPN will produce all games in 1080p HDR this season for the first time (with the exception of doubleheaders, when one of the two games will be in 1080p SDR). Although ESPN’s Bristol, CT, plant does not have the necessary distribution infrastructure in place to distribute HDR to the home, ESPN will be archiving in HDR and will transmit the HDR feed to the NFL’s Art McNally Gameday Central (AMGC) in New York for replay assistance.

Back-to-Back Primetime Games at MetLife: MNF Follows SNF on Short Timeline

Right out of the gate, the operations team has one of its most taxing productions of the season tonight at MetLife Stadium. In a rare scheduling anomaly, NBC’s Sunday Night Football and MNF are taking place at the same stadium on back-to-back nights.

Since MetLife’s truck compound is unable to accommodate the massive fleets of both NBC and ESPN, NBC used the in-stadium compound last night, and ESPN has set up its NEP EN1 units outside the stadium in Parking Lot H. The NFL and the venue were able to lay permanent fiber underground to connect the Lot H location to the I/O panel at the truck dock.

ESPN has set up its NEP EN1 mobile units outside the stadium in Parking Lot H outside MetLife Stadium for its MNF opener.

In addition, ESPN did not have access to the stadium until roughly 4 a.m. ET today, making for one of the shortest setup timelines for an NFL game in recent memory.

“This is one of the only times a Sunday-night game and a Monday-night game have been in the same facility in my recollection, so it’s going to be difficult,” says Carter. “We’ve dealt with the Sunday-afternoon Fox and CBS games in the same stadium the day before, but those are typically not A-level games so we can fit our trucks in the same compound with Fox and CBS. But this week is different. Thankfully, everybody has stepped up, and they’re doing a great job of finding the best way to handle this.”

There’s no rest for the weary, however. ESPN will have doubleheaders the next two weeks followed by a Sunday-morning matchup at Wembley Stadium in London in Week 4. The NEP EN2 fleet will serve the second games in Weeks 2, 3, 14, and 18, and NEP Atlantis will house the London Game production in Week 4.

“We certainly learned a lot in London last year,” says Carter. “They do TV a little bit differently there so we’re adapting our style to theirs. It has worked out great so far, and we should be in great shape. The biggest challenge is the logistics in terms of flying people over, so we’re doing a mixture of core crew members from the U.S. and filling the rest [of the crew] with local technicians.”

Same Truck, New Vibe: Mobley, Ackels Take Over With Plenty of Tech Toys

Following a significant IP upgrade prior to last season, NEP EN1 is back for another year of MNF. The front bench, however, will be very different with director Derek Mobley and producer Steve Ackels taking over for Jimmy Platt and Phil Dean this season. MNF, which won a Sports Emmy for Outstanding Live Series last season, already boasts one of the largest camera complements of any show in the business. But that won’t stop Mobley and Ackels from adding their own flavor to the iconic franchise.

“Whenever you have a new production team,” notes Carter, “they’re going to come in with some fresh ideas in terms of camera positions and technology. It’s our job to react to those changes and make sure they get done.”

ESPN has added super-slo-mo capability to eight additional Sony HDC-5500 cameras and added 4K UHD to five more. In all, 18 of ESPN’s cameras are now high-frame-rate–capable, including several UHD systems shooting in 2X slo-mo. In addition, ESPN has added a Sony Hawkeye replay system that allows those UHD cameras to provide 4X replays.

MNF will once again operate under a REMCO model, in which four EVS replay operators are located in Bristol, CT, while others are onsite. One new wrinkle this year: four Hawkeye replay operators will be working from their homes across the country.

While Mobley and Ackels will bring a new feel to the front bench, Monday Night Football’s veteran operations team remains largely intact. Led by Carter, the team comprises Jack Coffey, senior remote operations specialist; Matt Kwok, senior remote operations producer; Jim Munn, senior remote technical specialist; Joe Rainey, senior remote technical specialist; Kevin Wendling, senior remote operations producer; Sam Majewski, field operations coordinator; and Sascha Ford, remote operations assistant.

Password must contain the following:

A lowercase letter

A capital (uppercase) letter

A number

Minimum 8 characters