Women’s College World Series 2024: ESPN’s Production a Specialty-Camera Softball Spectacular

Megalodon debuts; drone, RailCam, and two-point SupraCam bolster the imagery in OKC

If you are a sports-production professional, ESPN’s presentation of the NCAA Women’s College World Series is one of those events for which you come for the coverage and end up staying for the softball. Or maybe it’s the other way around? Either way, this is an event that cemented its place as a must-see on the sports calendar long ago and continues to grow as a broadcast spectacle.

An on-field Megalodon is making its debut at ESPN’s coverage of the 2024 NCAA Women’s College World Series. Here, camera operator Clay Loveless follows Oklahoma’s Jayda Coleman after a home run. (Photo: Joshua R. Gateley/ESPN Images)

This year’s edition is loaded with exciting production tools. Among the approximate 45 cameras in the plan are the debut of the popular Megalodon (an on-field handheld camera on a gimbal shooting in shallow depth of field) as well as the return of a live drone, a 90-ft.-long RailCam affixed to the left-centerfield wall,  a two-point cabled aerial camera above the third-base line, UmpCam in the mask of the home-plate umpire, and microphones on all umpires.

“It wasn’t that long ago that we were just one production truck up on the hill with a six-camera show,” says Meg Aronowitz, SVP, production, ESPN. “Our crew of 30 has grown to over 240 credentialed people on our team. The enthusiasm and energy around women’s sports have only heightened the excitement for our coverage of this event. ESPN is all-in on the Women’s College World Series, and you will see us pull out all the stops.”

Like a Kid in a (Production) Candy Store

Oklahoma drew first blood with a Game 1 victory over Texas on Wednesday night in a Red River Rivalry best-of-three WCWS Finals inside OGE Energy at Devon Park in Oklahoma City. Game 2 is set for tonight, with an “if necessary” Game 3 slated for Friday evening.

UmpCam is one of the marquee tech enhancements at ESPN’s coverage of the 2024 NCAA Women’s College World Series. (Photo: Phil Ellsworth/ESPN Images)

After getting under way with a bang a week ago, the Finals have been a daily fixture across ESPN, ABC, ESPN2, ESPNU, and ESPN+. ESPN’s effort is comprehensive, comprising live game coverage, an onsite studio set, and additional presence in the form of shoulder programming at both the ACC Network and the SEC Network.

Game broadcasts, which are produced and delivered in 1080p, are handled with a bunch of tech toys designed to both tell a better story of the game itself and offer cinematic illustrations of the special scenes that make this a bucket-list sports event.

The freshman on the diamond is the Megalodon, which has largely been focused on capturing images on the field, with increased access — approved by the NCAA — to team space. The Megalodon, a Sony FX3 on a gimbal, is operated at this event by Clay Loveless, who runs a similar system on Monday Night Football.

“The Megalodon has been the most impactful addition to our coverage this year,” says Aronowitz, a 23-year veteran of ESPN. “Clay has added so much value with his rig on our coverage.”

ESPN SVP, Production, Meg Aronowitz (left) with Beth Mowins, who is calling play-by-play at the NCAA Women’s College World Series for the 30th year. (Photo: Phil Ellsworth/ESPN Images)

Loveless has the ability to roam into the dugouts and can go onto the field during dead-ball situations and to track a base runner following a home run.

“It is like two cameras in one,” says Aronowitz, “because we take it live and also feed incredible high-frame-rate video for bumps and edits.”

A live drone is provided by New York City-based aerial-camera supplier Xizmo Media. It is operated by pilot Pablo Barrera with an assist from technician Edward Kostakis.

“While it does not shoot live action,” says Aronowitz, “it provides an incredible sense of place around the venue for live in our cut pattern. We do not fly over people, so it does not fly over the stands. We’ll sometimes fly on the field to begin or end an inning while the ball is dead.”

Aronowitz also confirmed that her team is working directly with the Federal Aviation Administration, the NCAA, and Oklahoma City authorities to ensure that all flight paths are approved in advance.

A RailCam is erected along the top of the outfield wall extending about 90 ft. from left field to centerfield. It’s regularly in motion and adds depth and perspective on the speed at which action occurs in the outfield on flyballs and home runs.

The following highlight clip is a great example of how production elements like the Megalodon, SupraCam, and RailCam provide unique visuals in live and replay:

UmpCam, meanwhile, offers an angle that many viewers of softball and baseball have become quite accustomed to over the years. Its first-person view is far more impactful these days, with improved image quality giving the viewer at home the sense of what it’s like to be in the batter’s box.

All in all, an impressive array of production tools serve up exciting depth to the images cut by the front bench, led by Coordinating Producer Nick Rud, producer Kerry Callahan, and director Anthony DeMarco. (Earlier in the World Series, in another front-bench pairing, producer Seth Miller and director Mike Griffin handled day games.)

“I am a firm believer in not adding technology just for the sake of adding,” notes Aronowitz. “Every piece of technology we add plays a specific role in our coverage plan. Anthony is very deliberate in his prep and planning with each vendor to ensure we are in the right place at the right time.”

Cameras and lights in position for ESPN’s onsite studio show at the 2024 NCAA Women’s College World Series. The shoulder programming is a Bristol-based REMI production. (Photo: Katie Callahan/ESPN PR)

In addition to that array of specialties, the camera plan is filled out by many of the reliable hard, handheld, and robotic cameras typical of a production of this magnitude: five Sony 2500’s as hard cameras, two Sony 2500’s used as handhelds, four Sony 4300s shooting as super-slo-mos, eight Marshall POVs, and nine Fletcher robos.

The microphone arsenal is equally robust, including two wired stick mics in each dugout, nine RF mics in the bases, eight RF mics worn by the umpires, and 12 wireless lavelieres in the outfield wall padding and foul poles.

On the replay front, the trucks deploy seven EVS XT4K servers (12 channels each), three EVS XT3’s (also 12 channels each), an EVS Spotbox (six channels), EVS XFile, two XT Access, two IPDirectors (with an additional six provided by Creative Mobile Solutions for postproduction edits).

The announce booth is deploying a telestrator designed by Fingerworks Telestrators.

Compound Expands To Meet Onsite Demands

ESPN’s coverage of the Women’s College World Series is a fully onsite production. Only the studio show — with an onsite located on the third-base–side concourse — is a Bristol, CT–based REMI production overseen by Studio Operations Producer Matt Bagan.

Inside ESPN’s production truck with producer Kerry Callahan (left) and director Anthony DeMarco

The entire show is a sprawling effort featuring a production and operations crew of 200+ people, headed by Senior Operations Producer Kevin Wendling, Operations Producer Spencer Chmiel, Operations Specialist Mitch Workman, Operations Managers Catherine Chalfant and Donna Capone, and Operations Coordinators Tatianna Montalvo and Donna Dunlevy.

“The one thing that has not changed for us over the years,” says Aronowitz, “is the family that this crew has become and their passion for covering this event. We will give our best and leave it all out on the field this week.”

Outside the stadium, the production compound — overseen by Director, Remote Facilities, Dennis Cleary — continues to grow. This time around, the crew is working out of NEP EN3 (A and B units) as well as ST27 and ST25. Alliance Productions’ Flex 8 and Flex 3 are on hand in support.

Uplink services are provided by Kaufman Broadcast. The compound is powered by CES Power.

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