ESPN Deploys Pair of MindFly BodyCams on Referees for UFL Semifinal Matchup on ABC

The technology will also be used on umpires for next week’s College World Series

As ESPN’s inaugural United Football League (UFL) campaign comes to a close, the production team continues to up the innovation quotient. The broadcaster will deploy a MindFly BodyCam on two referees as part of its UFL Semifinal game between Detroit and Birmingham, AL, Saturday on ABC. In addition, the wearable-camera technology will return for ESPN’s College World Series coverage on first- and second-base umpires later this month.

“One of ESPN’s priorities is Innovation,” says Jarrett Baker, manager, remote operations, ESPN. “Sometimes, it is hard to appreciate how quickly plays occur, and wearable cameras close the gap between being on the field and watching on the best-available screen.”

MindFly developed an AI-stabilized POV camera with a built-in microphone, smaller than a credit card, which is mounted inside a chest vest. The camera, battery, and transmitter are protected by D30 Decell padding to ensure that athletes and officials stay safe. Refs wear the rig under their jerseys with a small slit cut into the fabric for the lens.

An official’s jersey is slit to accommodate the lens of a MindFly POV camera mounted in a chest vest.

“MindFly takes fans onto the field in a revolutionary way,” says Baker. “There are several other options in this space, but the AI stabilization looks like a gimbal-stabilized lens.”

The system transmits in the 5 GHz or 6 GHz Wi-Fi spectrum using two receivers on the field and one at the midfield camera position in the stands. MindFly can deliver the feed to the cloud, but ESPN is taking a baseband 1080p/59.94 feed onsite. Two camera feeds are transmitted to ESPN’s Bristol, CT, facility as part of its REMI mux.

MindFly is used primarily for replays and bumps, but the production team could take it live at any point — particularly in the scrum after a fumble.

Practice Makes Perfect: UFL Provides Fertile Testing Ground

ESPN tested the system during the May 18 game between the Houston Roughnecks and Birmingham Stallions, deploying the BodyCam on the side judge and umpire. The broadcaster will continue to use two cameras on officials but may select a different on-field official for better angles during plays. Several clips made air during the May 18 test, and Baker expects even more airtime this weekend.

“Our partners have enabled us to start with referees,” he says. “We hope that players will eventually wear body cameras in-game. Other sport groups at ESPN are exploring this with the relevant sanctioning bodies. Technological enhancements have enabled fandom to skyrocket, and teams and leagues continue to increase in popularity.”

Led by SVP, Technology, Scott Harniman, the UFL has made of point of using technology to enhance the fan experience both at home and in the venue in an effort to grow the fan base. For example, the league allows broadcasters to access coach-to-coach and coach-to-player communications, live video talkbacks with the centralized replay team, and TrU Line first-down measurements. According to Baker, the league has approved all of ESPN’s testing requests, including a recent offline demo of a system that may be used on football this fall.

“We are very pleased with the first UFL season and are looking forward to next year,” says Baker. “It’s exciting to know that we can explore the newest tech on the market at any point during the season. Technical challenges were few and far between, but each one was resolved quickly. We will meet with the league and FOX this summer to debrief and strategize how to make Season 2 even better.”

What’s Next? College World Series, NHL, College Basketball

Later this month, ESPN plans to deploy MindFly BodyCams on first- and second-base umpires during the College World Series, replicating efforts at the end of the SEC baseball tournament. With the umpires’ perfect positioning, ESPN VP, Production, Phil Orlins expects intimate and decisive shots of close plays throughout the games.

“We will also get action shots around the bases that the umpire positions himself ideally to watch,” he says. “Lastly, we tend to get some fun moments from these cameras as well.”

According to Orlins, the ESPN is currently exploring how MindFly BodyCams could potentially be deployed for other sports. To date, the technology has been used on PLL lacrosse and tested NHL and college basketball.

“The tech produces a high-quality picture,” notes Orlins. The 4K capture with stabilization provides a comfortable viewing experience. The most important aspect is that the BodyCam vest is quite comfortable for athletes and referees to wear and has been embraced by them more often than not. The most important thing is that the subject is comfortable wearing the camera.”

Password must contain the following:

A lowercase letter

A capital (uppercase) letter

A number

Minimum 8 characters