Live From Super Bowl LVII: ESPN Embraces the Western Theme With Studio in Old Town Scottsdale
The broadcaster will also have an on-field set at State Farm Stadium
Despite not having broadcast rights to the Super Bowl, ESPN always makes a concerted effort to construct a large studio presence in the host city. The broadcaster is leading into Super Bowl LVII with an on-field desk at State Farm Stadium and providing viewers content from its main setup in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale, a highly popular, Western-themed area 28 miles east of the venue.
“The city of Scottsdale has been gracious hosts and extremely easy to work with throughout this entire process,” says Mark Mignini, senior operations manager, remote operations, ESPN. “We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the turnout of fans for all our studio shows, and we’ve had a great time being here.”
The Right Spot: Crew Makes Multiple Trips to Find Ideal Studio Site
As with previous Super Bowls, the broadcaster’s operations team checked out potential homes for its week-long studio programming. Prior to Super Bowl XLIX in the Phoenix metropolitan area in 2015, ESPN set up shop at Scottsdale Fashion Square, which is located a mile north of this year’s position. The broadcaster could have repeated that activation and leveraged that background, but the location was unavailable this year. And, opting for a much smaller footprint, the team decided to go in a different direction.
“We wanted a smaller show, so we built a 32- by 32-ft. stage that suited our needs without a demo field and side set,” says Mignini. “We feel like we’re a lot more of the town here with a mixture of locals and the swarms of Chiefs and Eagles fans.”
Site surveys began in May 2022, and, after subsequent trips, Mignini and his crew set their sights on the intimate vibe that Old Town Scottsdale offers. Ultimately, the main goal was a tourist destination that people can visit and interact with.
“We wanted a tailgate for people to hang out and come to, and, once we saw this location, we knew that this was the one,” says Mignini. “The city worked with us to close some streets as well as work with the local businesses to install our cabling. We built this set during two overnights to allow the businesses to stay open during the day. After our equipment was set to go, we got under way with First Take at 8 a.m. ET on Wednesday.”
On Old Town Road: Tourist Spot Offers Packed Crowds, High Energy
In addition to establishing a central hub of activity, another priority is showcasing what makes Arizona unique. The state and some of its major cities conjure up images of desert, Wild West, and dry climate. Capitalizing on such images called for a bountiful number of cacti, which the city uprooted to make room for the studio set and replanted in other areas of the strip, and Old West storefronts that mimic the origins of what became Scottsdale.
“[This area] brings you back to what the Southwest used to look like,” says Mignini. “We could have worked from a parking lot, but there’s nothing exciting to see from a parking lot.”
To maintain the integrity of the area’s nod to humble roots, the crew worked to maintain a balance between constructing an eye-popping fixture and working with the height of the surrounding buildings. Through a continued partnership with stage manufacturer MB Pro Sound and Staging, ESPN was able to figure out a sweet spot.
“We generally go 6 ft. off the ground,” Mignini explains, “but we had to double-check because we didn’t want to have store awnings at eye level. We were able to get our platform to the correct height and knew that we’d have a nice window for crowds [in the background].”
The main structure features a desk that was built by Creative Dimensions to accommodate six talent and has been used on other NFL properties. Illumination Dynamics has once again been tapped for lighting and power. Shows are captured by eight cameras: two jib cameras (one traditional, one for augmented-reality graphics), an RF Steadicam, and five hard cameras. Drone shots have also been featured on all studio programming, which was either captured on Friday, Feb. 3 or repurposed from the Week 14 matchup between the Arizona Cardinals and New England Patriots on Monday Night Football.
As for content, the weekday slate featured Get Up at 8-10 a.m. ET with Mike Greenberg, Ryan Clark, Dan Orlovsky, and Dan Graziano; First Take at 10 a.m. to noon with Stephen A. Smith, Molly Qerim, and such guests as Detroit Lions running back Jamaal Williams, Miami Dolphins’ wide receiver Tyreek Hill, Pro Football Hall of Famer Michael Irving, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence, and Washington Commanders defensive linemen Chase Young; multiple editions of SportsCenter with Steve Levy; and NFL Live at 4-5 p.m. with Laura Rutledge, Marcus Spears, Mina Kimes, Clark, and Orlovsky. Reporters Diana Russini, assigned to the Kansas City Chiefs, and Sal Paolantonio, assigned to the Philadelphia Eagles, also joined multiple shows. Other daily shows were This Just In at 2-3 p.m., Pardon the Interruption at 5:30-6 p.m., and Daily Wager at 6-6:30 p.m.
On Super Bowl Sunday, Postseason NFL Countdown at 10 a.m.–2 p.m. kicks things off with a two-pronged attack: Sam Ponder, Randy Moss, Tedy Bruschi, Matt Hasselbeck, and Rex Ryan at the Old Town set; and Suzy Kolber, Steve Young, Booger McFarland, Robert Griffin III, and Alex Smith on the field at State Farm Stadium. Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter will join the Scottsdale crew alongside reports from Russini and Paolantonio. After the game, NFL PrimeTime will be led by Chris Berman, Young, and McFarland and will be followed by SportsCenter With SVP featuring Scott Van Pelt, Louis Riddick, and Clark.
Onsite Tech: Live Media Group Produces Studio Programming, Connects Team to Stadium
With the studio set located on E. Main Street next to the Rusty Spur Saloon, the broadcast compound situated across N. Scottsdale Road is at the center of this endeavor. Live Media Group’s HDX-2, or Gracie, mobile unit is not only handling the slate of shows from Old Town but also connecting the crew with the talent at the Super Bowl venue. Illumination Dynamics has a truck parked next to Gracie in the compound.
From an operations perspective, there are always unknowns and uncontrollable elements that can derail even the best of plans. Weather is a perpetual concern, but Arizona has provided the crew stellar weather all week long.
Space in the compound can raise another issue in a tightly confined location, but, with a production office four blocks away and the production and operations teams’ hotel in walking distance, a production trailer was eliminated from the compound. A handful of factors —additional space in the compound, the availability of nearby talent, such as a jib operator from the 2023 NFL Pro Bowl in Las Vegas — justified a full onsite production with 35-40 technicians in Arizona.
“We thought about [producing this remotely],” says Mignini. “But, with the number of shows that we’re doing from here, the REMI didn’t make sense. Plus, the only aspects that we would have implemented remotely was our one EVS operator and our virtual-graphics operator, so we figured it would be best to bring everyone onsite.”
Arizona and Bristol: Remote Studio Ops Set the Scene for Viewers
Conveying both the culture of the host city and the buzz of being at the Super Bowl isn’t a simple job, but ESPN is pulling it off through collaboration with partners and internal teamwork. Holding the effort together is the broadcaster’s remote-operations team: Director, Remote Operations, Carlton Young; Senior Operations Producers, Remote Operations, Johnathan Williams and Rand Joseph; Operations Producer, Remote Operations, Kristianna Bryant; Operations Coordinator, Remote Operations, Leah Morgenstern; and Mignini.
“I cannot be prouder of this team and the hard work that they’ve shown during the long days that they’ve put in,” says Mignini. “Every Super Bowl is different, and what we did last year in Disneyland was great, but being somewhat close to our pre-COVID model here has been awesome.”