ESPN Brings In Big Names, Big Graphics for Softball Coverage

By Carolyn Braff
The Women’s College World Series is underway in Oklahoma City and taking a cue from the show’s steadily
increasing ratings over the last few years, ESPN is taking its event
coverage to the next level. The network is once again airing the entirety of the event
in HD on ESPN, ESPN2 and and also bringing in
two big names, John Kruk and Vizrt, to enhance the production
from both sides of the camera.
“This show is technically, maybe short
of Monday Night Football, as robust a show as we do now,” says John
Vassallo, senior coordinating producer at ESPN.
Century Productions’ NCP IV HD expando truck is the main HD mobile
unit, along with the 53-foot B unit equipped with an Apple Final
Cut Pro system for onsite editing. NCP’s A mobile unit houses a Grass
Valley HD Kalypso switcher, 14 Ikegami HDK high definition cameras and three EVS systems, but the star of this year’s show is the Vizrt graphics
“We were using the Viz look last year
but in a more static platform,” Vassallo says. “We’re going full
Viz this year, which will give the animated graphics the look you’re used
to seeing on our major league baseball, college football and NFL coverage.”
The broadcast will also incorporate more
wireless mics from CP Communications than in previous years. In addition to outfitting the
reporters with wireless microphones, the home plate umpire will be miced
wirelessly inside the chest protection and for the first time, cameras
covering the stands section will be wireless, operating on radio frequency.
The umpire audio feed will be recorded for use in composite packages.
“We used to have to cover the stands
section to capture the flavor and the energy of the event with wired
cameras,” Vassallo explains. “We went to two wireless handhelds
this year not only for safety, but so we could get around a little easier.”
The World Series broadcasts use nearly
triple the number of cameras ESPNU has available for its regular-season
softball games, so ESPN has the flexibility to add a robotic camera
into the mix for this weekend’s coverage.
“We use three cameras behind home plate,”
Vassallo explains, “one on top of the roof which is manned, one directly
behind home plate that is manned behind Plexiglass, and then we mount
a robotic camera about halfway up on the screen. That view of home plate
from the midway up angle is really handy for plays at the plate.”
Vassallo says it’s much easier to rationalize
this kind of technical firepower and budgeting for it when you get the
kind of ratings numbers that the Women’s College World Series draws.
Fastpitch softball has enjoyed a tremendous
growth in viewership over the past few years and ESPN is hoping to continue
to fuel that growth by adding baseball analyst John Kruk to the talent
list. Kruk, a self-described fan of fastpitch softball, will join the
analysis team for this weekend’s broadcast, hopefully convincing some
diehard baseball fans that softball deserves a second look.
“We’re going to try a couple of neat
things with John,” Vassallo says, “maybe get him out there to face
Olympic gold medalist Michelle Smith. I know he doesn’t want to look
too bad but I know she’s going to throw her best at him.”

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