ESPN Hits Familiar Pitch For MLS Cup

Carolyn Braff
For Sunday’s MLS Cup title match, played at the Home Depot Center in
California, ESPN is doubling its
regular-season camera complement to ensure soccer fans don’t miss a minute of
the action on the pitch.
Featuring newly-crowned MLS MVP Guillermo Barros
Schelotto leading his favored Columbus Crew team against the New York Red Bulls,
the 2008 MLS Cup is shaping up to be quite a battle.
“How often is
New York an underdog?” asks Matthew Sandulli,
senior coordinating producer for ESPN. “We’ve got two really good stories
Twenty cameras, more than twice the nine-camera
setup used for regular-season MLS games, will help tell that story. Relying on
a mix of fixed cameras, steadicams, two super slo mos, and a blimp camera,
Sandulli says the tight follow camera offers one of the best looks for this
“What we call the tight follow camera is assigned
to the ball, so anywhere the ball goes, that camera goes,” Sandulli explains.
“We attach a super slo mo device to it, and that camera will give us the best
look at goals and fouls.”
Broadcasting the game from the
Home Depot Center, home of David Beckham’s Los
Angeles Galaxy, is a boon for ESPN.
“Thankfully, with Beckham, we’ve been there so many
times that we’re walking into one of the best scenarios we could have,”
Sandulli says. “We already have a place for our set; we already know where
everything goes. We’ve not done a show this size there before, but we’ve gotten
pretty close. For this level of a show, having been there before makes our life
Nearly 50 people make up the on-site crew for this
show, with Lyon Video 7 on site to provide mobile production support.
A Vizrt graphic system will produce the graphic
look, which now sports a heavily European influence.
“We really liked the way we had to do the clock and
score with Euro Cup,” Sandulli explains. “With Euros we’re kind of tied to
present their look. We were all impressed with the smaller size and positioning
of the bug that they had designed. We thought it would give the viewers back a
little more TV space on the screen, so we built our own version of it and
that’s what we’re using now.”
Another graphic enhancement, to be used for replay
purposes, is a virtual offside line. SportVision, the company responsible for
ESPN’s K-Zone graphics on Major League Baseball coverage, calibrates the
network’s cameras to a computer program that ingests the field measurements and
follows the last defender with a virtual line.
“Think of the soccer pitch as a huge grid,”
Sandulli says. “There’s a person who tells the computer to track the last
defender’s movement within the grid, and the line is electronically built to
follow that person. When there’s a controversial offside call, the last defender
will have been highlighted into that grid, that line will have been produced,
and it will come up as a definitive yellow line.”
The virtual offside line has been used on ESPN2’s
MLS Primetime Thursday series since last season.
ESPN All-Axis, virtual replay technology that
allows analysts to use graphic telestrations to highlight locations and
movements of players on the field, will also be incorporated into the
ESPN’s standard effects microphone complement will
bring the sounds of the game to fans’ living rooms, with an additional player
possibly miked during the pre-game festivities.
The match airs on ABC Sunday, November 23, at 3:30
p.m., and ESPN International will televise it in 142 countries around the

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