ESPN’s Wimbledon Production Team Serves Up Historic Week of Coverage
It’s safe to say that when Jamie Reynolds, VP of production for ESPN’s tennis coverage says that Thursday, June 24 was an “historic” day for the network’s coverage he isn’t engaging in hyperbole. The first Wimbledon visit by Queen Elizabeth since 1977 was followed by the conclusion of the longest tennis match ever, two events that, by themselves, would give a production team chills. But having both on the same day was something beyond special. “We couldn’t have asked for a better day,” says Reynolds.
With the World Cup grabbing much of the headlines and attention of the sports world, the 11-hour battle between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut that stretched over three days turned into something more than just a marathon match.
It turned into the tennis equivalent of a mini-series, becoming must-see TV for even casual sports fans by the time the match reached its conclusion on Thursday afternoon.
On Tuesday afternoon the match took center focus for ESPN as Isner, an American, gave ESPN the home nation hook to put his increasingly intriguing match front and center on the network. “It was the best match available but then it gained momentum that carried over to Wednesday,” says Reynolds. “Two players that no one has on the radar suddenly had everyone paying attention.”
ESPN’s coverage was put together in its technical facilities located within the Wimbledon broadcast center, a two-story facility that is affectionately referred to as the “tennis hospital.” It is home to ESPN, NBC Sports, The Tennis Channel, BBC Sport, Japan’s Wowow network, IBM statistic and data services, and more, with studio operations on the top floor (overlooking the courts) and technical operations located on the floor below. The SIS OB vehicles that are at the core of the BBC host feed coverage and Visions OB units used by NBC Sports for coverage are located in the OB compound located next to the broadcast center.
England-based OB and technical services company Visions (a sister company of NEP) has the task of gearing up the technical facilities that this year featured a couple of new features. Panasonic P2 was on hand for ESPN ENG needs and a new video wall comprised of 12 JVC flat-panel displays and multi-viewers replaced traditional tube monitors.
“The control room is a little tight so when we had the glass monitors everything was about two feet closer [to the front bench] and you could lose perspective,” says Reynolds. The new monitors, however, have a better viewing distance, coupled with HD resolution, to make operations much more comfortable.
“Working with Visions is an evolutionary process where we look at their recommendations of what is available,” says Reynolds. “We will bring the U.S. mindset but the key is working to add versatility so we can more easily produce the number of hours we are asked to do.”
That number, by the way, is 10 hours a day. And with so much action going on among Wimbledon’s 18 courts coverage on ESPN2 can often resemble golf coverage, with Reynolds and the team taking viewers to various courts depending on where the best action.
“It has similar mechanics to golf coverage but is fortunately a bit slower paced,” says Reynolds. “Our goal is to make ourselves DVR proof. The beauty of the number of hours we are committed to is when something breaks we can open up the story and when there is tension and conflict we can stay with it because that is what the broader audience wants.”
This week that meant not only the historic Thursday but also two matches that saw Wimbledon champion Roger Federer have to battle and a first day of action that was the longest day in Wimbledon history.
Helping get those stories on air is the fine work put in by the BBC, which builds the host broadcast feeds that are the basis for ESPN’s coverage. “We have a terrific relationship, similar to the one we have with CBS Sports at the U.S. Open,” says Reynolds. “We will share analysts and talent and the BBC is sensitive to our framing and style of coverage.”
The relationship with NBC Sports is more one of sharing resources, like four cameras in Centre Court and two cameras at Court One. “We don’t co-exist in the same broadcast window so we will do as much together as we can to support the sport,” adds Reynolds.
There is little doubt that Wimbledon this week, more than ever, highlighted what makes it unique on the world sports stage: a sense of majesty and tradition that, in the U.S., is only matched by the likes of The Masters.
“In the U.S. when we talk sports we have allusions [to royalty with nicknames like] King James but this is the only event where the majesty is legitimate,” says Reynolds. “We are on England’s front lawn and this is the only place where you can talk about royalty, nobility, and majesty and it all feathers together.”
this is the only event where when we talk sports in U.S. King James, allusions to champions but this is the only event whre the majesty is legitimate….you are on England’s front lawn, and royalty, only time talk with nobility, majesty and it all comes together.”