ESPN Kicks Coverage, Cameras Up a Notch at MLS Cup

Thanks to the presence of the big-market Los Angeles Galaxy and two of the league’s biggest stars in David Beckham and Landon Donovan, this year’s MLS Cup is likely to draw in a sizable chunk of casual viewers on Sunday night. ESPN aims to convert those casual fans into the hardcore variety with a ramped-up telecast that includes an on-site studio show, a vast arsenal of field mics, and nearly triple the camera complement of an average ESPN MLS production.

“We have beefed up the production pretty significantly for the [MLS Cup],” says Amy Rosenfeld. “For the MLS playoffs, we did add some extra equipment and elements, but, for MLS Cup, we are going to bump it up even more.”

Three Times the Cameras, Three Times the Coverage
ESPN will deploy a total of 21 cameras at the Home Depot Center just outside Los Angeles, compared with the eight-camera complement typically used during the regular season. These additional cameras include two super-slo-mos, two Fletcher Sports robotic cameras, two ICONIX POV cameras, a SteadiCam, and two jibs (one a mini-jib for the studio set).

Although ESPN added one super-slo-mo for every playoff game, the Cup coverage will feature two: a low–end-zone (to capture the arc and bend of the ball on free kicks) and a low mid, which will be mounted on an orbiter swivel, a mount popular in European soccer coverage.

“With the orbiter, the operator sits about 8 in. off the ground and has a smoother swivel motion,” says Rosenfeld. “It really helps to smooth out the speed shot of a player running by and gets a great super-slo-mo [shot]”

ESPN will have the goals covered extensively, as MLS has given the network “a lot of freedom” in terms of mounting cameras in the net and on the goalposts. These include two Fletcher robotics mounted over the crossbar on the left and right of the goal. In addition, Rosenfeld will deploy two ICONIX HD-RH1 POV cameras with 2-mm wide-angle lenses in the far corners of each net.

“These ICONIX POV cameras] are unbelievable,” say Rosenfeld. “They have a unique mounting mechanism that creates a significantly steadier picture. It allows us to perfectly capture the interiors, the goal line, and the keeper, but it also has great range to capture a striker coming towards the goal from far out. We are also able to shade them remotely, which helps immensely.”

M-11, EVS Epsio Finish the Season in Style
Two elements of the production will remain the same however: the truck and the offside line.

The MLS Cup production will run out of MIRA Mobile’s M-11 production truck, which has worked the majority of the network’s West Coast MLS games all season.

“Mira has really customized the truck for us this season, and we’ve been able to keep a lot of equipment on the truck the entire season, including EVS’s Epsio technology for the virtual offside line,” says Rosenfeld. “We have been very happy to have M-11 pretty dedicated to us for our West Coast games.”

EVS Epsio graphics system, which uses image-based motion-tracking technology, displays a virtual line affixed to the last defender on replays to show viewers whether the referee’s offside decision is accurate.

Best Boot-on-Ball in the Business
Audio has been a key element of ESPN’s MLS coverage throughout the season, the first in which every game has been delivered in full 5.1 surround sound. At the MLS Cup, A1 Chris Allen will take this initiative even further, deploying a total of 23 field mics to capture the action on the pitch.

“As the ball moves up and down the field, Chris is riding all of those mics and gets some amazing audio,” says Rosenfeld. “I challenge anyone to have a better boot-on-ball sound than Chris can get. He is really good at balancing the crowd noise with the game action.”

On the Set and in the Booth
The on-site set at the Home Depot Center will feature a mini-jib, one hard camera, one handheld, and a SteadiCam that will also be used for game coverage. Host Max Bretos, analysts Alexi Lalas and Taylor Twellman, and Chivas USA striker/guest analyst Alejandro Moreno.

ESPN will also have a camera in the booth, where play-by-play man Ian Darke and analyst John Harkes will call the action.

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