ESPN Faces Another Quick Buildout at This Weekend’s BCS Title Game

Quite a few ESPN employees may have been rooting for the Rams to upset the 49ers last Sunday. But don’t take it personally, San Francisco.

For purely logistical reasons, a 49ers loss would have helped ESPN’s crew for the BCS Championship game immensely: the New Orleans Saints would have been boosted to the No. 2 seed in the NFC Playoffs and granted a first-round bye, leaving the Mercedes-Benz Superdome empty all weekend before Monday’s highly anticipated SEC rematch between Alabama and LSU.

New Orleans officials allowed ESPN to close a lane of traffic outside the Superdome to get ready for Monday’s BCS Championship game.

Instead, the Saints will host the Detroit Lions in a Saturday-night Wild Card game that will be broadcast by NBC, significantly narrowing the window of time ESPN has to prepare for its Monday-night broadcast.

“We’ve been planning for this game for months, and we’ve prepared for the possibility that the Saints could host a Wild Card game,” says Ed Placey, senior coordinating producer for ESPN’s college-football coverage. “We had that scenario in the back of our minds and knew what we were going to work towards if that happened. It just makes our weekend that much more interesting, but I wouldn’t say it’s that much more challenging.”

Tight turnarounds are nothing new to ESPN. In fact, production crews dealt with them twice in the past week alone. With the Saints closing out their season at home against the Carolina Panthers on New Year’s Day, ESPN had just two days to get the Superdome ready for the Allstate Sugar Bowl, and, in Arizona, the Cardinals’ season finale against the Seahawks — which naturally followed Murphy’s Law and went to overtime — gave the network’s Tostitos Fiesta Bowl crew just one day to set up.

To combat the challenge this weekend, ESPN has been granted permission by the city of New Orleans to close off a lane of traffic outside the Superdome to get a head start on its work while NBC broadcasts the Lions-Saints playoff game (which kicks off at 8 p.m. ET) from the traditional truck-compound location inside. Once the game ends and NBC has cleared out of the building, ESPN will begin to move cameras, audio equipment, and additional gear inside, working through the night into Sunday.

ESPN has broadcast this week from a remote studio constructed at Jackson Square in the French Quarter.

“With new technology and the ability to have routers and so many things programmed [in advance], we can come in and get things patched and set up much quicker than we used to,” says Placey. “If you remember those days where everything had to be hand patched, it kind of drove you crazy, but we’re built now to be able to do the size show that we want to, even with some of the inconveniences of stadium scheduling.”

As for the BCS Championship Game (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN 3D/ESPN3), Game Creek Victory will be on-site, and ESPN will deploy 30 cameras for the game broadcast. The crew and complement are quite similar to what ESPN uses during the regular season for its marquee ABC package — with a few minor tweaks, including 11 cameras for the separate 3D broadcast.

“I’ve got to admit, it’s not an off-the-charts upgrade because we run a pretty robust show during the season [for the ABC package],” says Placey, “but it definitely goes north of what we’re normally doing. The trucks are all interconnected. The main broadcast utilizes cameras from 3D from the studio show; the studio show uses cameras from the game truck. We hook them all together and take advantage of all of the available resources that we have.”

Included in the arsenal will be extra super-slow-mo cameras, reverse-angle views, and SkyCam, which performed well at the Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl following an unfortunate mishap last week at the Insight Bowl.

Out on the Town
ESPN has had a presence in New Orleans all week. Following its Sugar Bowl broadcast on Tuesday, crews moved its studio set from the field at the Superdome to bustling Jackson Square, a historic park in the French Quarter.

College Football Live has aired daily from there all week, along with live hits from the set during pregame and halftime of the Orange Bowl and during various SportsCenter broadcasts.

The set is expected to move back to the Superdome on Sunday.

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