’Tis the (Bowl) Season at ESPN

Even at a media company as large as ESPN, there are few times the airwaves are as crowded as when college football bowl season rolls around.

For many fans, bowl games serve as a pleasant backdrop to countless Christmas and New Year’s parties. For us to have that, sacrifices have to be made by many at ESPN, who have to give up holidays with family and friends to plan, travel, and broadcast games from points across the country.

“We certainly try to express our appreciation for that as often as possible,” says Ed Placey, senior coordinating producer for ESPN’s college football coverage. “We’re all kind of in the same boat that we love the sport but we know that it comes at a sacrifice to weekends, family time, and holidays.”

Of the 35 bowl games on the docket from Dec. 15 to Jan. 7, the ESPN family of networks will televise 33 of them, including a stretch of at least one game a day for 16 out of the 19 days from Dec. 20 to Jan. 7.

The company pieces together an army of freelance technical crews and full and part time director/producer tandems to cover the slate of games, pairing up with a bevy of mobile production truck companies – NEP Broadcasting, Crosscreek, Game Creek, Lyon Video, MIRA Mobile, F&F Productions, and Dome Productions – to get the job done.

As one would imagine, planning such a dense slate of live programming begins long before the matchups are set at the end of the regular season.

“We start thinking about the challenge of scheduling the bowls probably around late September,” says Placey. “The calendar is different every year so it’s a different jigsaw puzzle every time around. We want to get a sense of what teams are projecting to be good and what possibilities there are in different conferences. We’ve been through it a number of times to know that it doesn’t feel like such a high mountain to climb. We’re just kind of used to it and know the challenges that we have to look for each time.”

All of the bowl games prior to New Year’s Eve will receive a standard complement of gear that would be used on an average ESPN college football telecast. Bigger games, such as the BCS bowls, get varying levels of added enhancements that include extra cameras (including aerial cameras), on-site studio sets, and more.

BCS or not, ESPN pays extra care to its New Year’s Day lineup of bowls that, this year, includes the Gator Bowl (Mississippi State vs. Northwestern) at noon ET on ESPN2, the Heart of Dallas Bowl (Purdue vs. Oklahoma State) at noon on ESPNU, the Capital One Bowl (Georgia vs. Nebraska) at 1 p.m. on ABC, the Outback Bowl (South Carolina vs. Michigan) at 1 p.m. on ESPN, the Rose Bowl Game (Wisconsin vs. Stanford) at 5 p.m. on ESPN, and the Orange Bowl (No. 15 Northern Illinois vs. No. 12 Florida State) at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN.

“Beyond that, the Chick-fil-a Bowl on New Year’s Eve is a nice matchup between Clemson and LSU,” says Placey, “That game is getting the type of equipment attention that it calls for.”

According to Placey, SpiderCam, the aerial camera system that has enjoyed tremendous success on ESPN’s Monday Night Football telecasts this season, will be used at the Rose Bowl Game and the BCS National Championship Game (Notre Dame vs. Alabama) on Jan. 7.

Every bowl game on ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU will be available on computers at WatchESPN.com and on smartphones and tablets via the WatchESPN app. Also, for the first time, ESPN Deportes will televise all five BCS bowls in Spanish.

For the third straight year, ESPN 3D will carry the BCS Championship Game, using a dual-production side-by-side approach with the HD broadcast. A total of five bowls will get the ESPN 3D treatment, including the Poinsettia Bowl (BYU vs. San Diego State) on Dec. 20, the Holiday Bowl (Baylor vs. UCLA) on Dec. 27, and the Sugar Bowl (Louisville vs. Florida) on Jan. 2.

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