Busy Bowl Season at ESPN Nears the Finish Line

With Monday’s BCS National Championship Game rapidly approaching, one of the busiest stretches on the ESPN calendar is nearing its conclusion.

Of the 35 bowl games that have been on the docket from Dec. 15 to Jan. 7, the ESPN family of networks is televising 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, and culminating in Miami with the crowning of a champion on Monday night.

ESPN is deploying 39 (2D and 3D) cameras in all throughout Sun Life Stadium for the BCS National Championship Game (Notre Dame vs. Alabama) on Monday for its game and studio coverage. There will be multiple high motion camera systems, eight robotic cameras, a steadi-cam, and two jib mounted cameras included in the arsenal.

SpiderCam, the aerial camera system that can be piloted on an X,Y, and Z axis and that has enjoyed tremendous success on ESPN’s Monday Night Football telecasts this season, was used at the Rose Bowl Game and will be used again at the title game on Monday.

“Our Remote Operations team is already hard at work setting up the significant infrastructure required to support a game of this stature,” says Chris Calcinari, vice president of ESPN and ABC Sports remote operations. “Every enhancement being put in place is designed to improve the viewer experience; allowing them to see, hear and feel the event through the technology that we use.”
The audio side is also getting a major upgrade for the National Championship Game and will more closely resemble a Monday Night Football production. Surround microphones will be added throughout the stadium including mics deployed along with cameras in the parking lot, fan areas in the end zones, in the hallways outside player locker rooms, on the SpiderCam above the field, and on jibs located near the stands.

The entire bowl campaign is a testament to the efficient machine that is ESPN. The company pieced 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.

All of the bowl games prior to New Year’s Eve received a standard complement of gear that would be used on an average ESPN college football telecast. Bigger games, such as the BCS bowls, got 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, included the Gator Bowl (Mississippi State vs. Northwestern) on ESPN2, the Heart of Dallas Bowl (Purdue vs. Oklahoma State) on ESPNU, the Capital One Bowl (Georgia vs. Nebraska) on ABC, the Outback Bowl (South Carolina vs. Michigan) on ESPN, the Rose Bowl Game (Wisconsin vs. Stanford) on ESPN, and the Orange Bowl (No. 15 Northern Illinois vs. No. 12 Florida State) on ESPN.

To fill out the slate that dates back to the first game on Dec. 15, many 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.”

As one would imagine, planning such a dense slate of live programming began long before the matchups were 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.”

Every bowl game on ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU has been available on computers at WatchESPN.com and on smartphones and tablets via the WatchESPN app. Also, for the first time, ESPN Deportes is televising 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 received 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.

SVG will be on site at Sun Life Stadium in Miami for the BCS National Championship Game. Check back next week for comprehensive behind-the-scenes coverage.

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