MLS Cup 2014: ESPN To Roll Out Live Player Tracking Graphics

The soccer pitch has long been a breeding ground for innovation at ESPN, and, as the 19th season of Major League Soccer comes to a conclusion with MLS Cup 2014 (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN), the technology tradition continues with the debut of a real-time graphic player-tracking and telestration system.

MLSCupBuilt by ChyronHego, the advanced graphics engine can track and display individual players and formations during live game action or in replay. It will give the producer and director that ability to spotlight key players, highlight strategic positioning, and illustrate spatial movements used by the New England Revolution and the Los Angeles Galaxy.

“We always discuss, in our planning and preparations for these telecasts, the rather simple notion that our analysts see the game differently than we see it, due to their involvement in the sport for what amounts to a lifetime,” says Jed Drake, SVP, production innovation, ESPN. “Through this tool, our analysts can explain the game in a way they couldn’t before that is very understandable to our viewers.”

ESPN used a similar form of player-tracking graphics in a postproduction environment via touchscreens during the FIFA World Cup this summer in Brazil. Analysts would break down plays in the studio using graphics to illustrate the various intricacies of the game. What makes this system even more valuable to ESPN is its live capability.

“Working a World Cup is like a bullet train,” says Drake. “You don’t have time to sit there and reflect on what you just did. You finish, and it’s on to the next thing. As we’ve gotten the chance to look back on our coverage from Brazil, we were very pleased with that element of our coverage, and those touchscreens worked really well.”

As with any new enhancement, Drake emphasizes that, while the excitement to use the technology is there, it’s important to not overuse it.

“Whether it’s a Super Bowl or an MLS Cup, broadcasters have a tendency to add these elements because of the nature and scope of the game,” he says. “We always remind ourselves that we have to be conservative in the sense that we do not want to overweight the presentation or overproduce the telecast. It is one of those balancing acts where we need to recognize our responsibility to document the game first, then smartly add the elements that we think will be of benefit to the viewer.”

In addition to crowning a champion, Sunday’s MLS Cup will also mark the final game in the career of U.S. soccer legend Landon Donovan. ESPN is going big on its coverage with an onsite set for pregame, halftime, and postgame coverage (with host Max Bretos, Alexi Lalas, and Kasey Keller) and wall-to-wall coverage on linear and digital platforms.

F&F Productions’ GTX12 – and a B unit – will be in the compound. The units will carry Ikegami cameras (IKE HDK 79ECs). The operations team is including two AMV-provided LUX Media LMP 1200 goal cameras, a VER Sony super slow-mo, the ESPN-developed Orbiter, and a local steadi-cam.

ESPN FC will dedicate the entire program to MLS Cup 2014 (Friday, 6 p.m. ET, ESPNEWS). The 30-minute edition will originate from the onsite set at StubHub Center with host Adrian Healey and analysts Taylor Twellman, Lalas, and Stuart Holden. That same set will also be used for live hits to SportsCenter throughout the weekend.

“It’s heartening to see the growth of MLS,” says Drake. “It’s reflective of the growth of soccer in this country and this league, which is managed really well. As they say, talk is cheap, but, when you make a commitment to the league that we’ve made with our new deal, we’re completely in.”

ESPN International will televise MLS Cup 2014 on ESPN networks in 59 countries and territories covering more than 38.8 million television homes, including coverage in Australia, Brazil, the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico, New Zealand, and South America.

ESPN Deportes will also be involved with its SportsCenter presenting pregame analysis of MLS Cup 2014. ESPN Fútbol Center will provide special postgame analysis, reports, highlights, and recaps.

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