NFL Draft 2021: ESPN’s Presence Comprises Two Sets, 100 Incoming Feeds, and More
Jib cameras, a drone, aerial system will be among the 50+ cameras covering the event
The NFL Draft has always been a big deal for ESPN, and that tradition continues. For this year’s edition, the production team is supporting two shows: one on ESPN and College Gameday on ABC. About 55 cameras will be used to cover the Draft in Cleveland, including multiple jibs, a JITACAM, drone, a two-point cable cam, two Steadicams, and even a blimp.
Steve Carter, senior operations manager, ESPN, gives a shoutout to ESPN Remote Operations Specialists Jack Coffey and Joe Rainey for pulling together a great setup for a Draft that will be held in a massive tent along the lake front in Cleveland.
“The NFL has a well-thought-out plan here,” says Carter. “The stage and the main theater are amazing with the amount of LED screens in there.”
ESPN’s main Draft stage is along the Cuyahoga River with ESPN’s show in the back corner of the field. The Gameday set is in a parking lot along the river next to FirstEnergy Stadium.
“We have about 250 people onsite and increased the number of trucks for social distancing,” Carter explains. “The compound has 10 trucks with NEP EN1 A, B, C, D, and E handling ESPN and NEP Supershooter 4 A, B, and C handling Gameday on ABC.”
A sub-routing location in the compound manages more than 100 feeds coming in from prospects at home and the 32 NFL team facilities. There will also be 22 inbound feeds from ESPN in Bristol, CT.
“[Handling those signals] is the biggest change for us,” says Carter. “We had to create a sub-routing location so that we can feed signals, because it would be impossible to coordinate a hundred inbound feeds. We’ve broken it down so we can route a certain amount to the ABC truck and another amount to the ESPN truck. From there, both have the ability to see everything and choose from everything.”
One of the production highlights is the two-point cable system that runs from outside FirstEnergy and down into the back corner of the theater in a massive tent beside Lake Erie. In addition, secondary sets for analysts will be positioned with city backdrops.
“A key difference this year is that those small, secondary sets will be operated with robotic cameras,” says Carter. “We can’t really have operators up there for that kind of shoot.”
He adds that last year’s coverage laid the groundwork for this year’s coverage. “We had an established facility and a lot of support in Bristol. On the road,” he notes, “it’s a little bit more difficult, but we’ve had the time to plan and make this work. We absolutely drew from many of the things we accomplished last year.”
One good thing is that there will be prospects onsite, an improvement from last year’s event, which was arguably the largest remote production in the COVID-19 era. Talent will stand about 12 ft. from interview subjects, and the players will step up to a microphone on a stand.
“That worked very well through the college football season,” says Carter. “Doing interviews with players remotely and getting their reactions adds a lot. But I challenge people to find this year any less spectacular than last year.”
Thursday and Friday coverage on ESPN will be produced by Bryan Ryder and directed by Jeff Nelson, and the Gameday coverage will be produced by Jim Gaiero and directed by Rodney Perez. Saturday coverage will be a simulcast on ESPN and ABC, produced by Rob Adamski and Steve Zawilinski.