ESPN: Ready for Some Monday Night Football

Sports network preps for show's move to cable


(click thumbnail)ESPN will use a combination of 19 HD cameras, along with Skycan and an aerial camera affixed to a blimp to capture all the action.
While Sept. 11 marks the start of the 37th season of Monday Night Football, the series' latest edition will be anything but normal.

This season's kickoff will begin not only MNF's first-ever opening week doubleheader, featuring clashes between the Minnesota Vikings and the Washington Redskins, followed by the San Diego Chargers and the Oakland Raiders, but the series' much-ballyhooed switch from ABC to ESPN.


While the network's programmers introduce its new on-air trio with play-by-play man Mike Tirico, and analysts Tony Kornheiser and Joe Theismann, the technical crew is ushering in its updated production approach.

The setup will feature an "unprecedented equipment complement," said Senior Coordinating Producer Jay Rothman, to include 23 cover cameras (five or six more from ESPN's Sunday Night Football telecasts last year) and three new production units. Also, the broadcast will be run without videotape, which will lead to quicker editing and storage decisions by the game and studio crews.

Game crews will have the use of a single mobile unit comprised of three 53-foot trailers (which debuted last month during the Major League Baseball Home Run derby at the annual MLB All-Star Game in Pittsburgh) from NEP Supershooters.

"Our studio folks are also networked into our HD trucks, so they can access any video-at any replay at any angle-anytime," said Steve Carter, remote operations manager for MNF.

Carter added that one of the three game trailers will include a Final Cut Pro suite that will serve as a "best of" from the approximately 15 EVS XT2s, which "offers greater flexibility."

The studio crew will operate with two production trailers and an edit trailer with an Avid Nitrus, plus a trunking system with Telex RVON and Adtran equipment to facilitate telecommunications between the game trucks and ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn.

The new setup allows ESPN to forgo using videotape for the broadcasts, as the network instead opted to use networked EVS servers with IP Director for logging and amassing clips, plus Spot Box for recording and playback, and XFile for archiving.

Carter said employing IP Director is expected to be a boon for the broadcast be-cause it will enhance the workflow on the EVS network and allow any user to build and share packages of clips for any purpose.

"As the clips are identified at the end of the night, we will do a 'melt' to condense all of the footage for key highlights," he said. The XFile ingests the footage on to a 320 GB hard drive, "which holds more than 4 hours of footage for each game. So, instead of bringing a bunch of tapes back to Bristol, all of the footage is on that one drive."

"Last year, before the [ESPN Sunday night] games would end, we would want to download our best stuff for the TV shows. That's all gone away," said Rothman, "because the studio folks are networked into our truck during the game and have immediate access after the game."

The melt also allows the footage from the four super slo-mo cameras to be played back at slow or regular speed, "so we don't have to do it both ways from the XFile," Carter said.


As for that content, it will be acquired via 19 Thomson LDK 6000 HD cameras, plus Skycam, which will be strung across the field, above and behind the line of scrimmage; and an aerial camera that will be mounted to the blimp or fixed on the wing of a plane. It will also be accentuated by Vizrt graphics.

"We're also thinking about experimenting with the RF Steadicam on the sideline," Carter said, adding that SportVision will be providing the yellow 1st and 10 line, "with possible enhancements."

For audio, the tech team will use a Calrec Alpha 100 System Plus digital console with Bluefin technology and AES audio, with a submixer in one of the game trucks. The new Bluefin element will allow the crew to "offer true HD sound from source to consumer," said Scott Pray, senior audio mixer for the broadcast, adding that a player will be mic'ed up every week.

But the big change is in the pre-game, halftime and post game shows, which will be broadcast from the host cities this season. "That's where the broadcast really grows, because they have their own trucks and crew, in the stadium and outside," Carter said.

All told, MNF telecasts will ne-cessitate credentials for about 400 crew members, with a-bout 200 each for the game and studio crews. While the network is not moving all of that personnel each week (since a percentage is local), "the overall count for the game broadcast crew is up about 25 percent from last year," Carter said.

Today, with the preseason well underway, it's almost time for the main event. "We have all of the toys and that's great but we have to pull them out at the right time," said Rothman.

"We have all the tools and technology to keep on keepin' on and plan to raise the bar," he said. "We'll blow it out in preseason so there won't be any surprises. My focus now is to gel the three announcers in the booth."