ESPN expands coverage with 1080p production and new compound


More than 150 accredited people are on site in Williamsport, PA

After three long years, the Little League Baseball World Series returned to its traditional format of international teams at Volunteer Stadium and national teams at Howard J. Lamade Stadium in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. For tournament coverage, ESPN implemented notable changes in production strategy: a return to 1080p, a realigned broadcast complex, and a new home for on-site studio broadcasts.

A camera shot from center field at Volunteer Stadium in Williamsport, Pa., before the LLBWS Latin America vs. Panama game on August 23.

“2021 was a bit of a reduced year, without crowds or international teams, so we had to rely on our REMI model,” explains Joe Rainey, Senior Operations Specialist, ESPN. “With the return of our dedicated games production team to Volunteer [Stadium]we have a much higher level of execution between the two domains.

1080p gaming: the operations team returns to the 2019 model

In 2019, for what would be the last pre-pandemic tournament, ESPN moved from 720p to distribute all games in 1080p. The tournament is good for producing every match in this format, but last year, with limited resources, the broadcaster reverted to 720p. Last year’s competition relied heavily on REMI and REMCO (remote-controlled) workflows in response to the prolonged impact of COVID-19.

“Since the games at Volunteer were REMI [productions]notes Rainey, “These shows pushed the total channel count to a point where 1080p couldn’t really be supported. As we’re in a REMCO model this year, I don’t need as many outbound rides, but I’m handling a little more satellite distribution than in 2019.”

Volunteer Stadium also has a boom camera in the outfield.

1080p broadcasts have their own set of priorities, but with remote techniques becoming more routine, Rainey and his team also manage offsite employee efforts. For example, a given game in either stadium will require a handful of distant paths. On the replay front, two EVS operators are located at ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol, CT. The visual and graphics operators also handle production from Bristol, and the scorebug can be produced from Bristol or even at the operator’s home.

Broadcast puzzle: the crew adapts to the new look

In addition to keeping the signals at bay, Rainey was tasked with adjusting the layout of the broadcast complex. An increased on-site presence of over 150 certified employees necessitated additional accommodations. The solution was to install a permanent double-width operating trailer and a single-width operating trailer. ESPN will have fiber and cable in place for future tournaments, but at the cost of valuable real estate.

“The compound is a bit tighter,” he explains. “We couldn’t get the usual four trucks through. We have three trucks [side by side] and a tee in the front. When Volunteer games end early, this truck will be able to drive out of the compound. Ultimately, the benefit of having these permanent structures expedites our installation next year and allows us to be more efficient.

A trio of NEP mobile units were used during the MLB Little League Classic on August 21.

The redesigned complex features a pair of mobile units NEP: EN3 A and B for Lamade games and Supershooter 5 for Volunteer contests. Additionally, Creative Mobile Solutions Inc. (CSMI) is providing three onsite editing bays, up from two in 2021.

On-site technology: camera add-on includes 4DReplay, Ump Cam, Outfield Jib

All 36 game shows will deploy unique broadcast technologies. Center stage is the implementation of 4DReplay for super slow motion views of batters and pitchers. Comprised of 50 individual cameras positioned on the lower level behind the fence, the devices are trained on the batter’s box and pitcher’s mound to create a full 180 degree composite of the game.

Plate umpires wear Ump Cams. The POV camera is attached to the mask for real-time views of what they are seeing throughout the game. With protective material surrounding the camera body, Ump Cam is designed to withstand foul shots at close range .

As part of the 27-camera show at Lamade Stadium, a Technocrane is located behind the left-field wall for a panoramic view of the complex. Productions at Volunteer Stadium use a standard boom camera. In the air, ESPN’s in-house drone team provides aerial footage throughout the tournament.

A New Home: Studio Programming Moves to the Centerfield Platform

The logistical changes and shifting puzzle pieces are not limited to the broadcast complex. In previous tournaments, the studio that handled studio programming and transitions between game shows was in a setting between the two locations. Tom Engel, Kevin Negandhiand the rest of the operations team developed a separate structure capable of containing the physical assembly.

“Our studio coverage now comes out of our center field rig with an additional camera from last year,” says Leigh Michaud, Operations Manager, ESPN. “This setup has integrated into our live game productions as well as some segments to sports center.”

Within the compound, Supershooter 5 houses the studio’s production team. For live game coverage, telecast function play-by-play commentators Charles Ravech and Mike monaco; analysts Todd Frazier, Tim Kurkjian, jessica Mendoza, Edward Perez, Kyle petersonand xavier Scruggs; and journalists Julia Foudy and sabastian salazar. Little League Legend Mo’ne Davis served as an analyst during the opening weekend as part of ESPN’s celebration of the event’s 75th anniversary.

On the major side: Orioles and Red Sox face off in MLB Little League Classic

On August 21, the broadcaster’s MLB property, Sunday night baseball, joined in the festivities from Williamsport. The day started with the SNB broadcast team of Ravech, Perez, David Coneand Buster Olney on the call of the 11 a.m. game between the Midwest and Mountain regions and was capped by the fifth MLB Little League Classic, between the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox. The SNB The team ran operations at Muncy Bank Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field – home of the MLB Draft League’s Williamsport Crosscutters – located 5 miles west of the Little League World Series complex.

The MLB Little League Classic Broadcast Complex

In addition to live panoramic drone shots, the broadcaster offered two presentations of the ball game. The traditional show on ESPN showcased the talent in numerous conversations with players on the mic: Orioles outfielders Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays top of the third inning, Boston Red Sox infielder Christian Arroyo bottom of fourth and Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman down. of the fifth. Former President George W. Bush joined the team in the pits for the first two rounds.

On ESPN2, Kidscast came back with a more youthful approach to the game. With an 18-year-old Max Wallace14 years old Leo Rothand 11-year-old journalist Pepper persley, the children’s edition featured special guests: President Bush, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, Davis, Frazier and Baseball Hall of Famer and Williamsport native Mike Mussina. The announcement team also spoke with players on the mic: Boston Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo, Baltimore Orioles outfielder Ryan McKenna and Orioles pitcher Spencer Watkins. Before the match, an on-site version of baseball tonight broadcast from the stadium, hosted by Ravech.

Within the compound, NEP played a significant role in MLB production with its ND5, ST11 and NCP11 mobile units parked outside the venue. Vice President, Production Phil Orlinsthe show industry veteran of the Little League Baseball World Series, also headlined this regular season fight between two opponents in the American League East.

The Girls’ Tournament: A look back at the Little League Softball World Series

The Little League Softball World Series, in its second year at Stallings Stadium in Greenville, NC, concluded on August 15, with the Midway Little League of Hewitt, TX defeating the Delmar Little League of Delmar , MD. It was the most-watched edition of the tournament since ESPN began expanding coverage in 2017. The tournament’s most-watched telecast since 2018, the title game averaged 537,000 viewers.

The MLB Little League Classic used a live drone for beauty shots from Muncy Bank Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

This year’s tournament took a tiered approach to on-site efforts. For games broadcast live on the broadcaster’s digital platforms, the team used six standard fixed cameras, but, when coverage moved to linear television, the camera complement was upgraded with a slow-motion robot to the close plays at the plate and the delivery of some pitchers, an internally controlled aerial drone, Ump Cam behind home plate, an outside jib and a handheld connected via TVU Networks to the complex.

During typical games, the production and operations team deployed a total of 14 cameras and worked from NEP EN2 A and B units. Like the Little League Baseball World Series, the Little League Softball World Series leveraged REMCO workflows, including the work of graphic operators from Charlotte, NC.

The tournament gave the broadcaster another opportunity to highlight even more fun and excitement. “The days are long, but the team is incredible,” says Jarrett Baker, Remote Operations Manager, ESPN. “The Softball World Series is a highlight of the summer, and we’re already thinking about ways to expand our coverage next year.”

New twist at LLBWS: a larger international contingent

International teams once again show their skills in Williamsport and, in a new twist to this year’s tournament, even more countries are represented, with a total field of 20 teams in a modified double-elimination format. With Puerto Rico and Panama added to the tournament and Metro and Mountain on the national side of the bracket, baseball fans were able to enjoy an additional full day of coverage.

As part of the production team, Rainey and Michaud work alongside colleagues like ESPN Director, Remote Operations, Dennis Cleary; Senior Operations Specialist Terry Cook, who runs the games at Lamade; and Operations Coordinators Carson Kenney and Sam Majewskiwho manage critical logistics and shipping needs.

“We’re really excited about producing this event on location,” says Michaud. “Being from Bristol, I used to go to the Bristol Regional every year as a kid, so I was happy to be asked to be part of something that has always been very close to me. .”

The 2022 Little League Baseball World Series enters championship weekend with the International title game at 12:30 p.m. ET and the U.S. title game at 3:30 p.m. on ABC on Saturday, August 27. The championship will be played on ABC at 3 p.m. Sunday, August 28.

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