Bowl Games keep ESPN stirring through Holiday season and provides an HD first in Hawaii

By Ken Kerschbaumer

Tonight marks the beginning of an exceptionally busy season for ESPN as it kicks off the 2006-2007 Bowl season with a production of the Poinsettia Bowl from San Diego.

“It’s an exciting, busy time,” says Wendell Grigely, ESPN senior director of remote operations of the networks 23 Bowl game telecasts (including two on ABC) that will occur between now and January 14. “Our truck vendors, who are really our partners, have really helped us work through the schedule and get the best trucks available and our people, like Tom Gianakos, manager of remote operations, have been real solid.”

The real busy time will be from Dec. 21 to Jan. 1 when the network will produce 20 Bowl telecasts with all but one, the Dec. 245 Hawaii Bowl, being delivered in HD. “The real busy week begins on the 26th,” says Grigely. “It’s tough on personnel and crewing as it takes time to get all the people together. And then we’re stretching the rental companies like Bexel and the mobile vendors.”

The three primary vendors for ESPN Bowl coverage are NEP, NCP, and Game Creek with NMT and Lyon Video also involved in a couple of events. “Within the 48 states getting trucks for HD events is okay as long as we plan out early enough,” says Grigely. “Hawaii is another story.”

That’s because there currently isn’t an HD production truck on Hawaii. And when a golf tournament in Hawaii the week of January 14 meant that the SD truck unit wouldn’t be available for the Hula Bowl Grigely and his crew found themselves staring at bringing in an SD flypack of gear.

“When we began getting bids for the SD flypack we thought why not do it in HD?,” says Grigely. “So when we checked with Bryan Burns and some of the others at ESPN there was a desire to do the game in HD.”

Working with a flypack of HD gear, provided by Gearhouse Broadcast, does introduce some additional costs. It’s more time consuming to set up, requiring four days instead of the typical one or two. So that means more personnel and more engineering costs. And then the logistics of shipping 18,000 pounds of equipment from the mainland to Hawaii also has some obvious costs. “Hawaii has always been difficult to fit into the business plan,” says Grigely.

Three large office trailers will be used for the compound with one handling audio, video and graphics production, a second with videotape and EVS replay units, and a third engineering trailer that would house routers and processing gear.

“We’ll have nine of the typical Grass Valley LDK-6000 HD cameras, Canon lenses, Vizrt graphics, the Grass Valley switcher and the same amount of replays for other games,” says Grigely.

The typical Bowl Game will be similar in size and scope to regular season telecasts: nine to 13 cameras but with a lot more graphics. “The Rose Bowl, however, is a much higher level,” says Grigely. “There also might be a few more Skycams but, in essence, it’s the same basic coverage.”