ESPN Brings Lacrosse Back to HD, Mics Up Refs For Championship Games

By Carolyn Braff
Lacrosse is gaining attention as one
of the nation’s fastest growing sports and this weekend in Foxborough,
MA, ESPN is helping to spur that growth. Providing deeper coverage
than ever before of the national semifinal and championship games, the
network is doubling the number of cameras used for the broadcasts, micing
up the officials and returning the games to HD.
“These are the most important games
of the year,” explains John Vassallo, senior coordinating producer
for ESPN. “All of our regular season coverage has led us to this point.
When the exposure is this high and fan interest is this high, we feel
like we need to up the ante.”
ESPN produced the 2006 semifinal and
championship games in HD, but extended HD commitments in 2007 kept last
season’s games in standard definition.
“If money wasn’t an object we’d
take all of our products to HD,” Vassallo says. “This is a great
commitment by the company to take certain NCAA championships, including
lacrosse, and move them to high definition to encourage the growth of
the sport.”
Also helping encourage that growth are
the 10 LDK 8000 cameras from Thomson Grass Valley that will be utilized
in the broadcast, an EVS, and the tapeless workflow
that comes with an HD production truck.
ESPN will
also utilize its SkyCam for the first time in a lacrosse broadcast this weekend. The
unmanned, remote-controlled camera can move up to 30 miles per hour as high as
40 feet above the action, operating on a series of wires above the playing
field that stretch from sideline to sideline and end line to end line.
Producing the games from NFL-equipped
Gillette Stadium allows ESPN to bring in twice the number of cameras
and four times the amount of audio equipment the network relies on for
its regular-season broadcasts without having to add too much in preparation
time.
“It’s a nice luxury to go into Gillette
Stadium as opposed to a collegiate venue,” says Steve Cozort, senior
director of remote operations for ESPN. “The NFL facility brings its
own challenges but it’s the top of the line.”
Also notable for this weekend’s broadcasts
are the Sennheiser wireless microphones that the officials will be wearing
for all three games.
“We will be micing the three on-field
officials live,” Vassalo says. “To be able to hear the officials
in situations like stick measurements improves the casual fan’s understanding
of the game, which is great for a growing sport like lacrosse.”
Recording student athletes or coaches
is a violation of NCAA rules, but the choice to mic officials is left
to the NCAA ruling committee of each respective sport, and it did not
take much convincing for the lacrosse committee to agree.
“The lacrosse committee realizes the
explosive growth of the game,” Vassalo explains. “They were forward
thinking enough to say we have to trust our broadcast partner.”
The audio feed from the officials will
be transmitted to ESPN’s cable systems via a five-second delay, giving
a technician in Bristol sufficient time to cancel out any sound bytes
not suitable for air before the feed hits the transmission path.
Brand new for the 2008 championships
is a feature ESPN often utilizes for its college football broadcasts,
the soft serve line.
“Above the top line scoreboard is the
soft serve line that provides a steady stream of player statistics that
are updated via a laptop in the mobile unit,” Vassallo explains. “This
weekend will be the first time ever that we’ve tried this technology
for lacrosse.”
In addition to the standard graphics
inserted into the lower third of the screen throughout the broadcast,
the soft serve line will provide player and team statistics, substitution
information and anything else the laptop operator finds relevant to
the broadcast.
This weekend’s games will air across
ESPN 2 HD, ESPN HD and ESPN360.com beginning with Saturday’s first
semifinal game at noon ET.