Instant Replay Comes to (Little League) World Series

By Carolyn Braff

When the Little League
World Series leads off from Williamsport,
PA, on Friday, network scouts
will have a chance to evaluate some talent of their own. With support from Dome
Productions’ Horizon HD and Trillium HD mobile units, ABC/ESPN will provide
instant replay for all 32 games of the series, giving both broadcasters and
baseball officials a viable testing ground for the technology.

For the fourth
consecutive year, all 10 days of competition will be broadcast in HD on ABC,
ESPN and ESPN2, with simulcasts on ESPN360.com. Because the games are all
broadcast from the same location, the crew is free to bring more production
firepower than is sometimes allotted.

“We have more equipment
than we do on some of our other baseball events,” explains Tom McNeeley,
coordinating producer, event production for ESPN. “We know we’re in one
location for almost two weeks with all the same crews and trucks, so that’s
very beneficial. We really load up with extra cameras and such.”

This year’s telecast will
rely on nearly 20 cameras, 13 to cover on-field action and additional units for
the host set and broadcast booth. As has become standard, each manager, umpire
and first and/or third base coach will be wired for sound during the games,
with their comments subject to a five-second delay. Trillium HD will be
assigned to one of the two fields of competition while Horizon HD will cover
the other with more than 150 staff members on site.

“It’s quite a big
integration,” explains Michael Johnson, director of engineering for Dome
Productions. “The venues are not cabled, so there’s quite a deployment of
cabling to pull that show together. We’ve also linked the two trucks together
with a trunking system that allows us to make the intercom look a little bit bigger
and gives us better programming capabilities.”

Included in those
programming capabilities is the integration of instant replay that McNeeley
says will follow the model of replays on ESPN’s NBA coverage. Off-field umpires
and Little League officials will have access to monitors below the stadium. If
they see a questionable call during the game – replay review is restricted to
batted balls that leave the field of play at or near the fence – the umpires
contact the Red Hat, a Little League official stationed next to the field. The
Red Hat will then contact the umpire and the production truck, and ESPN will
pipe all available camera angles to the officials’ monitors.

“We can show more replays
to that off-field umpire through a switchable monitor,” McNeeley explains. “We
can give other views and they can look at it without disrupting the
game.”

Both the Trillium HD and
Horizon HD units are equipped with sufficient EVS power to handle the workload
demanded by an instant replay system.

“There is a substantial
build-out on the EVS side with IP director and integration to an edit
facility,” Johnson says. “The instant replay option expands on the EVS
capabilities of the trucks.”

Many baseball fans,
including Little League World Series analyst Orestes Destrade, are hoping that
officials from Major League Baseball will use the 10-day experiment in instant
replay as a road map for how to implement their own systems.

“We’ll see how it gets
put into practice,” Destrade says. “It may be a very similar type of procedure
for MLB. I think it’s a very smart way to do this. You don’t get bogged down
with coaches or managers being the one to say I want a replay, you have a more
understood scenario. I think that’s what baseball should probably end up doing.”

“Look at how successfully
replay has been integrated into college football, to the point where college
football games are actually faster,” adds Len DeLuca, senior vice president of
programming & acquisitions for ESPN. “I don’t think we’re risking the
romance; I think what we’re doing is eliminating the injustice that can happen,
particularly when it’s a home run call.”

Major League Baseball
programming is routinely shown across ESPN platforms, but as part of an
eight-year contract between ESPN and ABC that goes through 2014, five LLWS
games will air on ABC, including all three championship games.

“This is the only event
that our ESPN on ABC piece is a part of,” DeLuca explains. “That is a notable
difference from anything else that we do on ESPN.”

While the technical
production of this event is akin to that of a Sunday Night Baseball telecast,
the producers are far more sensitive to the age of the athletes on the
field.

“I’ve been able to
produce MLB and college and the only thing that I think is a little different
with this is we don’t replay kids crying,” McNeeley explains. “These aren’t
professionals. Usually as a producer or director, you try to get the jubilation
shots. If you happen to catch the kid live crying or upset, don’t linger, jump
off and get to the young man who’s happy.”

The jubilation of pool play begins August 15 and
coverage continues daily through the Little League World Series Championship
August 24.