ESPN Deploys Orad’s TrackVision for Every MLS Game

This season, soccer fans are expecting a little bit more from ESPN’s broadcasts, with the company pouring resources into its June presentation of the World Cup. Before and after that tournament, however, ESPN is showcasing plenty of Major League Soccer games, and the company has invested in an Orad TrackVision system to enhance its coverage.

“The World Cup is going to have bells and whistles, and people at home are going to see things they don’t normally see as part of the coverage,” says Matt Sandulli, coordinating producer for ESPN. “Coming off of the World Cup, people will expect this kind of thing. It will be part of our coverage and will give people something to look for at the World Cup.”

The TrackVision product provides a virtual graphic offside line, a 9-meter circle, and shows the distance on penalty kicks and speed of the ball as it is kicked. It also allows ESPN to drop graphics onto the field, such as team logos with scores, as the program comes in and out of breaks.

“It can also highlight players,” says Shaun Dail, VP of sales and marketing for Orad. “When it looks like a player was caught out of position and a goal was scored, we can put a graphic icon on that player and show he was out of position.”

ESPN has used an offside line for several seasons of MLS coverage, but Sandulli notes that the Orad solution is more efficient and more cost-effective than what the network has used in the past. The cost saving comes from the fact that TrackVision does not require camera modifications and, instead of requiring a separate truck, works out of a 3RU box. The system takes only about 20 minutes to rack and cable, and a member of the ESPN production team can run it; no dedicated Orad operator needs to be on hand.

“In the past, we had it at selected games, and now we’re able to have the offside line at every MLS game and every U.S. national team game played in the States, unless there’s a conflict between them,” Sandulli explains. “It’s a nice addition to have at every MLS game this year; in the past, we didn’t have it at every game.”

The Orad system is currently run by an ESPN technician alongside a member of the network’s production team, who offers editorial suggestions on when plays should be reviewed. In the long run, Sandulli sees the producer’s talking directly to the technician.

With just a few MLS games in the books this season, ESPN’s operators are still becoming comfortable with the system and the time it takes to turn replays around.

“Right now, it’s taking us a little bit longer to turn it around and get it on the air than it will when we know what we’re doing,” Sandulli says. “When we get comfortable with the system, you might see a replay and then the Orad replay. Right now, we have a second replay in there before the Orad. It’s not something that can be done live at this point, but, when our operators get up to speed, we’ll be able to play it back pretty quickly.”

In addition to priming viewers for the production enhancements that ESPN will offer with its World Cup coverage, the TrackVision system offers absolute confirmation for soccer fans, who seem to question every offside call.

“This is a way to say the refs got it right or wrong,” Sandulli says. “It gives everybody the relief that things were done correctly by the refs or they weren’t. It brings absolute confirmation one way or the other.”