ESPN Using Traveling Studio to Broadcast Women’s World Cup

ESPN is not only bringing the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup back home to the States; the network is taking its viewers on a German-style road trip.

A mobile studio, nicknamed “Big Blue,” will travel to six different cities and historic locations throughout Germany during the three-week event. The set will be used for pre-match, halftime and post-match shows live, as well as World Cup-branded segments on SportsCenter, First Take and ESPNEWS.

“We decided to make this a far more interesting challenge,” said ESPN senior vice president and executive producer Jed Drake, “by taking our host operations on the road so that we could give our viewers the best possible tour of Germany and sense of place throughout this fascinating country.”

An updated version of the pit studio used for ESPN’s NASCAR Countdown, “Big Blue” was built in Holland specifically for Women’s World Cup. It has two levels with the studio set – including host and three analyst positions – on the top floor, and a fully-functional control room on the lower level with its own audio mixer and video switcher.  The mobile unit expands to 25 feet high and up to 16 feet sideways. In transit, it travels as a compact 18-wheel truck. A hydraulic lift and an electric motor expand and contract the dimensions of the unit, making it possible to navigate the narrow streets of historic German city centers.

The change in approach may come as a surprise to some after ESPN’s production of last year’s FIFA World Cup in South Africa received such rave reviews. Many expected the coverage of the women’s edition to appear very similar. However, that’s easier said than done when adjusting to new surroundings.

“In 2010 we had that beautiful set that we built that had Soccer City (Johannesburg) directly behind it, literally a two-minute walk to the international broadcast center,” said Drake. “This year the broadcast center is in Frankfurt; it is at the stadium. However, it is in the middle of a nature reserve and it is surrounded by a great deal of foliage and nothing else.  We had to look elsewhere for a set that would have an environment behind it, look and feel vibrant.”

Despite the challenges that arise from such a demanding travel schedule, Drake feels that this method will make the overall broadcast all the more appealing, offering up visuals of Germany that many Americans may never see otherwise and giving this Cup its own flavor.

“We are not putting as much of an emphasis on the cultural aspect of this country as we did in South Africa (2010 FIFA World Cup), but we are paying particular attention to the nuances and the sort of wonders of this country. We took a bus tour two months ago to scout all the different locations we’re going to host from, and it was really eye-opening, because the images that I had of Germany in my mind were changed rather dramatically by what I saw.  And it’s that very thing that I hope we will carry forthwith for our viewers because it’s a fascinating country and filled with fascinating people who frame this great event.”

The studio unit is outfitted with special lighting, adaptable to filming on dense or bright, sunny days, three cameras, and a Jib camera. The studio background offers an open-air setting or an encased 360 degrees with a glass window which can be used in inclement weather; both will allow viewers to see the pageantry and scenic backdrops from the historic German cities. The truck’s exterior is also wrapped with a sweeping image of a diving goalkeeper.

“It is completely different than what you would think of as a normal mobile unit,” said Drake. “It’s got hydraulics in it that take the set up 21 feet, and we can go open air, we can go closed air, behind it.”

“It rolls around the country with satellite trucks, and yeah, it’s sort of a modern marvel. It’s really never been done to this extent before.”

According to ESPN, the location schedule is as follows:

  • June 25-26:  Berlin “Olympiastadion” – Site of the Germany 2011 opening match between host and defending champion Germany and Canada.  The historic stadium hosted the 1936 Olympics, and the 1974 and 2006 FIFA World Cup matches, including the Italy-France final in 2006.
  • June 28-29:  Dresden, overlooking “Church of Our Lady” – The Lutheran church built from 1726-1743 was heavily damaged in World War II. The church’s restoration, which started in 1994 and was completed in 2005, is now a symbol of reconciliation in Germany.
  • July 1-3: Heidelberg “Marktplatz” (Market Place) – One of the main squares and a popular destination at the Heidelberg city center, adjacent to the historic Town Hall and Neptune Fountain. The U.S. Army has had a military base in Heidelberg since 1951.
  • July 5-6: Wolfsburg’s “Phaeno Science Center” – A unique architectural achievement, the interactive science center in downtown Wolfsburg illuminates at night. The city is also known as the home and headquarters of Volkswagen.
  • July 9-10: Dresden, outside the Opera House – For the quarterfinals, the mobile unit will return to Dresden, originating from outside the opera house of the Saxon State Opera, built in 1841, beside the River Elbe.
  • July 13-17: Frankfurt, outside “Women’s World Cup Stadium” – The site of the final match and the International Broadcast Center for the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

The FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011 (June 26 – July 17) will be ESPN’s fifth straight, having televised the quadrennial event since 1995.  ESPN and ESPN2 will air all 32 matches live and in high definition.