ESPN’s National Signing Day Production Continues To Grow

ESPN Senior Coordinating Producer Shawn Murphy is a veteran at the multimedia giant, his roots dating back to his days as a production intern on SportsCenter in 1991.

ESPN's National Signing Day production will originate out of ESPNU's studios in Charlotte, NC.

ESPN’s National Signing Day production will originate out of ESPNU’s studios in Charlotte, NC.

He has seen growth in his day — both at the network and in the sports world — and that includes one of his biggest projects of the year: ESPN and ESPNU’s coverage of National Signing Day, which will dominate the ESPN family of networks on Wednesday.

Now in its ninth year of covering the day-long event live, ESPN will serve up 11 straight hours of programming with reports from 12 on-campus crews feeding into ESPNU’s Charlotte, NC-based studios. In addition, the network is expecting at least 13 high schoolers to make their college commitments live on-air.

“This show has grown, and the awareness of this event has grown,” says Murphy, who also oversees all production for ESPN Regional Television. “The first year we did this, die-hard recruiting fans knew about Signing Day, and it had an online popularity. But now it’s become much more commonplace, and we’re trying to turn it into another football holiday.”

Somewhere between 175 and 200 ESPN staffers will work National Signing Day both on-site and in Charlotte. The event will prove an engineering and transmission challenge.

Twenty-one satellite trucks are out on the road to make ESPN’s coverage possible. Eleven satellite-uplink trucks are stationed at colleges and universities for live and recorded updates. In some cases, schools have broadcast facilities (for example, University of Texas and Longhorn Network), and content can be fed to Charlotte via fiber. Nine satellite-uplink trucks are also parked outside high schools of the players making their commitments on-air.

"We’re trying to turn it into another football holiday." - ESPN's Shawn Murphy

“We’re trying to turn it into another football holiday.” — ESPN’s Shawn Murphy

In Charlotte, the production crew will use two full control rooms, the second reserved essentially as an air-traffic–control center. There, five production staffers will coordinate with on-site crews and manage the delivery and timing of live and prerecorded reports, including coordinating hits for SportsCenter, ESPN3, and ESPN.com.

“Thankfully, we have a great engineering and transmission staff,” says Murphy. “They are having to juggle all of the frame stores that all of the feeds are coming into and rotate some of those. We even have a couple of “wild card” frame stores where we will be moving feeds in and out throughout the day.”

The production has grown exponentially over its first nine years. Murphy recalls that, on the first National Signing Day show in 2006, there was only a small handful of live player announcements and no reports on-site at all. The entire production was run from in the studio. Now it’s a day-long event that covers a wide array of multimedia platforms and will use a virtual-graphics kit from the SportsCenter team that will produce an on screen show to rival an NFL Draft.

Murphy credits much of the event’s growth to social media. In fact, an entire staff working National Signing Day will handle ESPN’s social-media presence pushing out original content and curating valuable social-media nuggets for use on-air.

ESPN will kick off its multiplatform National Signing Day coverage Wednesday at 8 a.m. ET. ESPNU will present an 11-hour ESPNU National Signing Day Special. The entire ESPNU telecast will be available on WatchESPN and simulcast on ESPN2 from 5 to 5:30 p.m. ET.

ESPN’s flagship recruiting program, Recruiting Nation, will carry three 30-minute exclusive shows on ESPN3 at 10 a.m., 2 p.m., and 6 p.m.