ESPN Boosts Onsite Presence at NFL Draft With NEP’s EN1

The NFL Draft kicked off last night at Radio City Music Hall with a revamped floor plan that positioned the fans closer to the stage — and to their team’s draft picks — than ever before. While this fan-friendly approach marked a noticeable shift for the NFL, ESPN’s production plans inside the venue remain largely the same. The biggest change for ESPN is parked outside on 51st Street: the A, B, and D units of its Monday Night Football mobile production facility, NEP’s EN1.

The interior of NEP EN1's A unit during Day 1 of the 2014 NFL Draft. (Photo by Rich Arden / ESPN Images)

The interior of NEP EN1’s A unit during Day 1 of the 2014 NFL Draft. (Photo by Rich Arden / ESPN Images)

ESPN and NEP built the four units to work as one cohesive production facility, with A serving as the main production facility, including graphics; B housing the router and handling camera input; and D providing a small studio, audio mix, and edit bay (C, which did not make the trip to New York, is dedicated to replay).

The flexibility of the unit enables productions like the NFL Draft to reconfigure workstations to better suit their unique needs. For example, the onsite team converted the submix room into an additional edit suite and the small studio into an operations office.

“It’s easier for us because the trucks are so much more powerful,” says ESPN Senior Operations Manager Steve Carter. “EN1 is a four-truck fleet, and we brought three of the four trucks with us. The layout being a little bit different from previous years, we’ve had to move things around. By bringing in the D unit, we’ve put all the edit suites together, all the servers are together there, plus all the fiber infrastructure between the trucks.”

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For this year’s Draft, ESPN created 316 player-highlight packages, 45 different player bumps, and 20 specialty technical breakdowns with analysts. However, even the most prepared production cannot accurately predict which teams will select which players. As a result, in addition to a team of editors onsite, ESPN maintained a connection between EN1 and Bristol, CT, to share resources.

Mel Kiper Jr., Jon Gruden, Ray Lewis, and Chris Berman anchored ESPN's Round 1 NFL Draft coverage. (Photo by Allen Kee / ESPN Images)

Mel Kiper Jr., Jon Gruden, Ray Lewis, and Chris Berman anchored ESPN’s Round 1 NFL Draft coverage. (Photo by Allen Kee / ESPN Images)

“We’ve got fiber connectivity back to our Bristol headquarters so we can do all sorts of file transfer,” says Carter. “We can browse our big main servers in Bristol and move [files] back to us, and, vice versa, they can browse our stuff here. We find that file-transfer capabilities are becoming more and more a necessity on these bigger shows.”

Because of the space provided by EN1, ESPN did not need as much gear inside Radio City, choosing instead to use several fiber booth kits for video and audio at its set locations (ESPN predominantly uses fiber for the show, supplemented with some copper).

“We still have our main stage, the middle of Radio City,” says Carter. “Then we still have a small interview set down on the stage kind of tucked off to the side, and, on the first mezzanine, we have another set. Our set locations haven’t changed; what we did was [take out] some of the seating to accommodate these racks of fiber and transmission.”

ESPN has deployed 23 cameras to cover the NFL Draft, including two RF Steadicams and three jib cameras. Because of the revamped seating plan, ESPN moved one of the jibs from house right to the stage. It continues to share resources with NFL Network, the other broadcaster onsite, including camera feeds, net-returns communications, and more.

At this year's NFL Draft, fans were seated closer to the stage than ever before, with team tables set up behind the fans and in front of network sets. (Photo by Rich Arden / ESPN Images)

At this year’s NFL Draft, fans were seated closer to the stage than ever before, with team tables set up behind the fans and in front of network sets. (Photo by Rich Arden / ESPN Images)

In addition, ESPN’s production plans provide up to 20 live player shots, HD videoconferencing from all 32 team sites, and a handful of reporters providing updates from team sites.

“We can look at 10 feeds at any given point,” Carter explains. “Two or three of them we’ve set up for net returns, and the other seven or eight are anything that they want to look at. We also have the ability to switch sources from Bristol, [or] we can switch sources from here. People don’t realize the size and the scope of this. It’s a big show, and [the onsite production] is just a part of it.”

ESPN’s live presentation of the 2014 NFL Draft began last night at 8 p.m. ET and, for the third consecutive year, was televised with limited commercial interruptions for the first hour. Rounds 2 and 3 take place tonight at 7 p.m. ET; Rounds 4-7, tomorrow at 12 p.m. ET. During the period May 5-11, ESPN will broadcast 42.5 hours of original NFL Draft-related programming, including 16 hours of the live NFL Draft telecast.