ESPN Delivers Down-Home Production at Little League World Series
It’s a new year with a new production compound for ESPN this month in Williamsport, PA, but the ambience at the Little League World Series is as “All American Apple Pie” as ever.
After inking a deal last year to keep the most wholesome of American sporting events on ABC, ESPN, and ESPN2 through 2022, the networks will combine to present 32 Little League World Series games over the next 10 days.
While there is no shortage of intriguing production tools and tech on hand at Lamade Stadium (primary venue and site of the Championship) and Volunteer Stadium (hosting early games Aug. 14-18), the key to ESPN’s coverage remains the Little League World Series’ greatest asset: tradition.
“A couple of years ago, when [Cleveland Indians manager] Terry Francona was here, he said ‘this is where the country fair meets baseball,’ and that’s exactly what we are going for every year,” says ESPN Coordinating Producer Matt Sandulli. “It’s also a great opportunity to try some different things because our partners at Little League are forward thinking people who are gung-ho for basically any kind of technology we bring them that could potentially enhance the [telecast].”
TrussCam Makes Williamsport Debut
Chief among these new technologies is TrussCam provided by Pictrovision. The trolley-mounted wireless robotic camera system, which debuted during Turner Sports’ MLB Playoffs coverage last year, will be positioned just beyond the outfield wall at Lamade. The gyro-stabilized camera will provide sweeping 360-degree views of the action on the field and of the crowd behind the fence. The system, which runs between left-center and right-center field, is controlled by two operators located at Lamade – one to drive the camera on the track and another to operate the pan/tilt/zoom functions of the camera itself.
The TrussCam boasts a five-hour battery and an alternate power source in order to switch out batteries between games.
“That is going to be a heck of shot in our game coverage for balls hit both to the outfield and the infield,” says Sandulli. “The movement of the camera will give people a different look at it. The other thing that is going to be cool is when you spin that camera head around and start shooting up into the crowd that sits up on the hill. That is really going to provide a look at the atmosphere on the hill that we haven’t been able to capture as much in the past.”
No Shortage of Cameras, On-Field Audio
In addition to the TrussCam, ESPN has deployed an additional 30 cameras for its World Series coverage – 20 at Lamade and 11 at Volunteer. Included in the camera complement seven robotic units (provided by Fletcher Sports), a NAC/Ikegami Hi-Motion II ultra-slo-mo system at low-home at Lamade, a super-slow-mo in centerfield and jib in right field at both ballparks, and a wireless RF camera (provided by CP Communications) that roves between the two ballparks.
“[The RF camera] is instrumental in our coverage,” says Sandulli. “The camera and the guys that run it are tremendous. Without that camera, you just don’t’ get a feel for how unique it is here.”
ESPN also assisted Little League in setting up GoPro cameras to cover the field and help umpires determine when an extra base is awarded on an overthrow.
On the audio side, ESPN is once again micing up coaches and umpires in-game – an element that has become a staple of its LLWS coverage in recent years. Coaches and umpires are outfitted with Sennheiser MKE2–4–3C GOLD omni lavalier mics and ESPN is permitted to use live audio from coaches when they are in conversation with players on the field. Umpire audio, umpire-coach conversations, and in-dugout audio, however, can only be played back after the fact.
The Compound on the Hill
The ESPN production and operations teams have a brand new home this, as the network worked with Little League to build out a new truck compound for this year’s LLWS. Previously located directly outside the gates of Lamade, the new compound now sits about 200 yards away up the outfield hill.
“This was something that was discussed a few years back and then followed up on last year and this year it came to fruition,” says operations manager Pete Rintelman. “Little League has done a phenomenal job and built a very nice compound just up the hill away from Lamade. We are still in close proximity to Lamade and have easy access to the stadium, but with a lot more space and flexibility.”
As a result of the increased distance between the compound and venues, ESPN has significantly increased its use of fiber for the LLWS production, bumping up its total number of Hydra boxes to a total of seven.
“Before we were limited with what we could do. Now with the increased use of fiber there are a lot more things we can do and we can certainly be greater distances away. There have been a few issues here and there, but it’s definitely improved our life. It’s exciting trying to figure out the new challenges and how to best utilize the space.”
SportsCenter Back On-Site Along With New, Returning Talent
ESPN has once again erected a 20×20-foot set (built at ESPN’s Bristol, CT headquarters and transported to Williamsport) located between the two ballparks. SportsCenter will air live from the set on Aug. 18 and 19 (hosted by Jay Crawford and Chris McKendry), ESPN will also provide daily, on-site hits from the location for SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight.
LLWS newcomer Barry Larkin will join LLWS-vet Karl Ravech, analyst Nomar Garciaparra and reporter Jaymee Sire for all five ABC games. Also contributing behind the mic will be Crawford, McKendry, play-by-play man Dave Flemming, and analysts Kyle Peterson and Chris Burke.
ESPN’s Little League World Series coverage kicked off Thursday, Aug. 14 and continues today at 1 p.m. with Mexico-Canada from Volunteer Stadium