Live From CFP National Championship: ESPN Calls Sundance Square Home for Pregame Buzz

ESPN’s production efforts for the 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship shift into high gear today at AT&T Stadium in North Texas, capping off a busy week of live pregame coverage from Sundance Square in nearby Fort Worth and beyond.

Bob Braunlich, ESPN, VP of events, inside the truck compound at AT&T Stadium.

Bob Braunlich, VP of events, ESPN, inside the truck compound at AT&T Stadium

Bob Braunlich, VP of event operations, ESPN, is overseeing much of the pregame coverage, in particular the activities at Sundance Square in Fort Worth.

“I’ve worked on two Super Bowls, and this is bigger than a Super Bowl,” says Braunlich. “The scale of programming and equipment is as big as any Super Bowl.”

More than 250 operations and technical staffers are onsite for the pregame coverage, and Braunlich says that moving the human resources and production resources is the biggest challenge. Relief crews are also on hand to ensure that staffers don’t get overworked and that there is a smooth transition between dayparts and programs on some very long days.

ESPN's set at Sundance Square

ESPN’s set at Sundance Square

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ESPN revisits a location that it has called home for previous college football games and, on a similar scale to this week’s activities, the Super Bowl four years ago at AT&T Stadium. Sundance Square has been given a facelift since the last time ESPN was on hand for such a long period.

“It’s much easier this time, as the square has been rebuilt with a vision to make it a gathering place,” says Braunlich. “So it is a great area to be a pedestrian, and it lends us a nice backdrop as it is the place to be.”

The rebuilt square makes the area more scenic for ESPN operations and also more functional because nearby office space was made available. That removed the need for production trailers and also provided space for a backup radio set.

The "Western Set" at Sundance Square has been handy during cold, dark mornings.

The “Western Set” at Sundance Square has been handy during cold, dark mornings.

A permanent enclosed pavilion houses the “Western Set,” an indoor set that has been used when outside elements are less than hospitable. Early-morning programs, like Mike and Mike, have found the Western Set a better alternative to starting their program on the outside set in the cold and darkness.

Pregame programming began last Monday on ESPN2 from Gilley’s Dallas, where Game Creek’s Justice production unit was on hand. Also used in the pregame coverage are Game Creek Larkspur and Gemini, which are based at Sundance Square, and Discovery, which was on hand for Media Day yesterday at the Dallas Convention Center. Discovery has now made the move to AT&T Stadium to lighten the load on the production team there, as it shifts into overdrive tomorrow for the big game.

Sundance Square operations began coming together last weekend when two drivers double-teamed to get the main Gameday production unit, Larkspur, from the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA, to Fort Worth in time to be set up for live programming on Tuesday. Game Creek’s Gemini unit pulled in on Tuesday so that radio coverage from Sundance Square could begin on Wednesday (the back of Gemini, with the help of equipment from Bexel, was turned into a production area for Colin Cowherd’s football show).

Two Game Creek Video production units, Larkspur and Gemini, played key roles at Sundance Square for ESPN.

Two Game Creek Video production units, Larkspur and Gemini, play key roles at Sundance Square for ESPN.

The biggest difference from Super Bowl week four years ago is that the production trucks are located two blocks away in a parking deck instead of at the Square. There were immediate concerns about how signals would be transported from the sets to the production units, but, when the Square was rebuilt, tunnels were put in place so that cable runs could connect the Square to the compound.

“They asked us what our needs were, and they put in a boatload of fiber,” says Braunlich. “So our trucks are under cover, and we have full connectivity.”

Two fiber paths connect Sundance Square to ESPN’s Bristol, CT, headquarters with satellite for backup. In addition, fiber paths are in use for file transfers between Bristol and the operations throughout Dallas. The new workflow (for college football) was first put to use at the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.

“It makes for a more efficient workflow as you don’t have to coordinate with the truck,” says Braunlich. “You just drag and drop.”

Braunlich also credits Bexel and VER for their support of the efforts.

“They’ve been extremely helpful,” he says. For example, during Media Day, Bexel was able to bring in additional cabling when it turned out that the event was actually at the other side of the venue.

“Bexel stayed open late, picked up the stuff, and Media Day was flawless,” says Braunlich.