NFL Kickoff: ESPN Pursues Definitive Goal-Line Shot With Pylon Cam for Monday Night Football

Controversial goal-line plays will get an up-close-and-personal treatment on ESPN’s Monday Night Football this season, thanks to new Pylon Cams. With cameras shooting the goal line, down the sideline, the end-zone sideline, and the top of the pylon, ESPN will have the end zone covered from every angle with this unique field-level perspective.

Pylon Cam debuted during the 2015 College Football Playoff Championship in Arlington, TX, before heading to ESPN’s Wide World of Sports facility in Orlando for extensive testing. There, ESPN’s production, technology, and operations teams worked in consultation with the NFL to add safety enhancements and improve picture quality. The Pylon Cams were further tested during the NFL preseason.

With a custom-molded goal-line pylon designed by Gilman, four 1080p-capable cameras manufactured by Broadcast Sports Inc., and in-ground wiring with easy-breakaway connections, Pylon Cam will make its NFL regular-season debut on Monday in Atlanta.

“We worked very hard since February with the league to innovate and create these Pylon Cameras,” says ESPN Monday Night Football producer Jay Rothman. “We do not think [of them as] being a gimmick but [as] more of a definitive look — crossing the plane, in or out of bounds, that sort of thing — that we think will help the league and help our coverage a lot. We’re really excited about that.”

A custom-molded goal-line pylon features a 1080p camera and breakaway wiring.

A custom-molded goal-line pylon features a 1080p camera and breakaway wiring.

For this season, ESPN plans to take eight Pylon Cams to each Monday Night venue and set them up for the broadcast. The two goal-line cameras for each end zone will be fed directly into the production switcher to be available as live sources; the remaining 14 cameras will be recorded in anBroadcast Sports Inc. DreamCatcher for playback.

“They’re meant as a first or second look,” says Rothman. “We had it in the preseason right away in the first series in Tampa [when Tampa Bay quarterback] Jameis Winston went for the pylon for the touchdown. I think they’re going to be extremely helpful in critical situations, when you’re looking at the four corners of the end zone and at the goal line.”

ESPN also added seven Sony HDC-4300 cameras to the arsenal, with six capturing in high-frame-rate 1080p and one capturing in high-frame-rate 4K in the high end zone (the 4K-configured camera will feed directly into a DreamCatcher). Two I-MOVIX Phantom Flex 4K cameras stationed on the goal line and a fixed-wing aircraft provided by Aerial Video Systems bring this year’s camera complement to 28.

“Obviously, we’re focused on the goal line, making sure that, if there are any controversial plays at the goal line, we really have it covered,” says Chris Calcinari, VP, remote production operations, ESPN and ABC Sports. “Having the 4K cameras able to zoom down the goal line inside is great, and then, also with the Pylon Cam, we feel like we have that area covered off.”

Throughout the season, ESPN plans to experiment with TVU Networks’ bonded-cellular technology for live shots of the stadiums, cities, and fans week to week.

From a Fleet of Trucks to Millions of Viewers
NEP’s EN1 four-trailer mobile-production unit, now in its third season of Monday Night Football coverage, has been outfitted with four Evertz DreamCatcher replay systems and 18 EVS servers. ESPN continues to enhance the connectivity and add more bandwidth between the trucks and Bristol, CT, for quicker file transfer.

On the outside of the four trucks, ESPN has placed a No. 16 to honor the life and contributions of Frank Gifford, who died last month. Gifford wore No. 16 during his time with the New York Giants before joining the MNF crew as play-by-play announcer. Current play-by-play announcer Mike Tirico and analyst Jon Gruden will also wear No. 16 lapel pins during games, and Gifford’s voice will be featured in the new show open.

For the second season, ESPN will produce Monday Night Football in 1080p, transmitting to Bristol and archiving each game in 1080p but downconverting to 720p prior to distribution to ESPN’s cable affiliates. According to the network, starting with the highest-quality picture possible — even when it’s downconverted — still yields a better-quality product.

“We did some testing a couple years ago [where] we took a native 720p camera and a native 1080p camera. After the 1080p was downconverted, it appeared to us to be a better quality than the camera operating natively in 720,” says Steve Carter, senior operations manager, ESPN. “We think we’re starting and ending with a cleaner picture.”

Monday Night Football Gets New On-Air Look
Graphics will be getting an upgrade this season as well. ESPN will use Vizrt’s three-channel Viz One system (two playout channels, one preview), supplied by Bexel. MNF will introduce a new show open, graphics, animations, and shield logo.

Sportvision will continue to provide virtual on-air graphics; the network’s ncam camera-tracking system will not return.

Monday Night Football will feature a new booth backdrop and touchscreen telestration in the booth provided by ChyronHego.

“We’ve had [telestration] in the past, but it’s a better-implemented system this year,” says Carter. “We created this frame that will allow us to do telestration on that, so Jon [Gruden can] telestrate from his normal position watching the game but can also telestrate into the monitor behind him live on the air.”

The 46th season of Monday Night Football (the 10th on ESPN) kicks off on Monday with the Atlanta Falcons vs. Philadelphia Eagles at 7:10 p.m. ET followed by the San Francisco 49ers vs. Minnesota Vikings at 10:20.