Live From MLB All-Star: ESPN Packs Four Control Rooms Into EN-1 for Massive Production

While the Home Run Derby serves as the crown jewel of ESPN’s MLB regular-season package, the network’s All-Star presence at Petco Park in San Diego this week goes far beyond Monday night’s dinger-fest. In addition to the Derby, ESPN is producing all Baseball Tonight and SportsCenter pregame programming onsite and Monday’s All-Star Legends & Celebrity Softball Game live-to-tape; ESPN Deportes will produce the Spanish-language telecast for Tuesday’s All-Star Game.

ESPN's entire operation is housed inside NEP's EN-1 trucks.

ESPN’s entire operation is housed inside NEP’s EN-1 trucks.

“Having worked the first-ever produced Home Run Derby, which was a 30-minute [tape-delayed] show in 1993, it’s definitely gratifying to see how much it has grown as a production and how seriously people take the event,” says Phil Orlins, senior coordinating producer, MLB, ESPN. “The biggest development for us has been the ancillary [onsite studio] coverage. I could never have imagined three hours of pregame shows for the Derby 20 years ago. I think that goes to show that it’s come a long way in the consciousness of the baseball fan, and we’re proud to be a part of that.”

Packing Plenty Inside EN-1
Although this flood of programming would normally require dedicated mobile units for each show, the power, size, and flexibility of NEP’s EN-1 Monday Night Football truck (A, B, C, and D units) has allowed ESPN to locate its entire multipronged operation — comprising four control rooms — in a single mobile unit.

“It’s great that EN-1 has the infrastructure to handle all this,” says Operations Producer Carla Ackles. “With the exception of ESPN Deportes, all of these shows share resources, so it’s very beneficial to be able to have everything in one truck. The Derby, Baseball Tonight, and SportsCenter all take cameras and sources from each other, so it’s been nice to have this kind of setup.”

ESPN Operations Producer Carla Ackels inside EN-1 at Petco Park

ESPN Operations Producer Carla Ackels inside EN-1 at Petco Park

The Home Run Derby and Celebrity Softball Game will be produced out of EN-1’s main production room in the A unit. The other half of the A unit, typically a graphics room, has been converted to a control room for Baseball Tonight’s set at Petco Park, complete with a switcher and Vizrt graphics system.

In the B unit are the video room for the Derby and ESPN Deportes All-Star production, the primary audio room for the Derby, and the ESPN Visual Technology team.

Two control rooms located in the C unit handle the ESPN Deportes All-Star production (typically Monday Night Countdown’s control room) and the SportsCenter onsite set. The EVS replay room for all shows is located in the C unit along with graphics for the Home Run Derby.

“We are using every inch of this truck,” says Ackles. “We have no other trucks here besides EN-1, which is great. It’s challenging, for sure, for the engineers, but we have a great team out here that know how to get it done. There is a benefit for everyone being together because of all the resource sharing.”

In terms of transmission ESPN has four dedicated uncompressed HD fiber paths back to Bristol for Home Run Derby, ESPN Deportes, Baseball Tonight, and SportsCenter. The network also has three incoming fibers coming back from Bristol to Petco Park.

In addition, for the first time in All-Star coverage, ESPN is not relying on a satellite uplink for its backup contribution/transmission feed, but rather an ATEME IP encoder.

Spotlight on the Derby
Of course, the Home Run Derby remains at the center of it all, and ESPN has once again pulled out all the stops, deploying a total of 23 cameras, a new retro-styled timer graphic for each round, and, for the first time, Intel’s freeD 360-degree replay system.

ESPN utilized a Grass Valley LDX 6x super-slo-mo as a robotic for the first time at the Derby just in front of home plate.

ESPN utilized a Grass Valley LDX 6x super-slo-mo as a robotic for the first time at the Derby just in front of home plate.

ESPN’s Home Run Derby show deploys five hard cameras, eight handhelds (two of which are shared with Baseball Tonight), two Marshal POVs, and seven robos, including two Grass Valley LDX 86 6X slo-mo box camera just in front of home plate and a Phantom 4K Flex ultra-high-speed camera to the side of the batter (both provided by Fletcher).

The pace of the Derby is faster than ever this year, thanks to new rules that debuted last year giving players four minutes to hit as many home runs as they can with an optional 45-second timeout (two timeouts in the finals) and 30 seconds of bonus time awarded for homers of 440+ ft., replacing the 10 “outs” for each non-home run of previous years. As a result, ESPN has deployed two high-home hard-camera positions for the first time, allowing director Doug Holmes to alternate between the two cameras from one swing to the next.

“Traditionally, we’ve always gone mostly with a single high-home camera and occasionally cut it from down the line to provide a visual change everyone once in a while,” says Orlins. “But, with the fast pacing of this, we will need two high-home cameras. Fans shouldn’t really notice it at home, but we really need it because you literally don’t have time to reset one high-home camera for the next pitch. So we will essentially alternate high-home cameras.”

intel room

Inside Intel’s 360-replay control room at Petco Park

Another newcomer to ESPN’s Derby show is Intel’s 360-degree replay technology. The technology creates a 3D rendering of the field, using 28 cameras strategically positioned from foul pole to foul pole to create a nearly 360-degree (or, to be accurate, 270-degree) view of the play. ESPN analyst Eduardo Perez and the ESPN production team work with Intel to create 360-degree packages that dissect homers from any possible angle.

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 1.10.15 AM“This is one of those really good marriages that don’t come along often,” says Orlins. “It’s just a really cool technology that caters to something like the Derby. It’s very cool on the NBA, for example, but that is farther away, and I think the system is at its coolest when the cameras are directed toward a relatively confined area, like the batter. So we’re ultra-excited about it.”

On the graphics front, ESPN is debuting an analog-style clock graphic in the top right of the screen, counting down each batter’s remaining time while displaying each home run’s distance and flashing when bonus time is added. In addition, MLBAM’s Statcast displays home-run distances throughout the telecast.