It’s about the unbridled joy of a game-winning home run or the sheer grit of a play at the plate without the baggage of multi-million dollar contracts or endorsements or scholarships. It’s about volunteer umpires and managers with day jobs. The Little League World Series is about pure Americana and each year ESPN aims to bring that out in its telecasts utilizing the most valuable tool it has at its disposal: full access.
“This is reality TV in every telecast,” says Tom McNeely, now in his eight year as lead and coordinating producer. “The access is really incredible. Whether it’s the microphones on managers and umpires or shooting a team’s pizza party after the game [for a feature] down the road, we try to get it all.”
Inside the Dugout and Beyond the Diamond
ESPN’s annual 10-day pilgrimage to Williamsport, PA, will culminate this weekend when ABC airs the International and U.S. Championships on Saturday and the LLWS Championship on Sunday. The network has once again taken full advantage of the inside access that the LLWS provides, outfitting managers, coaches, and umpires with live mics during games and deploying four ENG teams to follow teams throughout their off-field activities in Williamsport.
“It is very similar to [the College World Series],” says McNeeley, who is a 23-year veteran of College World Series productions. “But here with 12-year-olds, there is more of an Americana and Apple pie feel. We try to bring that out in the telecast.”
Although outfitting coaches with microphones has become almost ubiquitous in coverage of both major and minor sporting events, few are permitted the freedom that ESPN enjoys at the LLWS. Little League International – the tournament’s governing body – encourages all managers, coaches, and umpires to wear the microphones and allows ESPN to go to this live audio at almost anytime during the games.
“Any back-and-forth discussion between a manager and umpire is live,” says McNeely. “The only stipulation is when a group of umpires huddle and discuss a controversial call, we have turn the microphones off.”
5D in Williamsport: Take Two
For the second consecutive year, ESPN is producing all 22 games from Lamade Stadium (10 early games take place at the adjacent Volunteer Stadium) in 3D utilizing the 5D production model that has become the norm for ESPN 3D telecasts.
This single truck (NEP Supershooter 32 in this case), unilateral 2D-3D production method includes both 2D and 3D cameras. The 2D telecasts takes the left eye feed from the 3D rigs, while the 2D camera feeds are doubled for the left/right eye feeds and set slightly off-center to create the illusion of 3D for the ESPN 3D telecast.
“We are in a way better rhythm because [5D production] is not new to us like it was last year,” says McNeely. “Last year was a serious adjustment for everyone in the truck with wearing the 3D glasses. So the truck guys from NEP reconstructed our monitor walls. And now there is a certain area of the truck where you can watch it in 2D or 3D. It’s just a lost more comfortable.”
A total of 24 camera positions have been deployed at Lamade – a mix of 2D cameras and 3D rigs. These include Super-slo-mos at centerfield and low-home, as well as an ultra-slow-mo down the first-base side to capture the primarily right-handed hitters’ swings. Also on hand at Lamade are two jibs (one in left field and one down the right field line), a MastCam (a robotic camera attached to a 30-foot telescoping tower) between the two stadiums to capture the concourse activity, and the blimp camera.
NEP SS 32, ESPN 3D’s dedicated truck, serves as the production hub at Lamade (Dome Productions’ Trillium HD unit produced the Volunteer Stadium games).
Getting Social for the Kids
Being that the players on the field fall right into one of the most social-media-driven demographics, ESPN has made the integration of Twitter and Facebook a priority in its telecasts.
“We have gotten very nimble with our social media [integration],” says McNeeley. “We have had a great catch by a player and before you know it we are showing a Tweet from [Los Angeles Angels All-Star] Mike Trout saying ‘that kid from Canada just made the catch of the year.’”