One of the great rivalries in international soccer is rekindled tonight as the United States Men’s National Team hosts Mexico in a key World Cup Qualifying match, and ESPN — which airs the game tonight live at 8 p.m. ET — is giving the match the royal treatment.
Short of a World Cup, the production compound outside Crew Stadium in Columbus, OH, is unlike anything ESPN has ever rolled out to cover a soccer match. More than 30 cameras, three on-site studio sets, and more than 200 personnel have descended on Central Ohio in a production compound that rivals that of any other big-game broadcast in size and scope.
For Coordinating Producer, Production Amy Rosenfeld, who has worked the soccer circuit for ESPN since the ’90s, it’s a thrill to see how far the sport has come at the network.
“This compound is looking like a Monday Night Football compound,” she says. “Three sets, however many trucks we now have: it’s a big show, and it’s incredibly rewarding because there was a time when we were lucky to get anybody to give us a super-slow-mo.”
F&F Productions’ GTX-15 serves as the primary game truck, and Lyon Video’s Lyon-6 supports additional studio programming from the new ESPN program, ESPN FC, which hits the road for the first time since its debut in August.
A total of 32 cameras are deployed inside Crew Stadium, 16 of which — a majority of the hard and handhelds — are Ikegami HDK-79ECs. The complement includes two Sony HDC3300R slo-mos: positioned in the far left low corner of the field and the far right low corner of the field.
There are two Fletcher robotic cameras, one behind the right goal and a second hanging above the left goal on the ceiling of a high awning that stretches out over end-zone seating. That required a successful bit of risky rigging that is giving ESPN a camera angle never before seen in this stadium.
ESPN has also erected a main studio set on field level in the near right corner of the stadium. Three more cameras include a tracking camera that sits on two pieces of metal piping and travels along the track via a set of skateboard wheels. The crew has come to affectionately refer to the setup as a MunDolly, named for Jim Mundell, owner and operator of Jersey Jibs, which pieced together the device using pieces from a number of manufacturers.
The Jersey Jibs crew also has deployed three jibs — one inside the stadium behind the left goal, one by the entrance by the ESPN FC set, and one in the parking lot — and a set of selected POV cameras (LUX HD 1200s) right up behind the nets to grab shots of goals.
On the audio side, a variety of 26 field-effect mics are deployed throughout the complex, including a Holophone down on the field and 18 broadcast microphones that will be used on the field and throughout the three studio sets.
As mentioned, three set locations will provide live coverage in and around the game. The Game Host Set is located inside the stadium on the field, and the ESPN FC set is positioned inside the stadium entrance in an outdoor concourse area. According to Remote Operations Manager Terri Dippolito, the crew is going for a College GameDay feel as fans enter the stadium, with the set live for a full hour before the match kicks off.
ESPN Deportes is also on hand. Although it has no broadcast rights to the game (the U.S. Spanish rights are held by Univision), that hasn’t kept the network from covering the big game. Deportes has its own set and small production compound set up about a quarter of a mile away from the stadium in the parking lot. Despite seemingly being out on its own island, Deportes is still very much a part of the general ESPN production plans.
“We work like family,” says Dippolito. “So, even though FC is not allowed onto the field and Deportes isn’t allowed inside the stadium, they have access to everything that’s in our main truck and all of the information that we’re taking in.”
To cover it all, ESPN is running more than 11,000 ft. of video cable and more than 8,000 ft. of audio cable.
“What’s interesting is, the stadium’s not that big,” says Rosenfeld. “We have used every square inch; this stadium is maxed out. This would be far and away the biggest coverage we’ve had.”
Crew Stadium was built in 1999 and was the first professional soccer-specific stadium built in the U.S. It can seat only just over 20,000, and, at times, it tends to show its age, but that hasn’t tempered the ESPN crew’s thrill at being here.
“I have a special place in my heart for Crew Stadium,” says Rosenfeld, who worked for ESPN as a producer when the USMNT beat Mexico in a World Cup qualifier in February 2002. “There’s a certainly component that its simplicity actually is helpful. Sometimes, in a super-complicated stadium, TV is the last one to be taken into account, so, where there would be beautiful camera positions, there’s now a luxury box. There is a little bit to Columbus that’s great in that it’s sort of a free-for-all, and we get a lot of freedom.”
The crew for this game also has strong ties to the city of Columbus. ESPN entrusted Chris Creamer, president of BCP3 & Associates (from nearby Scio, OH) to crew many of the key camera and technical positions. As a result, 26 key production members of the team all have ties to Columbus and the state of Ohio.
“The crew here is so excited to be here,” says Dippolito, who works the soccer and boxing circuits for ESPN. “There are so many people here from within an hour of the stadium. We have mothers and fathers, fans of ESPN and the Columbus crew, and those that are loyal to their city. The passion from everyone here has been incredible. It makes me excited that we’re here.”