May 24, 2013

ESPNU to Show Title Game Entirely via SkyCam View

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter


Monday's Division I men's national title game at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia will be shown entirely via SkyCam view on ESPNU, while the traditional broadcast is shown on ESPN.
© Kevin P. Tucker (file)

PHILADELPHIA — In past years, when ESPN lacrosse producer John Kettering has stood in a production truck outside an NFL stadium on Memorial Day, looking across a bank of camera feeds, he's often found himself transfixed on the SkyCam view, although his job entails to keep tabs on much more. The cable-suspended camera hovering above the field is his favorite.

"For our money, SkyCam works on lacrosse as well, if not better, than any other sport because the nature of the game," Kettering said. "It's really cool to watch. I have a hard time spreading my attention to all of the other cameras that we have because I have such a great time watching SkyCam."

If he were to be sitting at home this Monday or out and about with smartphone or tablet in hand — like plenty of other lacrosse fans — instead of directing multi-media traffic in Philadelphia along with lead director Jimmy Platt, Kettering would have his druthers.

The Division I men's national title game will be shown live via SkyCam view on ESPNU, ESPN3 and WatchESPN beginning at 1 p.m. ET, while the game is broadcast in traditional form concurrently on ESPN. The SkyCam feed on ESPNU will include replays from the ESPN broadcast, scoreboard graphics and announcer audio.

Open space in the ESPNU lineup helped with the decision — a series of re-airs were scheduled for the same time slots originally on Monday afternoon — but the added SkyCam-only option for viewers also fits into ESPN's vision of how sports fans are now consuming their entertainment.

"We thought it would be a great idea, just to cater to the lacrosse fan with something they can watch maybe on their tablet while they're watching the game, which would just enhance the overall experience," ESPN coordinating producer John Vassallo said.

"Our research tells us people watch multiple screens now. We want to serve the sports fan on every screen possible," said Vassallo, who also works on ESPN's college football coverage. "We know a lot of people, through some of our program services, will sit and watch college football on Saturday and they'll sit there and watch ESPN Goal Line on their iPad, while they're watching on the TV, so they can get quick look-ins on other games. That's the way people are consuming their sports now. This is sort of an extension of that."

This is the first time the SkyCam view will be shown on what ESPN calls a linear channel — ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPNews — but it has been available on ESPN3 in the past, although not last year.

"We're bringing it back in a bigger way," Vassallo said.

Coaches in the Studio; Yale's Shay Up Next

ESPN has brought in Virginia coach Dom Starsia, Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala and Lehigh's Kevin Cassese (for a second straight year) to its studio over the last two weeks to serve as guest analysts for tournament coverage. Yale's Andy Shay will do the same on Saturday during the semifinal broadcasts.

Make no mistake: these coaches would rather be on the sideline in polo shirt and cap rather than in a TV studio wearing a suit and makeup. But the time spent in the studio has its advantages for TV and coaches alike, Vassallo and Kettering said.

"I thought Dom and Dave did excellent. To have coaches of their experience, background and awareness of the tournament, just makes the coverage better," Vassallo said. "They brought up really good points, but they also put it in perspective. That was invaluable to have."

The TV time also presents the chance for coaches give themselves and their program's exposure that they otherwise wouldn't have.

"The coaches are becoming more and more willing to get on the air," Kettering said. "They do believe it helps with recruiting."

Vassallo is the one who asks the coaches if they want to serve as analysts.

"They didn't really want to get the call from me," Vassallo said, tongue-in-cheek. "I spoke to Andy on Monday and he had barely gotten the taste of the Saturday loss [to Syracuse] clear from his mouth, and I'm hitting him up about doing TV. He wasn't exactly cheery, but he was gracious enough to agree to do it."

'Super-Duper' Slow Motion Camera

ESPN has used slow-motion replays on lacrosse before, but a new camera for this year will take them to another level. Producers have included a NAC high-end camera in this year's plans.

"It's super-duper slo-mo," Kettering said. "We're going to be able to pick up just how quick the ball moves, goalie reaction or lack of reaction when goals are scored. Emotions run so high after goals are scored. We'll be able to pick up a lot of that with this camera as well. We're pretty excited about that."

Shot-Clock Timer Toggled Off

The so-called invisible shot clock rule instituted by the NCAA for 2013 — with a 30-second countdown administered by officials' after stall warning is put on — put television producers in a tricky situation. How do you show a shot-clock countdown to viewers at home without an actual clock on the field?

The question led ESPN's emerging technology group to develop a shot-clock timer device that has been worn by officials during TV games this season. The idea was to have an official toggle a switch on and off when a stall warning was put on, and have that start and stop linked to ESPN's production truck. Success has been inconsistent this year.

This weekend an ESPN staffer in the stadium who communicates with its production truck, will turn the countdown on and off based on the officials' signals on the field. The on-field device will not be used, "so the refs can concentrate more on what they're doing on the field," Kettering said.

"Our emerging technology group did a great job developing this system. It's just that every field you go to there are different subtleties about the transmission of it; the officials change; some officials remember to hit the timer, some don't," Vassallo said. "We're in a good place as far as what we thought we'd be at the beginning of the year, but in no way, shape or form are we hitting it 100 percent."

A physical shot clock at lacrosse venues across the country would avoid the headaches.

"We would be very happy for clocks to be displayed," Kettering said.

Odds and Ends

All of the officials in this weekend's games will be mic'd up, and each will wear different color arm bands so ESPN production team can identify which official they want audio from during a given broadcast... Don't expect any tear-jerking halftime features during this weekend's games, although you will get updates on the most notable on-field storylines such as Rob Pannell's pursuit of Matt Danowski's all-time NCAA Division I points record and a look at Bill Tierney and John Desko's history of coaching against each other.

LaxMagazine.com will have complete coverage of championship weekend with features, live blogs, post-game reaction and more. Be sure to follow @LacrosseMag on Twitter for instant updates as well.


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