Given the way that ESPN has raised the bar with its world-class coverage of FIFA World Cup 2014 and Euro 2012, it’s a tough ask for the network to not only better its already critically-acclaimed coverage with Euro 2016 but to also deal with issues that it can’t control such as weather, transportation strikes and terror threats.
Speaking with ESPN Senior Coordinating Producer Amy Rosenfeld, who is responsible for all soccer events on ESPN’s TV and digital networks, her team is prepared.
Her first major challenge? Being unable to occupy ESPN’s Euro 2016 studio near the River Seine after France encountered the worst floods the capital has seen in decades.
“The last time (the flooding) was this bad was 1982,” said Rosenfeld. “And then before that, it was 1888. No one saw this flooding coming at all. We’ve had concerns about various things. Flooding was not one of them.”
Fortunately, ESPN will be using a temporary location elsewhere in the city.
“We found an alternate location that’s over by the Arc de Triomphe; It’s virtually a miracle,” said Rosenfeld. “It’ll be a little bit of a stripped down version of what we hope we’ll get when we get into our regular set.”
Weather aside, ESPN is taking all precautions to ensure the safety and security of its staff given the recent terrorism and terror alerts issued by both the United States and United Kingdom.
“Unfortunately anyone who does major global sporting events and/or news coverage, preparation has now become standard practice,” she said. “We certainly have done extensive preparation in terms of safety and terrorism. First and foremost, the security of our staff. And second, how we cover it journalistically.”
Speaking of journalism, ESPN is prepared to report on the terror threats if incidents do happen.
“We are not news journalists, we are sports broadcasters,” said Rosenfeld. “But we have now grown accustomed to transition, as best as we can, into news gatherers and journalists. We have the benefit of people like Bob Ley, Jeremy Schaap and Mike Tirico, who can handle hard news and they have.”
ABC News, which is part of the Disney empire that includes ESPN, will be ready to provide their resources too, if necessary.
Focusing on the soccer commentators and studio talent, ESPN is bringing back many of the names that made World Cup 2014 such a transformative success for the broadcaster. Commentators Ian Darke, Steve McManaman, Jon Champion, Stewart Robson return as well as hosts Bob Ley and Mike Tirico in addition to studio match analysts such as Craig Burley, Vincent Kompany, Roberto Martinez, Frank Leboeuf and many others.
Rosenfeld could have added different names, too, but resisted the temptation in order to keep the right chemistry.
“There had been individuals that we’d thought about as part of the (Euro 2016 broadcast) team, but ultimately the decision was made (not to hire them),” she said. “What you would get in terms of their high profile and potentially the value of their commentary is not worth the high maintenance level or diva mentally or ego that would disrupt the whole team.
“That’s the same as our production team. It’s all about the ‘all in’ mentality where we’re all equals and everyone has an equal voice. Ego can destroy a production like this.”
The commentators, studio talent and viewers will hopefully be transfixed by a superb European tournament, but ESPN won’t be adding its cameras to the mix.
“We are not supplementing the host broadcast at all,” Rosenfeld said. “I think they’re up to 34 cameras per match. You have to say to yourself, ‘Where exactly could I put a camera where they haven’t covered? Is there any blade of grass that won’t be covered?’ Sometimes the best service that a producer or director can provide is to get out of the way. We will take the pure host feed from UEFA. We’ll supply commentary. We’ll supply our own clock and score.”
Of course, in addition to the match, commentary and studio hosts, the talent at ESPN will hopefully shine again with the intelligent analysis of matches, which was the most redeeming factor of their World Cup 2014 and Euro 2012 broadcasts.
ESPN will also be adding a new element.
“We’re very excited about the use of touch-screen (that worked very well at Brazil 2014),” she said. “Some of our panelists, most notably Roberto Martinez, are really effective and impactful using the touchscreen. We’ve taken that to the next step where a touchscreen is actually embedded into a golf cart. It’s mobile. It can be outdoors. The screen is impervious to the glare of sunlight. We were going to truck it up and down the (original River Seine) set, with beautiful backdrops. At some point, we’ll be able to use that for a richer backdrop.”
Hopefully the mobile touch-screen will make its debut in the first or second week of Euro 2016 coverage.
In addition to supplying the commentary feed (where most of the announcers will be in France, while some will be calling the games off a monitor from Bristol, CT), ESPN will be harnessing the second screen experience too.
WatchESPN coverage will also feature multiple feeds with varying camera angles that will enhance the fan viewing experience, including a high end zone camera, a cable camera from above, highlights updated during the live window, and angles from both coaches and the bench.
“Also, we will have two feeds that provide, what we call in the business ‘melt feeds’ or ‘melt reels,’” she added. ‘Let’s say Cristiano Ronaldo scores a goal. Within a few minutes, this feed would aggregate all of the unseen angles that were not on the match feed. This just keeps growing. So then there’s the next incident. Maybe there’s a red card. You would then see the critical other angles. The feed just keeps on growing and growing as the match continues. It’s a best-of highlights.”
Last but not least, there’s the setting of France and what that country can provide.
“France itself offers so much in every level in art, cuisine, vistas, landscape and history,” Rosenfeld said. “First and foremost, the most important thing is the match. But then you try to provide the viewer with the experience that they’re here and what they can learn from a really rich and exciting country.”
Asked whether she feels honored that NBC Sports and FOX Sports have tried to imitate ESPN’s style of soccer coverage, Rosenfeld was humble and concluded, “As an American soccer fan, I’m really proud of the coverage of soccer by the 3 networks. It’s a great time to be a soccer fan.”
It is indeed.
ESPN’s coverage of Euro 2016 begins Friday, June 10 when France plays Romania at 3pm ET on ESPN2.
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