ESPN Reveals the New Home of 'SportsCenter'

5:21 PM PST 05/22/2014 by Debbie Emery
Debbie Emery

The sports network unveiled the high-tech, one-of-a-kind Digital Center 2 at their Bristol, Conn., campus, which ESPN president John Skipper described as "future-proofed."

ESPN has given its flagship program a high-tech makeover, as the "worldwide leader in sports" unveiled the new home of SportsCenter.

Taking up 194,000 square feet with five studios and 25,000 square feet of production space, Digital Center 2 (DC-2) is the most technologically advanced studio in the U.S. and has been built to accommodate 18 hours of live broadcasts a day along with 24/7 programming.

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"It is a big statement of where we are in terms of fans and sports media," ESPN president John Skipper told reporters on Thursday during a behind-the-scenes look at the state-of-the-art studio in Bristol, Conn., which will debut in mid-June. "This facility is future-proofed," he revealed, explaining that it was designed to not only showcase the latest digital developments -- but also accommodate those to come in the next decade.

"We wanted it to be a clock, so it is divided up into segments. When SportsCenter started at ESPN it was only six hours of programming -- now it is 24," designer Andre Durette, senior vp at Jack Morton, whose team spent two years developing the new look, told The Hollywood Reporter.

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"The idea was to come up with the ideas that other people don't have. It's all about being more interactive and asking: 'What is the coolest toy out there? We want it,'" he explained of the multimillion-dollar project.

Among those 'cool toys' are:

  • A total of 114 monitors, as opposed to the previous 15.
  • A 56 LED multidimensional monitor wall that can air live and preproduced segments simultaneously.
  • A platform that can be raised up from the floor and have desks and chairs added, or be used as a standup area for talent. "The anchors will learn to interact in a much bigger space, like a theater actor with the audience," said Kevin Stolworthy, senior vp, content and information technology.
  • Everything is a light box that changes color, depending on time of day, mood or the teams being reported on -- Green Bay Packers fans can expect to see green-and-yellow hues, while the set can morph into scarlet and grey for Ohio State.
  • 3-dimensional monitors so that the action "can actually look like it's coming at you as a fan," explained Stolworthy.
  • A touchscreen that can separate into six different monitors, with a "catwalk" in front of it that analysts can walk down (or fall off!) to interact with the content.
  • A main wall based on projection mapping (like you see on buildings) made out of monitors on different planes.
  • Two separate studios -- 6,200 square foot Studio X and 3,500 square foot Studio XA -- divided by a giant glass wall so that hosts can rehearse during filming.
  • A SkyDeck wire-tension grid system allowing operators to adjust lights and reposition fixtures during a live show.
  • A giant glass cube in the Annex studio where the "display unit team" sits, consisting of producers, editors, graphic motion operators and researchers.
  • A JITA cam (a jib in the air) attached to the ceiling from a nine-foot arm on a circular track 20 feet in diameter to swoop down and capture a 360 degree view of the studio.
  • Social media studio to take guests to do longer form interviews to stream out.
  • Increased interaction to allow immediate consumption of content -- such as news, statistics and fantasy rankings -- that tie the on-air show with the digital platforms through the social media newsroom. "We now have 10 people doing social media," said Rob King, senior vice president, SportsCenter news and information, up from one previously.
  • A duplicate studio in Los Angeles, which is currently under construction, with a similar back wall on a smaller scale.

Also in the new DC-2 building, which is like a "Disneyland for sports fans," are interactive towers in the lobby with touchscreens showing the 400 hilarious commercials from the "This is SportsCenter" campaign that has spanned 20 years. The Rex Sox's David Ortiz and Wally the Green Monster, and Peyton and Eli Manning are among the most popular among fans. 

Upstairs a wall of memorable anchor catchphrases from the classic -- "Boo-Yah!" --  to the cheesy -- "Ding dong, the pitch is dead" -- celebrate 35 years of SportsCenter. While outside on the 123-acre campus, 26 satellite dishes relayed 49,000 signals in 2012. 

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