Event Previews

ESPN’s Cable TV first: Fans will have extra audio choices watching title game, the LSU or Clemson radio call

ESPN's novel audio menu is among 15 creative and separate video presentations of Monday's championship game; Each option is listed

 

If this is the future of video, it’s about as good as it gets.

Kudos to ESPN! The network is presenting a smorgasbord of options Monday to suit any fan’s curiosity, 15 separate ways to consume college’s football’s title game. Sports fans can only hope that the other networks take note.

Among all the creative video choices, the network will make history by presenting a cable television first. Fans will be able to watch the matchup and sync up the audio of either the home radio broadcast of Clemson or LSU. In the past ESPN did so only through its app.

Fans who tune in to the ACC Network will be able to watch the game with Don Munson, Tim Bourret, Brad Scott, and Reggie Merriweather, the Tigers radio announcers. Those who dial up the SEC Network can follow the showdown with the LSU radio crew of Chris Blair, Doug Moreau and Gordy Rush

ESPN manages both the ACC and SEC Networks giving it the necessary bandwidth to facilitate this breakthrough option. In its press release earlier this week, ESPN said that the audio will be perfectly synchronized with the video. Generally, viewers who attempt to download the radio call, whether on a PC, through mobile or even directly by tuning in radio stations on their dial positions, have run into challenges. The audio and TV picture aren’t in lockstep. One is behind the other by a few seconds which distorts the entire experience.

It’s been a practice of Turner in recent years to run the Final Four on two channels in addition to the coverage over which Jim Nantz and team preside. Turner designates two separate crews, one for each additional channel. While the announcers often have nominal local roots and do call the games with a rooting bent and a tendentious lens, they don’t cover their respective teams all season. The radio voices do and are inextricably bonded with the teams they follow and their fans. It’s why this additional radio feature is truly historic.

On ESPN’s flagship, Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit will be behind the microphone. Correction: Herbstreit will be behind the mic. Fowler will be on, if and only Herbstreit shuts up.

Together, they’ll call their sixth CFP National Championship. Brooklyn’s Tom Rinaldi, a former high school handball coach, will work the LSU sideline. Maria Taylor, 32, whose formal first name is Suzette and whose stock keeps rising, will report from the Clemson sideline. Current ESPN rules analyst Bill Lemonnier will be in the booth with Herbstreit and Fowler. The former Big Ten referee is a veteran of several marquee assignments, including a number of prestigious bowl games.

In this misguided television day, many play-by-play announcers have turned into mere set-up drones. So let’s hope that this audio innovation shows promise Monday and that it fosters  a wave of widespread growth, success and expansion.

There have been reports that ABC might be awarded a Super Bowl in the NFL’s next round of negotiations. If so and given the dual ownership of ABC and ESPN, viewers can only imagine how the Big Game would potentially be presented through all the platforms parent Disney has at its disposal.

Fox can do something similar through its FS1, FS2, the Fox Business Channel, plus its app. This year’s Super Bowl would be a great place to start.

ESPN’s unprecedented and cutting-edge presentation Monday, does not include a doctor in the booth to evaluate injuries if they occur. Does it look like a cramp or something more serious? Well, maybe doctors are reluctant to indulge. So how about a seasoned or retired trainer? With gambling turning legal in many states, information, data and projections become critical.

On the ESPN media call this week, Fowler and Herbie were asked whether ESPN’s creative and splintered coverage will attract new viewers to the game.

Fowler’s answer was guarded, not full of expected enthusiasm.

“Yeah, it’s tough. The Megacast is cool, but I think you’re asking two of the least qualified people to talk about it because we’re doing our thing and we’re not really able to consume it that way. I know those other streams are out there, but we’re very much focused on the traditional broadcast of it.

“I think obviously smart people who make the decisions feel like it’s worth doing, and maybe expanding it to other events. The CFP championship game is pretty well suited for that kind of thing because there’s so much talk about, so many different angles to take. I wish I knew more about it. We just have kind of a job to do, and it’s to keep our eye on the ball with the traditional broadcast that we do.”

Interpreting the nuances and tone of Fowler’s response, I wonder whether he was trying to say, what’s wrong with our broadcast, the one I do with Herbie?

Sports fans Monday night will feel like a kid in a candy store. These are all the ways ESPN will enable viewers and listeners to experience the big event. Many of the options are turnkey.

1.ESPN flagship

The conventional coverage detailed above.

2. Field Pass is on ESPN2
Observations about the game will be anchored by Adam Amin and Steve Levy, two excellent play-by-players who will roam the sidelines of the Superdome. Multiple guests will join Amin and Levy throughout the telecast, including college football analysts Pat McAfee and Dan Orlovsky.

3.Coaches Film Room on ESPNU
Fans can watch the game by listening to those who live and breathe football every day, participating coaches.

4. Command Centeron ESPNEWS
This is a multi-angle video presentation, including up to four different vantage points at any one time. ESPN says that statistics and real-time drive charts will beef up the game action.

5. DataCenter on Goal Line
ESPN says that this is a “catch-all viewing option.” It’s ESPN’s flagship telecast dotted with real-time stats, analytics, social media commentary and player information. ESPN Goal Line is available through cable subscriptions.

Hometown Radio on ACC Network and SEC Network
ACC Network has the Clemson Radio call and SEC Network has the LSU Radio call. Both networks pair the hometown audio with ESPN’s main video production. This MegaCast feed is presented in conjunction with Clemson Tigers Network powered by JMI Sports and the LSU Sports Radio Network.

6. Clemson (ACC Network): Don Munson, Tim Bourret, Brad Scott, and Reggie Merriweather

7. LSU (SEC Network): Chris Blair, Doug Moreau and Gordy Rush

8. Sounds of the Game on ESPN Classic
Allows viewers to imagine themselves inside the Superdome, as the game presentation will feature all the natural audio from the stadium, including the band performances.

9. Refcast on ESPN App
John Parry (former NFL referee), Matt Austin (former SEC referee) and Judson Howard (Pac-12 replay official) react and comment simply from an official’s perspective.

10. Skycast on ESPN App
This view will provide a perspective from above the action and behind the offense on most plays. This will have the television call of Fowler and Herbie.

11. All-22 on ESPN App
ESPN’s release describes this version: “Watch the game the same way players and coaches study film, with a vantage point high above the field of play. The angle allows for the 22 players on the field to be seen at all times, providing the ability to distinguish how plays develop.” – This will include the national radio audio of Sean McDonough and company.

12. Techcaston ESPN App
A brick format of ESPN camera angles all on one screen. A dozen will be shown simultaneously. This will include the radio audio of McDonough and sidekicks.

13. ESPN Radio: Sean McDonough, Todd Blackledge, Holly Rowe and Ian Fitzsimmons
(Editorial: This is the crew that should be assigned to the national telecast. Yet national radio is still formidable.) Sean McDonough calls his fourth championship on ESPN Radio, joining analyst Todd Blackledge and reporters Holly Rowe (LSU) and Ian Fitzsimmons (Clemson).

The radio broadcast is available throughout the country on more than 400 ESPN Radio stations, the ESPN App, ESPNRadio.com, SiriusXM, Apple Music, iHeartRadio and TuneIn.

14. ESPN Deportes Provides Spanish-Language Call
The Spanish-language call of the game will be available on ESPN Deportes, with Eduardo Varela, Pablo Viruega, and Raul Allegre.

15. ESPN’s Invention Extends to Social Media
ESPN will have a number of social media initiatives around the game, including viewers being able to receive a real-time photo from one of ESPN’s many cameras live during game action. Fans can tweet #CFPTwitterCam and  instantly receive a photo in response from one of ESPN’s social media channels.

Request of ESPN, a 16th option: Brent Musburger on play-by-play and Katherine Webb McCarron on color, to bring back memories of the 2013 title game when Katherine’s husband A. J. McCarron led Alabama to a win over Notre Dame. Just kidding!

 

 

 

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David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History.

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Michael Green
8 months ago

Actually, it would be kind of fun to have a sort of “old-timers” broadcast. Not that Brent is an old-timer, being only 80! But, seriously, I think back to when NBC had the 1988 Olympics and brought in the legends to do pbp on the NFL–Gowdy, Glickman, Scott, Thompson, et al. That might be kind of fun. It also would be likely to get the highest rating, come to think of it. The All-22 reminds me that when ABC and then CBS were pushing the close-ups on telecasts, CBS got the Coach’s Clicker for John Madden and it was enthralling… Read more »