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Stanley Cup Final 2024: ESPN Aims for Access in Cross-Continental Hockey Celebration

11/06/2024

Stanley Cup Final 2024: ESPN Aims for Access in Cross-Continental Hockey Celebration The 1080p broadcast boasts on-ice SkateCams, Cosm camera, SkyCam, dasher-board cams By Brandon Costa, Director of Digital

Tuesday, June 11, 2024 - 2:14 pm

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Although the Florida Panthers have taken the first two games of the 2024 Stanley Cup Final, excitement is still high over this year's matchup between arguably the NHL's most complete team (Florida) and the greatest player of this generation: Edmonton Oilers superstar Connor McDavid.

As the scene shifts to Edmonton for Game 3 on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, ABC), ESPN is deploying a loaded-up production and operation effort featuring enhancements like SkyCam (with virtual-graphics capabilities), a pair of on-ice SkateCams, a panoramic Cosm camera, dasher-board cams, and an exterior drone. This year also marks the first time that ESPN has produced and delivered the Stanley Cup Final in 1080p.

Amerant Bank Arena in Sunrise, FL, during Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday evening (Photo: @DreWithESPN/Twitter)

There's no such thing as getting used to the privilege of working on an event like this, says Linda Schulz, coordinating producer, NHL on ESPN. This is the hardest trophy to win in sports, and I am not being overly dramatic that this is a privilege. I can tell you, last year it was hard to sit at home and watch [TNT Sports broadcast the 2023 Stanley Cup Final]. When you get that chance to be part of it and to bring it to the people, it is hard to sit at home the next year. All that does is get us geared up for the next one.

Keeping Up With The Joneses McDavid

The talent on both sides of the ice offers unique storytelling challenges for ESPN, which is broadcasting its second Stanley Cup Final since the NHL rejoined its ranks in 2021. Most notably: speed kills. In particular. the speed of McDavid, a generational player so talented so that some of his finest work with the puck needs one or two replays to truly appreciate what he just did.

ESPN has positioned what it calls Speed Cams, which are simply two two super slow-motion robotic cameras down close to center ice on both sides to deliver angles that show just how fast the action shoots up and down the ice. Schulz also notes that the SkyCam is also useful for replay angles in showing a player like McDavid weaving through traffic.

He is such a fast player, says Schulz. One of the things we will have in our production meetings is that, if we capture a goal or a play by Connor McDavid, when we document, that's one step, but we need to make sure to take the second step of showing it again and then maybe a third and a fourth time. He is so fast that you need to let [the viewer] absorb that and really feel what he is doing.

On ESPN's front bench, producer Jeff Dufine and director Doug Holmes have a wealth of production tools at their disposal for this series. Schulz describes the SkyCam, which is capable of displaying live virtual graphics, as crucial for our coverage.

It allows us to, in a situation like this, show off the arena and the atmosphere, she continues. That is the most important thing beyond documenting the game. Once you get to the Stanley Cup Final, there is no better atmosphere to appreciate in terms of a sporting event, and SkyCam enables us to spectacularly show off the arena and the ice.

Much of the innovation at this year's Stanley Cup Final, driven by ESPN SVP, Production and Remote Events, Mark Gross and VP/Executive Producer Mike McQuade, is part of an effort to provide unique access and to bring fans to parts of the ice they have never been before. ESPN is again working with speciality immersive-camera provider Cosm. One of its panoramic systems will be deployed at both arenas, in positions to be determined, and will provide high-definition, IMAX-style looks at the action.

Florida Panthers backup goalie Anthony Stolarz wore a Mindfly AI BodyCam during pregame skate prior to Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final. (Photos: ESPN PR)

Additionally, there's no getting closer to the action than hopping onto the ice yourself. The two on-ice SkateCams are cine-style cameras, shooting in shallow depth of field (when desired), and feature Ronin stabilizing gimbals. The operators on skates are able to get onto the ice during pregame, between periods, and at certain stoppages in play. The RF connectivity for them is powered by CP Communications.

We use them a lot to gather the atmosphere, says Schulz, whether it's during the anthems or [taking off skates and] working its way through the fans within the bowl or outside the arena. [They are] roaming [cameras], but, when the play is dead and we get into commercial break, that SkateCam jumps on the ice and allows us to circle around the players and get a more intimate feel, which is pretty cool.

A live drone is also in play from ESPN's in-house drone unit. It can be flown outside the arena and will be used for scenics and bumps in and out of break.

A major technological debut at this Stanley Cup Final is the debut of the MindFly BodyCam. ESPN gained approval to use it prior to Game 2, and it was outfitted to Panthers backup goalie Anthony Stolarz during pregame warm-ups. Footage was carried during The Point studio show, which is hosted from site prior to the game. ESPN's onsite studio coverage - produced via hybrid REMI/traditional workflow with individual transmission paths - is overseen by VP/Executive Producer Andy Tennant, producers Megan Kelly and Mark Schuman, and director Eric Discher.

Graphics and Tracking Data Prove a Perfect Marriage ESPN's graphics team continues to have creative fun with the data funneled to it by the league via graphics partner SMT's NHL EDGE player- and puck-tracking system. One of the more pop
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