ESPN SportsCenter set

ESPN Unveils The All-New Powerful Death Star

“If SportsCenter was a standalone network, it would be the fifth-largest most-viewed network among men of any network.”

BRISTOL, CT — The words of ESPN President John Skipper who began an all-day media event at the network’s Bristol campus last week. It was to unveil the new 194,000 square foot Digital Center 2, the new home of SportsCenter and NFL studio programming. It will open next month with the first SportsCenter edition to originate from the facility on June 22 and will be co-hosted by Steve Levy and Stuart Scott.

ESPN is certainly proud to have this building on its 123-acre, 1.2 million square foot campus. One thing that was stressed to the media gathering representing publications and websites from all over the country is that the facility is “future proof.” Skipper said that DC-2 can handle all current media formats and any future industry standards, one thing that the current Digital Center 1 cannot.

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It means that SportsCenter will be housed in a massive 9,700 square foot studio that can accommodate its expanded 16 hour schedule.

Skipper mentioned that he wants to differentiate the many hours of SportsCenter, “Our goal here in this facility is to be able to inject a little more personality back into it. Now that we’re ubiquitous, I think we’ll try to distinguish between different hours … why is 9 o’clock different from 12 o’clock, different from 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock, 9 o’clock and 12 o’clock. Part of the difference will be the personality anchors. Part of the difference will be just what’s happening in the day.”

He may no longer be in the building, but Dan Patrick's famous catchphrase is.

He may no longer be in the building, but Dan Patrick’s famous catchphrase is.

By injecting personality, does that mean a potential one-time reunion between Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann as was reported by Awful Announcing? Skipper said as the new building was being constructed, there was talk about bringing back some of the old SportsCenter personalities as a way to acknowledge the show’s history. “It’s a nascent plan, but in discussions with NBC (Patrick’s employer), I did mention it to them because it did seem like it was an appropriate time to have a mention of it. We do not have any agreements. We don’t have anything to announce,” Skipper said. “We don’t know what we’ll do yet .”

The main SportsCenter desk

The main SportsCenter desk

But as far SportsCenter is concerned, the set is huge. ESPN was quick to tell any reporter who would listen that its new studio has “a video floor, virtual technology, two touchscreens, a 56 LED multi-dimensional monitor wall and the ability to do live and pre-produced segments simultaneously.”

One of the SportsCenter video walls

One of the SportsCenter video walls

And to top it all off, there are moving monitor walls, a catwalk, display walls, separate social media area, it’s all there.

One of many control rooms in Digital Center 2

One of many control rooms in Digital Center 2

There are plenty of bells and whistles for the studio, but the main attraction for the viewer will be the highlights and the anchors. Steve Levy who has been with ESPN for 21 years said he loves his job so much, that he’s willing to sign on for another 20 years to stay. Stuart Scott said, “(SportsCenter) is the bread-and-butter of the network. It’s what built the network and it is still what drives the network.”

“When I started (in 1993), I was on the 2:30 a.m. SportsCenter, and the show was 30 minutes. And I swear we got every game in, every score, every highlight and a full page score with all the statistics on it for every single game. The way the show has changed is certainly in length now. We laugh at two hours. Two hours is no problem, we do that on a regular basis,” Levy said. “Listen, we’ll do two hours now, and not get every game in. So think about the comparison there and some of the reason for that is some of the long form features (we air).”

Scott joked about the new technology, “I’m thinking at some point in time à la ‘Star Trek,’ we’re going to have an anchor here in the studio who’s going to dissolve and appear over there in real time. Not because of special effects, but we’re going to have the capabilities to do it.”

John Ourand of Sports Business Journal learning the new ESPN touchscreens (courtesy ESPN)

John Ourand of Sports Business Journal learning the new ESPN touchscreens (courtesy ESPN)

Not only will viewers note the new studios, but they’ll also see new touchscreens and new graphics. The late night SportsCenters originating from Los Angeles will also launch new studios that will match Bristol’s Digital Center 2 facilities. It’s all about ensuring “a unified look at continuity of the SportsCenter brand” according to ESPN.

Do you think I'm going to do this and give ESPN fodder?

Do you think I’m going to do this and give ESPN fodder?

To end the day, the media had the opportunity to co-anchor a SportsCenter segment with Jaymee Sire. While several reporters lined up to stumble and bumble over a “Top 3″ highlights package, your humble writer realizing that ESPN PR would use the tapes as A) potential blackmail and B) fodder for their Christmas party, chose not to participate.  It was probably for the best.

So overall, it was a day for ESPN to show off its new facilities and present itself in the best possible light. Average viewers may not notice the new look, but for ESPN, it’s an opportunity to step into the future in a building that will offer plenty of new technology.

Ken Fang

About Ken Fang

Ken has been covering the sports media in earnest at his own site, Fang's Bites since May 2007 and at Awful Announcing since March 2013. He provides a unique perspective having been an award-winning radio news reporter in Providence and having worked in local television. Fang celebrates the three Boston Red Sox World Championships in the 21st Century, but continues to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan.

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