If you watched the BYU-Pepperdine game last night on ESPNU, you may have noticed something a little peculiar about the telecast.  John Brickley and Mo Cassara called the game not from the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah but from the studios in Bristol, Connecticut.

We’ve seen remote announcers calling games from the studio a number of times before.  It’s common practice for international sporting events, especially soccer – and not just ESPN.  Many of the other networks that televise soccer use announcers based in the studio.  Not even Rupert Murdoch has the budget to send an entire Fox Sports announcing crew to the Europa League to broadcast Tottenham-Besiktas.  And we’ve seen it in the Olympics as well.  For many of the Olympic sports, NBC has traditionally used announcing crews from their stateside studio to broadcast the action instead of sending all of their broadcasters halfway across the world.  Usually it’s only the premier sports that have the announcers on site.

But a regular season college basketball?  That’s relatively new ground to break.  With the massive tonnage of games being televised by ESPN this year (approximately 2,700) the network decided it made sense to broadcast a select few from the studio.  Earlier this season, Bob Picozzi and Jon Crispin even called a doubleheader of college hoops from Bristol.

BYU-Pepperdine was another one of those games last night.  All totaled, ESPN plans to broadcast 47 games using an announcing team and producer from the friendly confines of Bristol instead of the arena.  According to the network’s Front Row website, the creation of their brand new Digital Center paved the way for the experiment:

“We have a new state-of-the-art facility and a commitment to the latest production innovations,” said ESPN Vice President, Remote Operations, Chris Calcinari. “Given those resources and the frequency and volume of college basketball, we are able to try something new.”

Isolating the available days for Bristol facilities played a key role in how the specific games were selected.

Of the actual specific plans, Calcinari noted, “For these select games, we plan to bring a smaller production truck to the event site with our standard complement of cameras, plus other equipment and operations personnel. The live individual camera and audio feeds will be sent back to ESPN in Bristol where a producer and director will be located, along with commentators who will call the action.”

The upcoming college basketball productions will not be the first time ESPN has experimented with this type of approach.

“We have utilized Bristol-based facilities and staff in the event production process for soccer, tennis, X Games and international basketball, and have done so effectively,” said Dave Miller, ESPN senior coordinating producer. “We tested it on one college basketball game last season and it was a seamless experience.”

[…]

“Despite the changes behind the scenes, viewers should receive the same quality production level that they’ve come to expect from ESPN,” Miller said. “In short, we will maintain a consistent level of quality in a more efficient way.”

Did the remote broadcast deliver that same quality?  Well, if Twitter is any barometer the answer is no.  You can watch a replay of the telecast on ESPN3 to judge here for yourselves, but fans could easily notice the difference in real time last night.

The feedback here is reminiscent of NFL Network doing something similar during the preseason and having a game broadcast originate from their Los Angeles studios.  It was equally as poorly received by fans.  After watching several minutes of the game replay, I’d have to agree.  There was an obvious disconnect where you could easily tell the announcers were in studio.

As much as ESPN and other networks might think there isn’t an impact when announcers and the main production is removed from the arena, there certainly is one.  If there wasn’t a noticeable impact that hurt the quality of the telecast, broadcasters would be calling games from the studio a lot more often.  There’s clearly a reason why announcers have been sent to the stadium or arena when possible over the history of televised sports.

While ESPN producing college basketball games from Bristol is only in experimental status this year (47 games out of 2700 is just over 1%), it will be interesting to see if it’s an idea we see more of in the coming years.  Judging by last night’s feedback though, the concept will need some additional work to actually replicate the experience of having the announcers in the arena.

About Matt Yoder

Award winning sportswriter at The Comeback and Awful Announcing. The biggest cat in the whole wide world.