While ESPN’s NFL pre-game show has set up base in New York City, the network’s marquee college football show is on the road adapting to the challenges of the pandemic for its 27th consecutive year.
“College GameDay” started its season at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., last weekend with a modified presentation.
“It’s [coronavirus] forced us to rethink every aspect of our productions, including travel, our on-site presence and staffing at events, how we conduct meetings, and more,” said Lee Fitting, SVP, production at ESPN in an ESPN Front Row Q&A. “It has been a worthwhile exercise as some things we’re doing this season could become the norm long-term.”
“Traveling to college campuses is part of ‘College GameDay’s’ DNA. It’s been that way since 1993,” said Fitting. “We’ve been to 76 different schools during ‘GameDay’s’ 34 seasons. We were determined to travel. It’s tradition! It will be different this year – with fewer people on-site and no crowds, but we hope waking up to a ‘College GameDay’ roadshow on Saturdays this fall gives fans something to look forward to and offers a sense of normalcy in the midst of what we are all experiencing right now.”
Out is the typical mosh pit of college students surrounding the stage, in is a virtual experiencing bringing in fan voices to each broadcast.
“This was a multi-month project figuring out how we could first get fans to the show. Secondly, how could we make it an engaging and rewarding experience in the same way attending ‘College GameDay’ on a college campus is?” said Alexa Dettelbach, sports marketing associate manager at ESPN.
“We had a concept in our minds of how we wanted the system to function, but this was brand new territory. We have all seen different iterations of virtual fan feed integrations, but the leagues (NFL, NBA, etc.) have maintained those. We wanted to detail the creative from design to how fans were filtered, and that required finding the right partner to execute,” said Lindsey Lloyd, managing producer, football at ESPN. “Our third-party provider, Ross Production Services, developed a production portal that has allowed us to have hundreds of fans join live on a weekly basis.”
In the first weekend alone, ESPN notes 5,500 fans registered to appear in the “virtual pit,” which features a few hundred fans on each week’s show.
“This year will be different, but fans have always been an important part of the College GameDay experience, and that won’t change.”
The show’s desk has also been super-sized, expanded to about 24 feet to accommodate social distancing of host Rece Davis and analysts Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard, David Pollack and Chris Fallica.
Meanwhile, in Orlando, Florida, ESPN has set up an elaborate home studio for Lee Corso. Featuring a miniature ‘GameDay’ desk, Corso’s Florida room and pool area have been transformed with college tchotchkes and cardboard cutouts.