Behind the Scenes of ESPN in Des Moines - ABC5 News Des Moines, IA

Behind the Scenes of ESPN in Des Moines

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By Alex Schuman


Hosting the biggest wrestling event in the country means some major media will also be in town, which includes the worldwide leader in sports, ESPN.

The sports network started planning their coverage of the NCAA Wrestling Tournament a year ago.

"Probably a month or two before, we start ramping up heavily with production," said John Vassallo, Senior Coordinating Producer.

In order to cover one of these tournaments you need a huge staff.  Over 80 production people, multiple trucks, cameras, mics and the talent were brought to Des Moines.

"Everyone from MIT computer data people to audio technicians," said Vassallo. "It is a very complex thing to even just get the scoring."

And getting that scoring is not as fancy as you might think.  ESPN aims a set of cameras underneath the bleachers at a bunch of clocks and scores covering all the matches.  The cameras then digitally recognize the numbers and send them to the control room.

Producers say 60 to 70 percent of what airs on day one of their coverage will be pre-taped and planned.  Then, they just kinda have to wing it.

"You come in with a plan and then commonly, the plan is something that deviates depending on what happens," said Vassallo.

On-air reporters like Quint Kessenich learn which players have the best stories to tell ahead of time.

"I start prepping probably around Thanksgiving-Christmas time frame," said Kessenich.

But in the end, all they can do is hope their planning and elaborate production work makes people feel like their couch at home is next to a mat inside Wells Fargo Arena. 

"There's a lot here from an emotional stand point that is challenging for us to show on TV, but I hope that's what our production captures," said Kessenich.

ESPNU will have both sessions Friday and the early session on Saturday starting 10 a.m.  The championship matches will be broadcast on ESPN Saturday night starting at 7 p.m.

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