The Tech Behind The ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex

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The ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando is not for the casual tourist looking to score some sports memorabilia while visiting Orlando; rather, it’s a state-of-the-art sports facility with technology in every corner. In early March, GeekDad was invited to a behind-the-scenes tour of the technology and the park.

Photo by Russ NeumeierPhoto by Russ Neumeier

Photo by Russ Neumeier

The (former) Disney Wide World of Sports complex is a 230-acre facility able to host more than seventy different types of sporting events. If you can play it on a field, it can be played here – if you play an indoor sport, the HP Field House is one decked-out place. All the fields are professional-grade and the technology you see on the different ESPN channels are tested out here before they reach your living room or computer screen. (You can read about the HP Field House unveiling here).

Over 300 sporting events are held here throughout the year – both professional and amateur. The complex is the spring training facility for the Atlanta Braves and the field they play on contains more than fifty cameras (both stationary and hand-held) allowing every angle to be captured for every play. This incredible amount of data is used later to test out new visualizations.

Even for the amateur events on the complex, there are professional photographers and videographers capturing the highlights and action of the various tournaments. These images and videos are displayed across the campus, on ESPN, and on their online venues. An athlete can watch their winning goal on YouTube as soon as the game is over or turn a fantastic still shot into a poster-sized print at the HP Photo Creation Center.

ESPN Innovation LabESPN Innovation Lab

Photo by Russ Neumeier

The campus video and photo data is pulled to the ESPN Innovation Lab. This lab tries out the next generation technology here before it reaches your living room or your web browser. Filming in 3D, bringing together the world of sports enthusiast and sports video gaming, and finding interesting ways of analyzing real-time game play is what they do. (If you’d like to see a quick video of some of the things they do in the Innovation Lab, check out this YouTube video).

I got to tour the Innovation Lab and talk with Anthony Bailey, EPSN’s VP of Media Technology as part of the HP Field House unveiling. He said they don’t do technology for technology’s sake but instead look for ways to deepen the experience the viewers have with the games they watch and interesting ways to package the incredible amount of statistics that sports and athletes naturally generate.

Photo by Russ NeumeierPhoto by Russ Neumeier

Photo by Russ Neumeier

The Innovation Lab team was most excited about showing off the 3D broadcasts so I asked about some of the specifics required to film in 3D. The setup requires two cameras on a rig seen in the picture. The right-hand camera is manipulated by the camera operator and the left-hand camera is a slave. With the offset, and with special glasses, the 3D effect comes to life on screen. Add high-def and things like the 2010 World Cup champion celebration are amazing to watch.

The one area we didn’t get to tour was the ESPN broadcast facility on site. That was a bit of a bummer.

Full disclosure: travel, lodging, Disney park passes and press access to the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex were provided.

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