SBJ/June 20-26, 2011/In Depth

ESPN 3D sets up shop in the boxing ring

ESPN continues to expand the live content being funneled to its 3-D network with a slate of five “Friday Night Fights” telecasts this summer, starting Friday.

The telecasts will build on the network’s first foray into 3-D boxing, a Feb. 18 installment of “Friday Night Fights” that also marked the first time boxing was shown in 3-D on U.S. television. A successful run of telecasts could help not only promote and validate the 3-D network, but also increase interest in ESPN’s coverage of the sport of boxing.

As with the Feb. 18 card, the 3-D and 2-D feeds of the upcoming fights will be produced as a single telecast with the same announcers, Joe Tessitore and Teddy Atlas. Many 3-D events are still produced alongside a 2-D feed, using two production teams and two sets of announcers. Phil Orlins, ESPN 3D coordinating producer, said the approach for the boxing matches makes the coverage “relatively cost effective.”

BEN SOLOMON / ESPN
The network’s production team says the sport is ideal for 3-D broadcasts.

This approach is possible in part because, unlike for most team sports, boxing coverage does not require the frequent switching of different camera angles that is always problematic for 3-D. Orlins noted that during a round, the camera is “not leaving that ring unless somebody gets knocked out, so you can cut at the pace that feels right for both 3-D and 2-D.”

There are several other logistical reasons that ESPN executives believe boxing is an ideal sport for 3-D coverage. Orlins said 3-D is “at its best when it’s working at relatively close proximity,” and when the area being filmed is “controlled or predictable.”

Matt Sundulli, “Friday Night Fights” senior coordinating producer, said that while the 3-D cameras used are a bit larger than traditional rigs, they require “no physical changes to the setup of the ring itself.” So the production equipment does not require venues to give up seats or make any other on-site changes.

ESPN'S UPCOMING 3-D BOUTS

DATE TIME (ET) FIGHT LOCATION
June 24 9 p.m. John Molina vs. Robert Frankel Pechanga Resort Casino, Temecula, Calif.
July 1 11 p.m. Mark Jason Melligen vs. Roberto Garcia Freeman Coliseum, San Antonio
July 8 9 p.m. Henry Buchanan vs. Jesus Gonzales Jobing.com Arena, Phoenix
July 22 9 p.m. TBD TBD
Aug. 12 9 p.m. TBD TBD

Source: ESPN

The bout in February was a positive and instructive first crack at 3-D boxing for ESPN, although Sandulli acknowledged, “Not a ton of people were able to see it the first time around.” Internally, however, he said colleagues are bullish on 3-D’s ability to help the sport.

Orlins, who did his own monitoring of viewer feedback during the first 3-D fight via Twitter, said, “Even though boxing may not have been the most marquee event we’ve put on our schedule, still the fact that we were digging into a different sport that seemed to be a natural for 3-D, I thought actually did create quite a bit of buzz.”

In addition to airing on ESPN 3D, the “Friday Night Fights” bouts will also be shown on ESPN2, ESPN.com and ESPN Deportes.

While there are no firm plans in place for 3-D boxing after the end of the “Friday Night Fights” season this summer, ESPN is bullish on the possibilities of continuing to cover the sport in this format. “The fact that we’re back to do five more after doing one in February will tell you that we thought it has a lot of upside,” Orlins said.

To date, ESPN 3D is the sole occupant of the 3-D boxing space in the U.S. DirecTV has had discussions with Golden Boy Promotions about producing 3-D fights, but no formal deal has been finalized. Internationally, U.K. broadcaster BSkyB has produced and screened some fights in 3-D for its Sky 3D channel.

Preston Bounds is a staff writer for sister publication SportsBusiness Daily.

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