College GameDay feels like home again for ESPN with crowds, on-site production crew

After a season of intense REMI workflows, the iconic touring pre-game show is back on the road

If the last few months in the sports television industry have reinforced anything, it’s that sports are better with the fans.

This point is obvious, but it would be hard to find a sports TV property more reliant on crowd energy than ESPN’s Saturday morning staple. College GameDay.

Last Saturday College GameDay was in Charlotte, North Carolina for a season opener between Georgia and Clemson. (Photo: Phil Ellsworth/ESPN Pictures)

The iconic touring pre-game show is back this season with a pit full of fans and the entire production and operations team back on site after a 2020 season where many familiar faces worked from their respective homes. .

This weekend in particular marks a special stage for the show: after successive Saturdays in Atlanta and Charlotte, GameDay returns to a college campus for the first time since the pandemic. On Saturday, the show makes a stop in Ames, IA, for the big interstate rivalry game of the day between No. 10 Iowa and No. 9 Iowa State.

“It’s very exciting to be able to work together again,” says Judi Weiss, Senior Remote Operations Producer, ESPN, which is in its 11th season working on College GameDay. “Last week [in Charlotte], seeing the crowd and the activations and getting everyone excited was amazing. Our team has always thrived on the excitement of the fans, and it gave them that certain adrenaline and energy that you feel when you watch the show. He transcends himself in everything they do. It’s hard not to get excited about something when everyone around you is excited.

With all due respect to College GameDay‘s at West Point for Army-Navy last December (where a limited number of ebullient cadets and midshipmen provided a whiff of the show), the College GameDay that viewers know and love with big crowds, loud cheers and creative nods hasn’t looked like this since the show visited the University of Minnesota near the end of the 2019 season.

“Being there, walking around campus, feeling the vibe and feeling the energy of the crowd – it’s so important,” says Drew Gallagher, Coordinating Producer, College GameDay, who enjoyed a career spanning more than 20 years at ESPN. “It helps us so much with the stories that we cover and establish a sense of belonging. We are delighted to have our production team back on site.

Steadicam operator Randy French, an ESPN veteran since 2008, filmed College GameDay in Charlotte last Saturday. (Photo: Phil Ellsworth/ESPN Pictures)

While the full return to the site is making headlines, there are a few new production elements for the 2021 campaign of College GameDay. The imprint sees the addition of a third stage, a Pizza Hut-sponsored filming location equipped with a new VERSA portable LED screen designed and built by ANC. It is interactive for on-air talent and will be widely used for breakdowns and analysis.

The show also upgraded its aerial camera collection, upgrading its wired camera from a two-point SupraCam system to a four-point system. The show also plans to use its drone more this year. ESPN deploys its own drone, piloted by the FAA and certified Disney pilot Dave Smith, affectionately known among the crew as “‘Bama Dave”.

In terms of lessons learned from the unique 2020 season, some projects the Crew was forced into a year ago will remain in the Crew’s operational plans and will be called upon if necessary. For example, says Gallagher, the College GameDay The team learned a lot from using video conferencing platforms like Zoom to conduct interviews. While he notes there’s a time and place for this method, it does provide more flexibility for bringing in a guest when it’s not possible to send in a full-fledged TV production kit.

The College GameDay crew rehearse before the show’s Week 0 appearance in Atlanta. The set was outside Center Parc stadium to celebrate the kick off of the 2021 MEAC/SWAC Cricket Challenge. (Photo: Scott Clarke/ESPN Images)

He notes a segment last season where the crew spoke with Dabo Swinney, Clemson head coach while the team made visits to the team hotel before traveling to the stadium. “The quality and the fact that it is dirty almost adds to the charm of its access. Challenges are born of opportunities.

Otherwise, it’s all smiles for the College GameDay family, which includes the return on site of the producer/director tandem of jim gaiero and Rodney Perez, who will run the show from his longtime home in Game Creek Video’s Maverick unit.

“We’re a group that needs to be around each other,” says Gallagher. “Spontaneity is such a big part of College GameDay, and a lot of that comes from impromptu in-person moments, brainstorming in a face-to-face production meeting. It’s so awesome.

This Saturday’s edition of College GameDay airing live from Ames, IA, starting at 9 a.m. ET on ESPN.