LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (Oct. 16, 2009) — The ESPN Innovation Lab officially opened today at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort. The Innovation Lab provides ESPN a real-world testing ground to continue developing new ground-breaking on-air products.
“The ESPN Innovation Lab is an extension of ESPN’s commitment to being a leader in technology,” said Chuck Pagano, executive vice president, technology, ESPN. “This cutting-edge production house will foster creativity and the development of new tools to provide fans the best on-air coverage of sporting events.”
The mission of ESPN’s state-of-the-art facility is to enhance the viewer’s experience by utilizing the world-class playing fields and the 250,000 youth and pro athletes who use them annually to develop new products during actual game conditions. This working research facility will also be open at certain times of the year for visitors to view the company’s emerging-technology staff at work and get a sneak peak at upcoming technological advancements.
This past summer, the lab produced two innovative production elements, Ball Track and ESPN Snap Zoom. Ball Track is a Doppler radar hit-tracking system that has the ability to track home runs showing the distance and height of the ball in-flight, updating continuously during the ball’s flight. It debuted on the 2009 “MLB Home Run Derby” telecast on July 13. ESPN Snap Zoom debuted on “Monday Night Football” on Sept. 28 and is a freeze-frame technology that brings the fan closer to the play by zooming in an area of interest and providing insight to a current action on the field, thus giving the viewer a different view on a particular focus of play.
The ESPN Innovation Lab is the first major piece of a re-imagining project involving ESPN and the Disney sports complex, which is already the leading multi-sport venue in the nation. The project aims to create an immersive and entertaining sports experience for athletes, coaches and fans by incorporating the signature elements of ESPN in ways that will connect athletes and coaches with their favorite ESPN programs, personalities and elements. The project is expected to be completed early next year and will provide a one-of-a-kind experience that athletes, coaches and fans can’t get anywhere else except Walt Disney World Resort.
“The versatility of the complex and the enormous diversity of sports events we have there make it the perfect place for ESPN or any company to develop and test their latest product innovations,” said Ken Potrock, senior vice president of Disney Sports Enterprises. “We are thrilled to provide our athletes and coaches with the opportunity to potentially be a part of the development of ESPN’s newest and most exciting on-air products. It’s just one of the many ways this ESPN re-imagining project will help take our youth sports experience to a new level.”
The Disney sports complex has hosted more than 200 annual events in 60 different sports involving athletes from more than 70 countries since opening in 1997. Among those events are the Atlanta Braves spring training season, Chelsea Football Club events, the Pop Warner Super Bowl, AAU National Championships, Varsity All-Star Cheerleading competitions, USSSA events, ESPN RISE Games, Old Spice Classic and the Walt Disney World Marathon, one of the top marathons in the nation. ESPN televised 20 sporting events from the complex in the last year. Walt Disney World Resort and ESPN also annually work together to host the popular ESPN The Weekend event at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Did you know?
· ESPN’s Active Player Tracking for the Arena Football League was first tested at the Wide World of Sports. The technology debuted during the 2007 Arena Football season but has also been implemented at the Summer X Games enabling ESPN to capture heights achieved by athletes in the BMX and Big Air event which are then displayed on the ESPN “Huck-o-Meter.”
· The ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex was the testing bed for ESPN’s Ball Track technology that debuted at the 2009 MLB Home Run Derby. This was the first time that radar had been utilized to track a baseball in real-time in a broadcast environment.
· At ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, ESPN has access to 16 baseball fields, 25 football/soccer fields, two indoor basketball arenas, one baseball stadium and four tennis courts for real-world testing. Just a short distance from the facility there are lakes and golf courses also used in testing scenarios. Over the past three years, ESPN has taken full advantage of these facilities testing technologies for tennis, golf, baseball, basketball, football and even BASS fishing.
· The Emmy-winning EA Virtual Playbook was first tested at ESPN Wide World of Sports during the summer of 2008 in preparation of the 2008-09 NFL season. Its overwhelming success led the team to develop an NBA version utilized during the 2009 NBA playoffs.
About ESPN Technology:
ESPN Technology develops the ideas and applications that bring the fan closer to the game with new, innovative production enhancements. ESPN’s technology team designed and supports two of the most technologically advanced production centers in the world, the Digital Center in Bristol, Conn., and the Los Angeles Production Center which is the first 1080p capable production facility. In addition, the Emerging Technology Group has developed many on-air advancements over the past 30 years, including virtual graphics applications, “Huck-O-Meter,” and the Emmy-winning EA Virtual Playbook.
All photos by Garth Vaughan, copyright Disney