ESPN impresses with national championship game Megacast once again

Clemson avenges last year
0:59 | College Football

This is an autopilot thought but it’s worth writing again: When ESPN avoids its Baylessian tendencies and channels its assets into smart editorial and programming, it’s an unmatched force in sports television. On Monday night we saw the company at its very best with its Megacast broadcast for college football’s title game. It’s a massive undertaking, and once again it was superbly done. ESPN offered more than 14 alternative broadcasts for Clemson’s thrilling 35–31 win across multiple platforms, including presentations on ESPN2, SEC Network, ESPNU, ESPNews, ESPN Classic, ESPN Goal Line and variations on ESPN3. Think of the producers, operations, audio, graphics and all the behind the scenes people working to make this production successful. An ESPN spokeswoman said about 500 staffers worked on the game telecast and the various Megacast elements from the game site as well as from studios in Los Angeles, Bristol, Conn., and Charlotte. The company was rewarded for its exceptional efforts with a great night.

While the Megacast is a tremendous user-friendly product, more than 95% of viewers will still watch the game through the main telecast. Prior to the broadcast, I spoke with Bill Bonnell, who has produced the title game for ESPN/ABC for many years. For people at Bonnell’s level, the charter for a successful broadcast is specific. “From the production standpoint, the worse case scenario is that you will miss a snap or something live, which you don’t want to happen,” Bonnell said. “You have to be disciplined as a production team to not over-replay and go to the replays that really make sense at the time.

The Bonnell crew had an advantage in one sense. His crew (including director Derek Mobley, lead broadcasters Chris Fowler and analyst Kirk Herbstreit) had done five Clemson games in 2016, including the ACC Championship Game. They also did Alabama-USC on Sept. 3. “It really helps as the producer to have a good feel on how [the offense] will time out,” Bonnell said. “Our familiarity here is very good for the broadcast.”

That showed on a fourth down with 9:23 left in the third quarter when Herbstreit referred back to a pooch kick Clemson had called the prior week, and suggested quarterback Deshaun Watson might do the same thing. “Does Deshaun have that in his skill set?,” Fowler asked. “I think we might find out here,” Herbstreit responded.

We did. Fowler delivered an excellent call of Hunter Renfrow’s third-quarter touchdown catch a couple of minutes later as Herbstreit diagnosed how Alabama cornerback Hootie Jones knocked safety Tony Brown off his coverage to allow the touchdown. A very good sequence in a night of many of them.

The fourth quarter lasted longer than a Dostoyevsky​ novel.

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