Behind The Scenes

Tweetback: WNBA ‘Ref Cam’ debuts to praise on ABC; LeBron knows how to get on SportsCenter; Sunday Night Baseball shines

The future was present on Saturday when Lamont Simpson, a veteran WNBA referee wore a head band camera during Saturday’s ABC telecast of the Phoenix Mercury’s 82-67 win over the host Indiana Fever.

“Overall, the ‘ref cam’ deserves two thumbs up,” said ESPN Associate Operations Producer (WNBA & NBA) Laura Southerland. “My favorite usage was the game’s tip-off. We were able to give our fan a new and fresh point of view that not only enhanced the excitement of a game tip, but put the fan right there at center court, ‘tossing’ the ball in the air as if they were starting the game.”

“Today’s broadcast was a great opportunity to be at the forefront in terms of providing viewers with unique perspectives on our game,” WNBA president Laurel Richie said. “The use of ref cam certainly offered a previously unseen point of view that really brought viewers into the action, adding a whole new visual and audio component to the experience.”

On Friday, Southerland met with officials from Broadcast Sports Inc., the company that helped develop the camera, and Simpson tried on the vest — that hold the hardware including he would wear the next day — including technical RF equipment used to transmit the HD video signal and batteries to power the gear, according to Southerland.

“He did practice laps up and down the court as well as simulating live use during a game, such as free throws and inbounds, for production to get a feel for the camera,” said Southerland, a former Emmy winner for ESPN’s NASCAR coverage. “Without a doubt it gave our Production team a new source of content in addition to our every game live RF microphones on the ref and the coaches. The team was able to use the camera live on-air, as well as in replays and in-game packages. It was able to capture views from the sideline as teams transitioned on the court, shots from the court, jump balls and even a technical foul on [Candice] Dupree.”

“The first half, it took some adjusting to, especially when you started running and actually broke a sweat,” Simpson said. “The goggles started to loosen up and the sweat around the band started to loosen up. The first half was pretty much just adjusting the headset. We made some adjustments at halftime and the second half it was almost like it wasn’t there,” he said.

Similar technology has been used worldwide – the use in Rugby suggests field sports may be a fertile ground for quality content — but was the first implementation for a WNBA game.

“This was a successful first use of the camera and by adding this type of camera we now allow the fan to ‘touch’ the brand even more,” Southerland said. “We undeniably gave the fan a new point of view of the game. We are all very excited at the content that was captured and its incorporation into the broadcast. I can’t wait to see usage of this camera again on the WNBA, as well as other sports. We had a very unique opportunity to do what we do best at ESPN: To serve sports fans. Anytime. Anywhere, even if that means being attached to a referee’s head.”

For more on “ref cam” and other weekend social buzz involving ESPN, please check out the Weekend Tweetback, below.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this post
-Ben Cafardo and Kristen Hudak contributed to Tweetback

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