Going, Going, Gone: A look at ESPN’s Home Run Derby distance tracker

Prince Fielder is among the entrants for the 2013 Home Run Derby.  (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Detroit Tigers slugger Prince Fielder, who won the event in 2012, is among the entrants for the 2013 Home Run Derby. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Producer Scott Matthews was first assigned to the Home Run Derby in late 2010. Days later, he joined a group gathered to brainstorm ideas about enhancing the telecast. While discussing visual spray charts to track the home runs, Matthews (whose father, Loren, was a longtime ESPN executive) had an idea. He asked the group if an icon could pop up when a ball lands to show the distance from home plate. The room went quiet for a minute before the emerging technology team said they could explore it.

Shortly after that meeting, Kim Bloomstone, content systems integration specialist, called Scott to deliver the good news. Emerging technology had figured out a way to collect data throughout the stadium integrated with a graphic icon that could instantaneously display distance.

Front Row caught up with both Matthews and Bloomstone to learn a little more about how this technology works and what it brings to the 2013 Chevrolet Home Run Derby telecast (tonight, 8 p.m. ET on ESPN).

How does the distance tracker technology work?
KB: We visited Citi Field in April and took a laser scan of the stadium. Every time the lasers touch something, it marks a data point. From all the data, we build an accurate, scaled model of the stadium. We returned to the ballpark last week to instrument the cameras. After calibrating each camera, we can take that wireframe model and line it up with the video. The result is a point and click system where we can click on the landing point within the video and, based on calibration, we know in 3D space exactly where it landed.

How has the distance tracker changed ESPN’s coverage of the Derby?
SM: As our director Jimmy Moore says, it’s been a game changer for us. It’s a big step in our coverage of the Derby as it has really become one of our signature coverage elements in only three years. It’s a credit to our emerging technology group that they were able to take an idea and elevate it so that you get that distance unbelievably quick. Producers come up with ideas all the time, but they cannot always be executed. We are always looking for production enhancements to elevate our coverage of events.

KB: That’s also the fun part of emerging technology. We can hear a vision of what production wants to see to enhance the broadcast and we can translate it from a technology standpoint. It’s fun to be part of bringing that to life.

Are there any new developments for this year’s coverage?
SM: In the past, we just had the view from the high home camera position behind home plate. This year, we have it on two additional cameras – one at first base and one at third base. We’ll have a lot more coverage and a lot more shots where viewers will see the icon.

How does the distance tracker change from ballpark to ballpark?
SM: Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. was kind of open so we could track distance all the way to the ground. Citi Field has a few more impediments. The icon shows the actual distance, but then we also provide the projected distance it would have gone. Every ballpark is a little bit different and that is part of the fun.

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