ESPN’s soccer production crew adjusts on the fly to cover USA-Ukraine in Cyprus

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When Jed Drake, executive producer for ESPN’s FIFA World Cup team, and coordinating producer Amy Rosenfeld first met to plan the production for the United States National Team’s match versus Ukraine (Tomorrow, 1:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2), the biggest issue on their plate was convincing their counterparts in Ukraine – the Football Federation of Ukraine and their broadcast partner – that the match needed to be produced in high definition.

Bob Ley reporting from Cyprus
Bob Ley reporting from Cyprus

“When the match was going to be played in Kharkiv, Ukraine, we intended to share facilities. Ukraine would be the host broadcaster and we’d supplement with a few cameras,” said Rosenfeld, a veteran soccer producer who has worked every FIFA event for ESPN/ABC since the 1999 Women’s World Cup. “Ukraine had planned to do the match in standard definition. We negotiated to upgrade their facilities.”

A month or so later, the escalation of anti-government protests in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, and other cities placed the USMNT’s match on this final FIFA international fixture date before Brazil 2014, in jeopardy.

“As we monitored the situation in Ukraine and consulted with our partners at US Soccer, it became increasingly obvious the match was unlikely to be held in Kharkiv,” said Drake, who has overseen production of every FIFA World Cup on ESPN networks since 1994. “Under the circumstances, we had the same concerns for the overall safety of the match, the players and our production team.”

US-Ukraine Soccer Timeline

ESPN soccer coordinating producer Amy Rosenfeld provides a snapshot of the adjustments made in plans for the US-Ukraine men’s soccer friendly:
· Jan. 16 – Match announced for March 5 to be played in Kharkhiv, Ukraine
· Jan. 26 – Started discussions with US Soccer about Ukraine and if the match would still be played in Kharkhiv or elsewhere in Ukraine
· Feb. 19 – US Soccer discusses possibility the match would move out of Ukraine
· Feb. 24 – First time I heard Cyprus “might” be an alternate location
· Feb. 25 – First I learned Ukraine-USA match has been moved to a TBD location
· Feb. 26 – 8:15 a.m. ET: Informed the match would be in Larnaca, Cyprus.
· Feb. 26 – 11 a.m. ET: Began process of securing facilities in Cyprus and production crew
· March 2 – US-based production team departed for Cyprus

On Monday, Feb. 24, a US Soccer rep alerted Drake and Rosenfeld that the island of Cyprus might be the alternate location for the match. The information set in motion arguably the quickest process ever in modern football for identifying and booking facilities and equipment, and arranging a self-contained crew to produce a FIFA-approved international soccer match.

After several phone calls and emails to soccer event producers and production houses across Europe and the Mediterranean, Rosenfeld decided to go with UNITED – a TV production company based in Hilversum, Netherlands. (Ed note: ESPN worked with UNITED in Feb. 2013 on the Italy-USA match in Genoa.)

Within 48 hours, Rosenfeld and her team had secured 12 high definition cameras, production and satellite uplink trucks and more to produce the match.

ESPN also hired UNITED to fly a 15-person soccer production crew from The Netherlands to Larcana, Cyprus, where it will join ESPN producer Chris Alexopoulos, director Bob Frattaroli, play-by-play commentator Ian Darke, analyst Taylor Twellman, host/reporter Bob Ley, a few other key staffers and 10 Cyprus-based production technicians at Antonis Papadopoulos Stadium for the live, high definition telecast of the match.

Last night, when it was reported the Football Federation of Ukraine had canceled the match, Rosenfeld got back on the phone to speak with US Soccer reps who confirmed the reports were inaccurate.

She relayed the information to ESPN’s production units in Frankfurt, Germany, observing the U.S. team’s camp ahead of its departure this morning to Cyprus, as well as the operations team already in Larnaca, Cyprus.

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