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Total Team Effort Powers ESPN’s Pitch-By-Pitch Digital Coverage Of WCWS

In advance of the WCWS Championship Series (Game 1, tonight, 8:30 ET, ESPN), SIG Senior Director Patrick Caulfield discusses a year-long collaboration with colleagues across ESPN and Disney to expand and enhance coverage of women's sports

EDITOR’S NOTE: ESPN’s Stats & Info Group (SIG) has led an unprecedented internal collaboration – more than a year in the making – that has resulted in enhanced coverage of the NCAA Div. 1 Women’s Softball Championship across ESPN Digital platforms. In advance of the Women’s College World Series Championship Series (Game 1 – Wed., 8:30 p.m. ET), SIG Senior Director Patrick Caulfield discusses his group’s latest effort to expand and enhance coverage of women’s sports.

For the first time ever, ESPN’s Stats & Information Group (SIG) debuted live pitch-by-pitch data coverage for every game of the NCAA Softball Championship. This started with the Regionals (May 20-22) and Super Regionals (May 27-29) and continues through the crowning of the national champion at this week’s Women’s College World Series.

This data is powering a new live Gamecast experience on ESPN.com and the ESPN App for each game that gives fans the opportunity to follow live pitch-by-pitch action, similar to ESPN’s digital coverage of Major League Baseball and other sports.

The ESPN Digital Video team, led by Vice President Nicole Pelaez-Dandrea, is also using this pitch-by-pitch data to auto-curate highlights that will appear across ESPN’s digital platforms.

SIG’s Stats & Analysis Team, which manages ESPN’s sports data production, initiated project conversations last summer with Disney Media Entertainment Distribution (DMED) Engineering and Product teams, as well as ESPN Digital’s Audience Engagement team and various groups within ESPN Production and Programming. Led by Associate Director Jennifer Gode, with support from Director Brian Wood, our SIG team pushed this critically important initiative in our group’s latest effort to expand and enhance coverage of women’s sports – particularly collegiate sports.

This ESPN-wide collaboration has resulted in an enhanced coverage experience for the NCAA Softball Championship never before seen.

DMED Engineering created a new manual play-by-play tool by modifying an existing program called Game Reporter that previously only produced baseball data. The DMED team, led by Software Engineering Manager Jason Nophsker, spent more than five months collaborating with Stats & Analysis to rework the program to allow for numerous softball-specific scenarios, such as a player leaving the game and re-entering later at a different position. This collaboration progressed through the winter to establish a baseline understanding of how the application needed to perform so that S&A staff could manually produce data that accounted for these unique softball scenarios and rules.

Starting in March, S&A and DMED collaborated weekly on test cases, workflow assessments, and resolution of critical issues. DMED Principal Product Manager John Diver led his team in the creation of new landing pages on Digital and App, including Gamecasts for each game, play-by-play, and full box scores to support the fan experience.

In April, Stats Analysts Alexandra Santiago and Courtney Foss led S&A’s wholesale training on the softball-specific Game Reporter application. Classroom sessions kicked off an extensive eight-week training program for over 30 full-time employees and 45 part-time employees and concluded with “mock lives” to mimic the live production environment. All of this occurred while S&A was still producing best-in-class data for all other sports in service to ESPN’s needs, including NBA, NHL, MLB, NFL Draft, UFC, Masters, Formula 1, and more.

While it didn’t require nearly the same level of technical collaboration, this high-quality data powers ESPN’s BottomLines (also managed by Stats & Information) and all automated score and stat treatments on SportsCenter and other studio programming.

This ESPN-wide collaboration has resulted in an enhanced coverage experience for the NCAA Softball Championship never before seen.

PELAEZ-DANDREA ON 'UNLOCKING THE TOOLKIT IN ESPN DIGITAL'
WITH ENHANCED SOFTBALL COVERAGE

Here’s another example of ESPN’s enhanced digital coverage of the Women”s College World Series. (ESPN)
Nicole Pelaez-Dandrea, ESPN’s Vice President of Audience Engagement and Digital Video, discusses just how impactful the work of ESPN’s Stats & Information Group has been: “When Stats & Analysis got their tool – that allowed them to get pitch-by-pitch for the entire NCAA Softball Championship – it unlocked new opportunities to serve fans using our digital products. What they’re doing is tremendous. It was something we had talked about at SIG for so long. To see if finally come to fruition is great.

“What this team does creating and monitoring the play-by-play data is not a small undertaking and should be celebrated. Last year, everybody rallied around women’s basketball player cards, and the fact that the momentum has continued with softball shows that these sports have become a priority. I think we are hitting our stride, and it’s pretty great.”

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