If the perfect championship team mix is to have both rookies and veterans, then the ESPN production team covering the London Olympic Games should be sending home gold.
Bureau producer Arty Berko and photographer Jeff Spencer will be working their 10th Olympics together, while bureau producer Jim Witalka will be donning the ESPN colors for his first.
ESPN’s five-person domestic coverage team also includes reporters George Smith (who worked the 2004, 2008 and 2010 Games for ESPN) and T.J. Quinn, who covered the 2006 Winter Games in Turin for the New York Daily News and will be working his first for ESPN this summer. In the interview with Communications videographer Dave Williams above, Quinn and Smith discuss their Olympics assignment at a recent community service event in Southington, Conn.
Having literally spanned the globe, Berko can say with experience that, “Having it in a major European capital that is ready for the Olympics is a plus, although I’ve seen in the news that traffic could be an issue. But the event is such an exciting spectacle, the city itself could be the story of the Olympics — it’s London!”
Working as non-TV rights holders, the traffic issue does pose a concern to Berko’s team.
“We’ll have to use buses, trains and The Tube [London's underground transport system] because media buses are all on set schedules, and we have to chase down our own sound,” Spencer says.
He then laughs, adding, “Because we don’t have access at the venues, we’ll be doing what we did in Vancouver [at 2010 Winter Olympics] where we’d meet the athletes at a muffler shop right outside the Village.”
That raises a question and inspiration for Watilka, who says, “I’ve been part of our international soccer coverage [FIFA World Cups, EUROS], but we were rights holders for those. It will be interesting to see the other side of the coin as a non-rights holder covering an event of this scale. The thought of providing extensive coverage despite severe limitations definitely gets the competitive juices flowing.”
Spencer remembers when things were a tad easier.
“I’d be with [legendary skier and analyst] Bob Beattie waiting at the bottom of the hill for the skiers to walk over and talk to us after their runs,” he says of the 1992 Winter Games. “We’d be scooping CBS — we’d send back to Bristol and put it right on [our] air, and [CBS] would wait to run it at night. They realized what we were doing and figured they couldn’t let us bring cameras with us anymore.”
Berko, who scouted out ESPN’s production facility close to the main events in the Stratford section of London where he also leased apartments, admits: “Access to the newsmakers is our biggest challenge, but we continue to have good relationships with the IOC [International Olympic Committee] who works with us as much as with any non-rights holder.”
The Olympic veteran shrugs off the obstacles and says, “What I love about the Olympics is that you can be anywhere and hear 25 different languages. Our greatest hope is that the news of these Olympics is all about sports, not controversy, drugs or terrorism.”
Editor’s Note: ESPN International will air more 1700 event hours of the London 2012 Olympic Games in Portuguese and Spanish throughout South America. With one of the widest, multichannel coverage plans ever of the Olympic Games in the region, ESPN will dedicate six networks — at least three per country — to fulltime, high definition coverage of London 2012 in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela. Look for more details on Front Row over the next three weeks.