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Passion for softball drives ESPN’s expansive coverage of Clearwater’s elite tournament

More than 165 crew members will assist in airing 40 games throughout the four-day St. Pete Clearwater Elite Invitational.
CLEARWATER - ESPN camera crew are found around every turn at the St. Pete Clearwater Elite Invitational, which will feature sold-out games through Sunday at the Eddie C. Moore softball complex. Scott Purks, Special to the Times
CLEARWATER - ESPN camera crew are found around every turn at the St. Pete Clearwater Elite Invitational, which will feature sold-out games through Sunday at the Eddie C. Moore softball complex. Scott Purks, Special to the Times [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]
Published Feb. 19|Updated Feb. 19

CLEARWATER — Meg Aronowitz knows it takes a village to put on the St. Pete Clearwater Elite Invitational.

For more than 15 years, the ESPN coordinating producer has stood at the helm of the network’s softball coverage. She pours herself into every matchup to ensure the company is elevating the game.

It’s why the four days spent in Clearwater are fun for Aronowitz and her staff. With more than 165 ESPN crew members, the company airs all 40 games across the various ESPN platforms using four production trucks and 35 cameras spread throughout four fields at the Eddie C. Moore Complex.

“I believe you have to show it to grow it,” said Aronowitz, 44. “I know people have heard me say that a lot, but the truth is, that’s how you capture people because I believe that if you put a product on the air that people are captivated by, they’re going to stay.”

Related: FSU softball welcomes a bevy of tough tests in Clearwater tournament

Michele Smith, the tournament’s facilitator and an analyst for ESPN, also recognizes the work that has gone into putting the invitational on a larger platform over the past four years. The event, Smith said, is the first women’s tournament the company’s events division has “put their foot forward” on.

“Softball is a priority for ESPN,” she said. “The number of dedicated people that we have that want to be at this event, that want to be at the Women’s College World Series, just shows the dedication of ESPN to the sport of women’s softball.”

From left, ESPN analysts Michele Smith, in red, and Amanda Scarborough join play-by-play announcer Beth Mowins for games at the St. Pete Clearwater Elite Invitational.
From left, ESPN analysts Michele Smith, in red, and Amanda Scarborough join play-by-play announcer Beth Mowins for games at the St. Pete Clearwater Elite Invitational. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]

Behind the fence line of Field 8, sit two production trucks, about the size of a semi-trailer. Each truck has three sections, each easily the size of a bedroom, for audio, replay and video production.

Inside the video production room, just under 10 people sit behind monitors with individual tasks. A director runs the show while coordinating producers help with soundboards, replays and the talent calling the game. Wearing separate headsets, there are simultaneous conversations going on between those inside the truck, the camera operators onsite and those back in Bristol, Conn., ESPN’s headquarters.

The crew in the main truck man a wall of 41 monitors, watching the games from all eight camera angles on Field 8 — five in the outfield and three around first and third bases and home plate.

ESPN crew members sit inside a production truck behind Field 8 at the St. Pete Clearwater Elite Invitational.
ESPN crew members sit inside a production truck behind Field 8 at the St. Pete Clearwater Elite Invitational. [ MARI FAIELLO | Times ]

“I tell people all the time, producing live TV is the closest thing you can do to playing live sports again,” said Aronowitz, who played on Emory University’s first intercollegiate softball team in 1999.

Every morning, Aronowitz said she makes it a priority to walk around and say good morning to all of her production teams — from the people who sit in the trucks to the technicians and camera operators.

It’s one of Aronowitz’s favorite moments of the tournament because it’s a feeling of accomplishment, too, recognizing that the work put into preparing for the weekend is finally coming to fruition.

“I can look around and say not only did we do this, but it is so successful and it brings so much joy to so many people,” Aronowitz said. “I just like to walk around and say thank you to my crew and let them know that I appreciate the fact that they’re probably about to go work a hard, 18-hour day.”

Related: St. Pete Clearwater Elite Invitational returns after COVID hiatus

It makes it easier for Aronowitz that the crew has a passion for the sport and tournament just like she does. Camera operators can work between 100 and 150 events every year, but she has core technician employees — who often work other sports — who request to work the Clearwater-based tournament.

“They want to be there because they love it so much,” Aronowitz added, “because the passion of the fans and the teams and the access they give us is just such a different level of energy with this sport than other sports.”

St. Pete Clearwater Elite Softball Invitational

Through Sunday, Eddie C. Moore Complex, Clearwater

Today: UCLA vs. Auburn, 10 a.m. ( ESPNU); Notre Dame at LSU, 10:30 (SEC); Tennessee vs. UCF, 10:30 (ESPN+); Northwestern vs. Clemson, 11 (ACC); Michigan at FSU, 1 p.m. (ACC); Oklahoma State vs. USF, 1:30 (ESPN+); Texas Tech vs. Washington, 2:30 (ESPN+); Texas vs. UCLA, 4 (ESPNU); Michigan at LSU, 5 (ESPN+); Wisconsin vs. Clemson, 5:30 ( ESPN+); Washington vs. Oklahoma State, 6 (ESPN+); UCF vs. Texas, 7

More info: stpeteclearwatereliteinvite.com

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

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